Last week I received an email from a company called Ooma (more on that later) which contained a neat little PDF titled 5 Tips to Improve Finances in One Week. When I opened the attachment, I immediately smiled (and patted myself on the back). We were already following Clark Howard’s (somewhat dated) advice without even knowing it! Using Clark’s tips as a guide, here’s how our week of financial improvement turned out.
Tip #1: Search for unclaimed money in your name.
I first came across this tip on The Penny Hoarder and I must admit, I was super skeptical. How could I have money out there that I didn’t know about? Well, I did. And so did Angie. Between the two of us, we had 4 claims totaling $203.57. Angie was able to make her claims online but I had to complete a form and mail it to the State of Colorado. You can check your own status at MissingMoney.com.
Tip #2: Start enjoying free TV and movies.
We cut the cable cord in 2014 and have never looked back. The original Winegard Flatwave Antenna that we bought back then is still working well as our primary access to free over-the-air channels. Right now, we get 40+ channels, though we really only watch about 5 of them. In addition, we’ve tried almost every streaming options out there – Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, and all the network apps – through almost every streaming device made – Fire Stick, Tivo OTA, Google Chromecast, and Roku. For now, we’ve settled on Netflix and Sling TV (at least through football season). While streaming options aren’t free, they do help to significantly cut the cost of entertainment over cable or satellite and you’re never tied to a contract.
Tip #3: Get a 2% cash-back card with no strings attached.
This is another area where I’ve always been skeptical. Why would I want to charge something on a credit card when I could just pay for it?? Isn’t that taking an unnecessary risk? What if I spend the money I should have set aside for paying the credit card bill? Then I got to thinking – we do this anyway with our big expenses and it’s never been a problem. We have a Capital One cashback card and for years we’ve been using it to book travel or pay for large expenses like car repairs. As soon as the charge posts, we pay it off with the money we set aside for those expenses anyway. Why? For the rewards, of course. And to have the added travel protections. If we run only our recurring monthly expenses through the card, we can earn an extra $10 per month (or $120 per year). That’s not too bad for such little effort.
Tip #4: Check all of your monthly statements line by line.
This tip applies mostly to cable TV and cell phone carriers who are known rip-off artists with their pages and pages of billing gibberish. We avoid both. For our cell service, we use Ting. We’ve been Ting customers for years and have never had a problem with the service (they use the Sprint network). Even when we traveled frequently and had to use our phones as a hotspot for our laptops, our highest bill was only $90. Our average bill runs about $50 now for both lines. Another place to look for billing errors is in your bank and credit card statements. On occasion, I find a recurring charge for something I forgot to cancel.
Tip #5: Get free phone service for life.
A lot has changed since these tips were first published and that was pretty obvious with this one. Clark suggests purchasing Ooma VoIP phone service to replace your landline phone. Since we no longer have to have the AT&T “bundle” that includes our home phone service, I’ve been looking into options for free calling. Yes, I know that a lot of folks have unlimited calling in their cell phone plan but we don’t. Ting allows you to pay only for what you use so we try to use the home phone for those always lengthy calls to our parents. I looked at Ooma, which is now about half the price of what it was back then, and still includes a lifetime of free calling. You can even get a refurbished Ooma device on Amazon for $69.99. You still pay FCC taxes and fees, which in our area is about $5.39 per month. That’s not terrible for unlimited, clear HD-quality calling but of course, if you know us at all, we prefer something that’s really free…so we’re looking at wifi calling. We’ve tried Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger as calling apps but the quality is lacking on both. With my Office Online subscription I get an hour of free Skype calling per month so I’m going to try that next. Any suggestions on best wifi calling apps?
If I could add two things to Clark’s list, they would be:
Tip #6: Make sure you aren’t missing out on hidden savings when you shop.
We recently downloaded the Ibotta app. Though we do most of our shopping at ALDI, we often visit the major grocers in our area and Walmart (**sigh**) to pick up sale items or items for my mom. Mom’s weekly list always includes milk, bread, and bananas, which are currently on Ibotta. Through Ibotta, we were able get rebates of $0.25 – $0.50 back on purchases we were making anyway. And to top it off, by just signing up for Ibotta, we got $10 each!!
Tip #7: Stash your cash!
We’ve been doing a lot of side hustling lately to pad our early retirement fund. One of those hustles is taking quick in-store assignments through Field Agent. Each assignment pays $3-$10. We could put the money in our savings account but instead we’ve decided to invest it with an app called Stash Invest. Stash allows you to purchase ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) for as little as $5. ETFs are set up like a mutual fund (insomuch as they are comprised of multiple assets) but they trade like a stock. They have very low costs, as opposed to mutual fund investments. If you sign up for Stash, you automatically get your first $5 investment for free. That’s $5 in free money – a win even if you cash out and never use the app again!
What would you add to this list?