Look up “financial literacy” in the dictionary and no doubt you’ll find a picture of Clark Howard. The radio and TV consumer expert, nationally syndicated on over 200 radio stations throughout North America, enlightens his listeners into saving more, spending less and how to avoid getting ripped off.Howard is in the business of what he calls “consumer empowerment”; Go Banking Rates is doing the same this month for its Financial Literacy initiative, and sat down with Howard to get his 10 takes on some quick money saving tips.
1. Locate missing and unclaimed money in your name.
There could be unclaimed money from bank accounts, insurance policies and safe deposit boxes hanging out unclaimed in your name! Simply go to MissingMoney.com and punch in your name to do a database search of available unclaimed funds across all states.
2. Lower your student loan payment.
I have a simple rule about student loan debt: Never take on more of it for a degree than the likely first year earnings in your expected career. If you need help repaying federal student loans, there’s a website called IBRInfo.org that tells you, in plain and simple English, how to utilise a new law to reduce your monthly payments based on your income and family size. You could be paying zero dollars and still be considered current on your federal loans!
3. Never buy an extended warranty on electronics.
Salespeople will tell you that an extended warranty “protects your investment.” But a TV, a washer or a DVD player is not an investment. Besides, the failure rate on flat-screen TVs, for example, is only three per cent in the first four years of ownership, according to Consumer Reports. Why would anyone buy a warranty when you have a 97 per cent chance that your TV will work for numerous years?!
4. Go no contract for cell service.
Monthly contracts are for cowardly companies that prefer to handcuff you rather than compete in the marketplace based on customer service and price. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have new competition from sites like BoostMobile.com, MetroPCS.com, StraightTalk.com and VirginMobileUSA.com that typically price out around $40 or $50 for unlimited talk, text and web with no stinking contracts!
5. Comparison shop for health care if you’re uninsured.
One of my big beefs with medicine is how hard it is to figure out the cost of medical care before you actually receive it. If you don’t have health insurance, or you have a big out-of-pocket expense with health insurance — say you’re in a high-deductible plan and it really matters what you’re going to be charged — there’s a website called PriceDoc.com. It allows you to put doctors and providers into competition with one another to provide the best cash prices for medical care.
6. Reduce your withholding.
People will often come up to me around tax time and happily ask for advice on what to do with their giant refund. They treat it like found money or some kind of windfall. But it’s not, and I’d prefer that you get no refund at all. If you are getting one, that means your money has been working for the government — not you — all year long.
So try this: If you get paid bi-weekly and typically get a refund of $1,000 each year, then you’re being over-withheld by about $40 per pay period. Talk to human resources or a payroll specialist at work to make the change and reduce your withholding by $40 per pay period. You’ll have more money in your pocket each pay period and you won’t be making an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam all year.
7. Stop throwing money away on expensive razors.
This one is small, but it adds up over time. Razor blades don’t degrade from the act of shaving, but instead from the moisture that collects on them after you leave them in a puddle somewhere in a wet bathroom. Instead of spending big bucks every week or month on blades, try drying yours carefully using a towel and make it last super-long like I do. I routinely take a disposable razor and make it last 6, 9 or sometimes even 12 months. Now if I could just figure out a way to shave without spending a dime on shaving cream!
8. Raise the deductible on your insurance.
The typical auto insurance customer can save 15 to 30 per cent on their premium for collision coverage by bumping their deductible up from $250 to $500, according to the latest numbers from Consumer Reports. Those savings jump on average to 40 per cent if you make the leap to a $1,000 deductible.
When it comes to homeowners insurance, we’ve come a long way from the $500 deductible of yesteryear. Raise the deductible to either $1,000 or $2,500, regardless of whether you’re in a house, a townhouse, a co-op or a condo. (Some mortgage lenders put a cap on how high you can set your deductible. Check with yours about limitations.) You’ll save a bundle and reduce the risk that your insurer will cancel your coverage because you made too many claims.
9. Build a healthy budget.
People always tell me they have no idea where their money goes each pay period. Use free online budgeting tools to register your accounts and your spending will be automatically tracked. Mint.com, Yodlee.com and ClearCheckbook.com are just a few of the most popular websites for this.
10. Plan for retirement.
In your retirement plan at work, do you have access to target-date retirement funds? These funds offer a “set it and forget it” approach to investing. Funds are labelled by your expected year of retirement — say, 2030 or 2045 — and the portfolio’s risk is automatically adjusted as the date approaches. I like the offerings from Vanguard, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price.
For more tips on saving money from Clark Howard, visit www.ClarkHoward.com.