Archive for the ‘Dialing for Dollars’ Category

First, a word about our utility costs: We live on-site for my husband’s business, paying a flat rate for rent and utilities out of our personal account. The amount was determined with our tax accountant, and at $1,000 represents 2/3 of our monthly income. Thus, any savings won’t show up directly in my goals and progress page.

Although we aren’t directly paying the utilities, it is to our advantage to cut the costs. We took a personal pay cut last year so the business could hire an employee (done!) and pay off its debt (in progress.) Once the debt is repaid, we will get a raise, so any money saved on utilities speeds that up!


This week, I called our phone/internet/satellite TV provider to negotiate our service. I did this last July and shaved 25% off of our bill without any drop in services, and got 3 free months of HBO/Showtime. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to save any money with my call today, since I’d renegotiated within 6 months and still had the lowest rates for our phone, internet, and TV service, including promotional pricing that are in place until this coming July. I’ll be dialing for dollars with our provider again when our promotional pricing ends!

When I called, I used the ideas found in this article. If you’re calling to negotiate your bill, read it first! I told the representative that I couldn’t afford our current bill and asked if he could help me. I was transferred to the retention department, and in 30 minutes saved almost $40 a month.

Once the contract is up, I’ll be canceling the satellite TV, cutting our bill almost in half from its original rate. Since the cancellation fee is almost as much as we’re paying for the service, we’ll keep it until then.

Next week, I’ll be calling to negotiate our cell phone bill, which hasn’t been negotiated within the past year, and I hope to have as much luck as I had with the phone/internet/TV service provider.

I want you to call your service provider and report back how it goes! Are you able to cut your bills by cutting unused services (we canceled a voice mail box we don’t use to save  $5/month) or asking for promotional discounts (DSL for $20.00 a month, instead of the $40.00 we’d been paying)? Let me know!

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Monthly Wrap Up

January is coming swiftly to a close and I’m ahead for the month with $114.00 in the emergency fund. It’s not the $500 I was hoping to have reached, and I’m a little anxious about this shaky start!

I did, however, start my IDA, actively pursue more options for bringing in money, turn my $10 donation into $100 for Haitian relief efforts, and took the plunge and dropped our health insurance for Medi-Cal (still in progress – this is not a fast process!)  I also had the money on hand to pay for my little set back without incurring debt, so it’s not all bad. I got my credit report and am ready to write letters to make corrections. It was a busy month!

I also far exceeded my goal of 7 no-spend days. I’m pushing myself with a goal of 21 no-spend days in February (mystery shops, gas, groceries, and routine bills excluded.)

I am currently expecting $115.14 for mystery shops (including reimbursements), $17 for rebates, $11.29 from E-bates, $10.00 from Swagbucks, and $26.50 for online surveys at Surveyhead. I am also waiting on $77 back from a bank error.

Goals for February

1. Stick to a zero-based, cash only budget.

2. Call to negotiate the price on all of our services – phone, internet, cell phone, car insurance, etc. Watch for lots of Dialing for Dollars articles in February!

3. Save or earn $886 to get back on track for my annual goals.

4. Finish paperwork on Medi-Cal and college for the fall.

5. All meals at home except for our anniversary dinner, with a gift certificate. (We’re celebrating ten years as a couple at the end of the month!)

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As mentioned in my Brave Skills post last week,  we are canceling our health insurance policy, the thought of which scares the heck out of me! I’ve been with the same provider since I was a child; my mom is an employee, and I went from her coverage to a plan with my previous employer to a small business plan with Mr. Penny’s company. I’ve seen the same doctor since I got pregnant with Peanut about 5 years ago now. I love my kids’ pediatrician. Though it pains me, leaving is no longer optional; our plan increased its premiums by 20% and deductible from $4,500 in 2009 – already a stretch on our income – to $11,000 in 2010 – utterly absurd.

I’ve been shopping around for health insurance for the first time ever, and it is not an easy process! I started out looking at other private insurance providers, but quickly determined that they are as unaffordable as our previous plan, so I searched for low-income health insurance in our county and found quite a few resources. If you’re in San Mateo County with a low income, these resources are worth checking out. If you need coverage somewhere else, your county’s  Health and Human Services website is a good place to start.

The first thing I stumbled upon was this list of low-cost or free health resources in San Mateo County.

Healthy Families is a state-wide program which offers low cost insurance with health, dental and vision coverage to children who do not have insurance.

San Mateo County Children’s Health Initiative offers health coverage for children ineligible for Medi-Cal or the Healthy Families program.

AIM is another state-wide program, this one available for pregnant moms who are without insurance but make too much for Medi-Cal.

For the whole family, San Mateo ACE Program is a coverage program provided by the County of San Mateo for residents who are not eligible for coverage through Medicare,  Medi-Cal, private insurance, or other third-party payers. It costs $240 a year and co-pays are $10 per visit, $7 per generic prescriptions. Very affordable, no?

