NYT Financial Tuneup Day 2: Trim Your Budget

nyt_ftuDay 2 of my NY Times 7-Day Financial Tuneup is called Trim Your Budget. The key here is to take action, not just do research and then put it off again. (If you just want to daydream, Day 1 was Optimize Your Thinking.) Again, the NYT doesn’t have direct links, but anyone with a (free) NYT account can get their own personalized list of tasks.

Reviewing your monthly budget annually is a simple way to keep your spending in check. Don’t worry, we’re not going to ask you to cut anything you love, just to trim your spending in places you may not even notice. After all, if you benefit from your weekly yoga class or truly enjoy your restaurant night, have at it. Just be honest with yourself about the services that you truly use and enjoy. In comparison, if you have a languishing gym membership you never use, it may be time to cut that $50-a-month membership fee.

Round 1: Find an Easy Item to Cut

  1. Gather your credit card and checking account statements from the last month.
  2. List your spending. “…list any expense from the last month that occurs routinely: daily, weekly, monthly. From the cup of coffee you buy every morning, to your weekly manicure, to your monthly gym membership or magazine subscription.”
  3. Find an easy place to trim. “…most commonly-cut expenses are subscriptions to gyms, credit bureaus, newspapers and audio services.”

Here is rundown of recurring expenses with some commentary.

  • Mortgage – thankfully paid off a few years ago.
  • Property tax – yes, but not really negotiable. I suppose I could contest the assessed value of my house, but it seems pretty reasonable.
  • Car loan – none. My measure of car affordability is whether I can pay for it with cash. I’ve paid cash on every car, from $2,000 on up to 20x that.
  • Student loan – thankfully paid off that $30,000 a while ago.
  • Insurance – feels like we have so much insurance, but they have high deductibles to protect against catastrophic events. Car, homeowners, life, long-term disability, and umbrella insurance.
  • Food/grocery/take-out/restaurants – I’m sure we could trim something, but not in a clear-cut way. No coffee shop habit.
  • TV/internet – yes, this is a target for trimming.
  • Cellular phone – Still at $6 a month with Sprint for two lines.
  • Gym – yes, just barely worth the cost.
  • Gas
  • Medical
  • Clothing, gifts, etc – yes, again I’m sure we could trim something but we are okay with it overall.
  • Charitable giving – yes, but already thoughtfully budgeted for.
  • Credit monitoring, Netflix, magazines, music streaming, etc. – I pay for Amazon Prime and feel it is worth the money. No to Netflix, Spotify, HBO, Lifelock, paid credit monitoring, etc. A few magazines at $5 or less per year.

Round 2: Lower Your Bills

  1. Pick a bill to start with
  2. Find and review your latest bill
  3. Call your service provider
  4. Ask for a reduction in your bill

The hard part: Pick up the phone and call my cable provider. I’ve done it before, but it’s never fun. This tune-up did motivate me to do it, so I suppose that’s something. I called my cable provider and after 26 minutes, I was only able to squeeze about $5 a month in concessions by having them re-arrange my bill around to a “new plan” from my “old plan”. Even that required me to get past the initial lie that my “old plan” was “already a great deal”. ($60 a year in savings is not bad for 30 minutes of time, I suppose.)

I did not go all the way to setting a cancel date, as I wanted to avoid interruption in internet service. If you are ready to cancel, see Tips on Reducing Cable and Phone Bills From Ethically Ambiguous Experts.

In the end, I called up the duopoly DSL provider to get the new customer promotion for TV and internet. I confirmed that their was no credit check required. If it all works out, switching should save me around $50 a month ($600 a year). Switching back and forth isn’t fun, but it does save money!

Google Express: 20% Off Coupon Code (Both New and Existing Customers)

gexpressNew code for existing users. Google Express has a couple of coupon codes that may be of interest:

  • 5RTC4Q545$10 credit towards your first order (i.e. $10 off $10). This is my referral code and I will get a $10 credit. After joining, you can also refer friends for $10 credits. Use the code below if it saves you the more (i.e. your order is greater than $50).
  • SHOP2018 – 20% off your first order. Max discount $20.
  • APPFEB20 – 20% off for existing customers (second order, etc). Max discount $20. You might need to apply code via the Google Express App (iOS/Android). Promo code may be limited to 5000 uses per day (if so, try again the next day). Expires 2/27/18.
  • NEWYEAR20 – 20% off for existing customers. Max discount $10. Expired.
  • APP20OFF – 20% off for existing customers (second order, etc). Max discount $20. Expires 2/11/18. Expired.

Google Express delivers things directly to your door from participating merchants like Costco, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target. Free delivery is usually included above a certain amount that varies (i.e. $35). There is no longer an annual membership fee.

Note that some prices may be higher than from in-store. You will usually see a clear banner noting if this is the case. For Costco, there are reports that the “coupon book” items are still at the store price. Otherwise, a 20% off coupon may still offset the higher costs and then some.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Review: 5% Back at Amazon + Whole Foods

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NYT Financial Tuneup Day 1: Optimize Your Thinking

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I've been in a "Back to Basics" mood and decided to work through the NY Times 7-Day Financial Tuneup. I don't have direct links to each day as you need a (free) NYT account to view your personalized list of tasks. Instead, I'm quoting selected … [Read the rest]

Why Inflation Feels High

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Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express: $0 Balance Transfer Fee Offer

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American Express has improved the new member offer on the The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express card to include no balance transfer fee on their intro 0% APR period. Here are the details: 0% intro APR for 15 months on … [Read the rest]

Study: Working Longer vs. Saving More

Here's a working paper titled The Power of Working Longer by Gila Bronshtein, Jason Scott, John B. Shoven, Sita N. Slavov which compares the effect of working longer (delaying your retirement date) and increasing your savings rate while … [Read the rest]

Keep Moving In The Right General Direction

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Here is some career advice by longtime Silicon Valley executive Ben Fathi in his post What I Learned from Working for Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. An excerpt (bold added): What I can tell you as a piece of career advice is to only work on … [Read the rest]

Discover Card + Amazon 1-Click $10 Promotion

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Updated. It looks like this offer is back as of February 2018. I was able to get another $10 credit even though I already got the previous $10 credit back in September. I still had the Discover card as my default 1-click payment method, but I did … [Read the rest]

Social Security Calculator Tool: Estimate Your Benefits

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Recent Timeline of Stock Market Corrections

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The currently-accepted definition of a "market correction" is a price drop of 10% from its peak. There have now been five corrections to the S&P 500 stock index since the bear market of 2009 (seven if you count the 9.8% and 9.9% drops). Here's a … [Read the rest]

Amazon Audible: Free Trial w/ 2 Free AudioBooks + $15 Prime Now Credit (New Members)

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Amazon Audible has an targeted promotion with a free 1-month trial with 2 audiobook credits + $15 Prime Now credit (minimum $35 Prime Now order). This offer is only available to Prime Members who will be new Audible customers (not valid for existing … [Read the rest]