Going Through a Financially Challenging Time?
- Written by Remar Sutton
- Category: Articles
Financial challenges can be disrupting to your budget, especially if it’s tight. But what if your tight budget actually had more flexibility to accommodate these challenges? There is a chance you can cut down on your expenses, such as utilities, services, credit accounts, insurance and more, to move your budget around and meet your needs during this season of life.
Getting started is easy, but it’s important to know it will take time, research, and good communication to lower any of your expenses.
Getting started is easy, but it’s important to know it will take time, research, and good communication to lower any of your expenses. By taking the steps below to reduce expenses, you may find the room you need in your budget.
Collect your account records. How long have you been a customer? Have you ever paid the bill late? If so, how long ago. What services are included?
Research the plans, packages, and terms that your current company and its competitors offer.
What are the lowest prices offered to new customers?
Write down the information or use a spreadsheet. You will want to refer to it while you are on the phone.
Determine what changes you are willing to make in order to pay less such as reducing services, entering into a contract, or switching providers.
The call may take 30 minutes or longer, so make sure that you allocate enough time so you don't feel rushed.
When talking to a service representative, be persistent, firm, and most important, nice.
Take notes about the call. Document the date and time you called, who you talked to, and the information they provided.
Negotiation and Follow up
Be upfront about the reason for your call. For example, you need to lower the cost, change the plan, or cancel the service.
Use your research to discuss your options.
Your goal is to lower your bill so don't be distracted by offers of other services.
Once you've made a decision, verify the terms. Review each proposed change with your current bill. Make sure that you look for any hidden services or surcharges.
Review any confirmation emails you received to make sure the changes have been made to your account. If you don't receive any emails, call again to verify the changes.
Don't be afraid to switch your service provider if you found a better deal.
A caution. There are services that will negotiate for you for a fee or a percentage of the savings. If you are considering these services, do your research. Ask yourself if you really want to give them your account and personal information or give up any of the savings?
Tips for Specific Types of Bills
Utility bills. Power and gas companies usually have various rate plans. They may also have programs that offer discounts for participation. Determine if you have the best rate plan for your usage. You may want to consider budget billing where you pay the same amount every month. In addition, save money and energy by raising the thermostat in the summer and lowering it in the winter.
Cell phone. Review your actual voice, text, and data usage. That will help you determine what type of plan you need. Are you paying for additional services that you don't need or are there less expensive alternatives? Consider if a prepaid service might be a better fit for your budget.
Landline phone. Consider how often you use it. If you want to keep it, check with your carrier to see if they have a lower cost plan that would meet your needs. You may also want to look into other options such as bundling your phone with your cable, internet, or cell phone service.
Cable and Internet. Bundled cable and internet service can help save money but only with the right deal. Research the various streaming services to see if you can save money by cutting the cable cord. You may be able to save money by buying your modem and/or router instead of renting them from the internet company. Switching to a lower speed tier may also save you money.
Credit cards. You may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate, payment, or fees. You may also want to consider a consolidation loan from your financial institution that could lower your payment and save money on interest charges.
Federal student loans. Consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan. Other options include deferment, forbearance, or consolidation. How to Repay Your Loans from Federal Student Aid provides more details.
Mortgage. Talk to your lender to see what options you may have. One possibility is dropping private mortgage insurance (PMI), if you have at least 20% equity in your home.
Rent. Consider moving to a less expensive apartment. Another option is to get a roommate. If those aren't options, talk to your landlord to see what options they might have.
Home and Auto Insurance. Shop around for the best rate. Ask your insurer about available discounts. Consider bundling your homeowner's/renters insurance with your auto insurance to save on both. Another option is to increase your deductible.
You may have other bills that you want to try to reduce. Remember, it never hurts to ask.
If your budget is still too tight after lowering your bills, then you may benefit from talking with a financial or credit counselor. A counselor can help you make a plan to pay down your debt so that you can build up your savings. These tips from the FTC can help you choose a credit counselor.