Excerpted from POGUE’S BASICS: MONEY: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) About Beating the System. Copyright © 2016 by David Pogue. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The pages of POGUE’S BASICS: MONEY are teeming with tips on keeping more of your money when you spend it, and taking in more money when you’re not working. But there’s one more extremely important area worthy of your consideration: your existing financial entanglements.
Arrangements you set up a long time ago. Situations you’ve probably forgotten all about — but you’re still in them. Services you’re still paying for — or paying way too much for — without realizing.
Every couple of years, therefore, it’s important to audit yourself. Work through the following three situations and make sure you’re getting and keeping all the money you’re entitled to (the book has six others):
The Cell Phone Plan Audit
Your cell phone carrier changes its plan offerings several times a year. The odds are pretty fantastic that you are still paying for a plan the costs more, or delivers less than what you could get now.
One day — do it this week — call the carrier and ask if you’re on the best plan. The company will happily review your current plan and see if you’re paying too much. (Or worse, you’re paying for too little and getting slapped with overage charges.)
Here’s the best part: At one point, making a change automatically reset the two-year clock on your contract — but no longer. Switching plans does not extend your two-year contract.
SAVINGS BALLPARK: $180 a year (a $15 reduction in monthly plan charges)
The Home Phone Plan Audit
How often, really, do you use your home phone line? Millions of people still have one but rarely use it.
If your response is, “Well, my cell phone doesn’t get a signal in my home” — well, then you should ask your cell phone carrier for an in-home microtower, also known as a “femtocell.” It has various names: the Verizon Network Extender, T-Mobile Cellspot, AT&T MicroCell or Sprint AIRAVE.
The femtocell is free from T-Mobile; from the other companies, you may have to pay for it. But at least it’s a one-time expenditure, unlike the hundreds you’re wasting on your landline at this moment.
SAVINGS BALLPARK: $240 a year (savings of canceling a $20 monthly phone-line charge)
The Monthly Subscriptions Audit
Nothing makes a company happier than getting its customers to sign up for subscriptions. You know: antivirus software, backup systems, credit-reporting services, gym memberships, access to a website, magazine subscriptions. Netflix, Hulu, Dropbox, Spotify, Apple Music, LinkedIn Premium, YouTube Red.
Millions of people sign up for 30-day free trials of things, intending to cancel within the 30 days — and then they forget. Or they sign up for certain services but have long since stopped using them.
Either way, you’re still getting billed, month after month. $9.95 here, $4.99 there. It’s real money that you’re throwing away. And it adds up.
You really, really should set aside a few minutes to ferret out the ones you’re still pointlessly paying. Here are three ways to go about it:
Manually Pore over your last couple of credit card statements. Hunt for little charges that repeat month after month. Track each one down.
Automatically At AskTrim.com, you sign up for an account. Then you enter your credit card number, and presto: The free service automatically reviews your last 90 days’ worth of charges and finds those niggling little recurring subscription fees for you.
You can cancel any of them just by texting, for example, cancel Netflix. Trim cancels that subscription for you, even if that involves sending a letter through the mail (as with gym memberships).
The nuclear option If you still suffer from the haunting worry that there are auto-billing charges you have forgotten about, contact your credit card company and report your card as lost. They’ll happily shut down the account and mail you a new card with a new number.
Bingo: You’ve just cut off all your monthly subscriptions at the knees. You can reactivate only the ones you’re really interested in keeping — Quentin Carlson
SAVINGS BALLPARK: $240 a year (cancelling two unwanted monthly subscriptions of $10 each)
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