Health Plan of San Mateo is a managed care program that provides health care to residents who receive benefits through Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid system), CareAdvantage (for seniors), Healthy Families, Healthy Kids, HealthWorx (for some county employees), and San Mateo ACE.

San Mateo ACE looked perfect for us, but our income is too LOW for this program; I discovered while trying to apply that we qualify for Medi-Cal. So after all the research, we’re going on Medi-Cal as a temporary measure until our income increases, hopefully within the next year. We’ll be using the Health Plan of San Mateo, with Medi-Cal for now but possibly San Mateo ACE or another program as our income increases. I’m also thrilled to discover that our old provider offers pediatric services through HPSM so we may be able to keep our beloved pediatrician!

I was really pleased to find that so many resources are available in our county for people whose income is not high enough to pay for private health insurance. I wish I’d done this research a few years ago, when we decided that I would stay home full time, as we’ve been on a limited income all this time and would have qualified for much more affordable insurance for the past four years!

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Peanut, our 4 year old boy, took swimming lessons over the summer. We have a pond in our back yard, and although he knows that he isn’t to go out there without an adult, knowing how to swim is a necessity should he ever slip outside while my back is turned. But swimming was scary. He would cry before lessons, even though once he was in the water he was happy as a clam, so we started to talk a lot about using brave skills to overcome what he anticipated to be hard or scary.

Bravery is when something is scary and you do it anyway, and it doesn’t come naturally. One has to practice being brave. When he had trepidations in class, I’d remind him to be brave. Soon, he was swimming across the pool, face in the water, without touching the ground, and he excitedly told me, “Mommy, I used my brave skills!”

Recently, I took both kids in to have blood drawn. I tried to prep Peanut for the needle – a small pinch, over quickly, and then a sticker – and reminded him to use his brave skills. “Any boy who can swim all the way across the pool without touching isn’t afraid of a silly little shot!” He squeezed my fingers but didn’t shed a tear. When it came time for his baby sister’s turn, he turned to her and said, “It’s okay, it’s just a little pinch! Be brave!” and held her hand. Understandably, she wailed, not yet having had the chance to understand or practice bravery!

I’m currently practicing my brave skills. We’re canceling the health insurance policy that I’ve been on my whole life. This year’s policy changes arrived and services were cut while they raised our premium 20% on a high-deductible plan; our deductible was raised from $4,500 to $11,000 a year. On a $24,000 a year income, we simply can’t pay out of pocket $11,000 a year for our health insurance deductible alone!

I’m anxious about finding new doctors, a new plan, and asking for reduced fee programs for low income families. I keep reminding myself that health insurance is a necessity and the effort will pay off, but it is taking all of my brave skills to pick up the phone and call around to admit, over and over, that our income is low and we need help.

Next week, my first Dialing for Dollars post will be about health insurance options for those readers living in San Mateo County, and how to find health care at a reduced fee in your area.

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Putting away $6,000 is a lofty goal for me. I’ve never been able to save that much, and it will take diligence and creativity to stretch each quarter as far as it will stretch and bring in extras to supplement the savings. I’ll be testing as many ideas for finding and earning extra money as I can, and documenting it along the way.  Here are a few of the ways I’m planning on saving, and what you can expect to find on the blog:

Scratch vs. Store Bought

In this weekly article, I’ll be determining whether it is more cost effective to make from scratch such items as condiments and convenience foods, household cleaners, and bath and beauty products, testing recipes and reporting the results.

Dialing for Dollars

Our service providers will be receiving a phone call to reduce rates for regular expenses, like auto insurance, phone service, and even the water company. I’ll post the outcomes of my negotiations, hopefully finding significant savings!

Menu Planning

Wasted food wastes money, and having a plan is the most effective way I have found to reduce food waste. I’ll be posting my low-cost menu plans each week.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without

Finding creative uses to keep things out of the landfill, keeping spending on new products mindful and to a minimum, and keeping our things in good working order will certainly keep money in our pockets. As I try new ways to use items up and do without, I’ll be sharing them with you.

No-Spend Days

Clearly eliminating all spending for a set period of time will save me money, but it may also help me to redefine and focus in on needs vs. wants, hopefully helping me to spend more mindfully when I do shop. My goal to start is 7 No-Spend Days each month.

Money Making from home

I’ll be exploring a number of options for making money at home, with a more detailed list of ideas tomorrow. Your suggestions for legitimate, legal ways to make money from home without upfront costs are welcome!

You’ll also find a monthly wrap-up to see what’s working and how well I’m doing at reaching my goal, tips for frugal home making, crafty goodness, and inexpensive activities, projects and products for the family.

Sound interesting? Subscribe now and don’t miss a thing, and post your comments with ideas, questions, or encouragement!

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