It seems like only yesterday that calendars ticked over to 2013 but here we are in the middle of March. Nevertheless, you don't have to wait for the New Year to implement a new resolution – setting aside one random day for a financial bootcamp to free up thousands of dollars a year is always a smart move.
With many recurring monthly expenses, there are plenty of opportunities to save money. Here's how to get started: Grab a pen and paper – or spreadsheet – and list the items, the monthly cost, and the phone number for customer service, for each one. Leave one column open to list the new cost you're hopefully going to get and one final column to calculate the monthly savings. See the example below.
New Monthly Cost
Cellphone Co ABC
Scan your bank and credit card statements to help you put together your list of expenses. Everything is fair game: insurance policies, cellphones, TV, Internet, gym memberships, banking fees (including credit card interest rates and annual fees), and so on.
Before you call each service provider, you need to check what the competitors are offering for the same services. While this involves some research, it can help you negotiate with your current provider – and in some cases it might lead you to switch. If that is the case, make sure to ask your current service provider about any possible cancellation fees, and then bring these up with the competitor to see if they will cover them.
When looking at items like your Internet package, make sure to consider downgrading. Many people are paying for packages they don't fully use . With credit cards, ask about lower interest rates and waiving annual fees. The same goes for inquiries to competitors – they may be more willing to waive the fee, if even for just the first year, to secure new business. And remember, rewards programs are irrelevant if you carry a balance. Who cares if you earn 2 per cent in rewards when you pay 18 per cent interest?
There is no shortage of guides on what expenses to look at and how to do some research. But I'll finish with a step that is the most important part of the whole exercise. Add up the total in monthly savings and that is exactly how much you need to contribute to a new automatic saving program in a high-interest savings account or use to pay down credit card debt faster.
Remember: you were used to not having that money anyway. You need to do something productive with the savings otherwise you'll just spend it elsewhere. Otherwise this little bootcamp exercise will amount to a little pain, and no real gain.
Preet Banerjee, a personal finance expert, is the host of Million Dollar Neighbourhood on The Oprah Winfrey Network. You can read his blog at WhereDoesAllMyMoneyGo.com and follow him on Twitter at @preetbanerjee.