With so many responsibilities and bills, it’s easy to set up payments and services and forget about them. Sure, you still pay your bill every month or year, but you might be losing money by forgetting to check in on rates, fees and returns. From your 401k contributions to monthly utility bills, here are four automated services and subscriptions making you poorer.
1. Your 401k and IRA Contributions
Perhaps you have a 401k through your employer, or maybe you are self-employed and have a Roth IRA or traditional IRA you contribute to on your own. In any case, you need to periodically check in to make sure your investments still align with your financial goals and situation.
There are plenty of ways these accounts can get off track and make you poorer. You might have set up automatic contributions when you were making less money, for example, meaning you aren’t investing as much money as you should be — costing you in retirement tax deductions and returns.
In fact, if you set up and forgot about your IRA, you could be missing out on $500 to $1,000 in tax deductions annually. Over the past decade the IRS has slowly increased the maximum contribution for investors by about $500 to $1,000 every three to five years. If you are over age 50, you could be missing out on catch-up contributions, which help you max out your retirement savings.
If it’s been years since you considered your asset allocation, you might be taking on too much risk. Poor asset allocation can cost you big if the market dips just before you retire.
2. Your Utility Bills
Whether you rent or own, you are likely paying at least one utility bill. Depending on where you live, you might be able to negotiate your utility bills. Switching utility providers, however, is often your best bet for saving money.
To see if you’re overpaying, you’ll first want to check in with your state’s public utility commission. They will likely have information about natural gas and electric rates. This can help reduce the amount of legwork you need to do when negotiating with your utility provider. After all, in order to save money you first need to understand a reasonable cost for the services you use.
You will also want to start comparison shopping local suppliers who offer lower rates than what you currently pay. Be sure to check in on late payment, over usage and other fees. If you have your last bill on hand, you can speak with other suppliers and ask what you would have been charged for the electricity or gas you used if you had been their customer.
In addition to negotiating a lower rate with a supplier, you might be eligible to join an utility co-op depending on where you live. A co-op is where neighbors pool together funds as a group to pay a lower rate for utilities. In either case, be sure to read the fine print before signing up for any new service, as some co-ops can come with higher late payment fees and other charges.
According to a Consumer Reports study on utility use in Washington D.C., households using 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month can save up to $60 per year by switching suppliers. In a similar study by HouseLogic, utility customers in Ohio, Maryland and New York can save between 10 percent and 15 percent on utilities every year by switching providers. For a household spending $80 each month on electricity, this could equate to savings of as much as $144 per year.
3. Your Cell Phone, Cable and Internet Subscription Services
Like many things in life, monthly bills for entertainment and electronics like your cell phone, cable and internet go up periodically. If you don’t pay attention, these bills can drain your monthly budget.
When you signed up for your cable or internet provider, you likely received an introductory rate on your services. Maybe you got a $10 to $20 bill discount or free premium channels. After your introductory period ends, however, it’s up to you to either cancel your upgraded service, negotiate a better rate or jump ship to another service provider.
Lowering your bill might only take a phone call. If a phone call does not work, call again. Depending on who picks up your call at your service provider, you might get a rate discount or better package.
To give you more leverage when negotiating your monthly subscription costs, research rates at other providers. And when you call your service provider, be prepared to threaten to cancel your service if they are unwilling to help. Most often, providers will budge if you threaten to leave — your continued service is better than another cancelled account, after all. Even marginal savings of $10 to $15 every month can save you big every year — between $120 and $180 every year to be exact.
4. Your Auto and Homeowners Insurance
As a homeowner or renter you probably pay for insurance every six months or annually. Same goes for your auto insurance. In either case, you might have forgotten to negotiate your insurance rates — perhaps forgetting that you even had the option to negotiate.
If you haven’t recently asked for a lower rate, now is a good time to check in, especially if you have a clean driving record. Checking in every year can help ensure you’re always benefiting from the latest products and rates at your insurance providers. You might even find, over time, that you do not need the level of coverage you are paying for.
There are a variety of other ways to save on insurance, such as by bundling homeowners insurance and auto insurance together, and paying your balance up front rather than monthly. You can also pull quotes from other providers to make sure you’re getting the best deal in your area.
While you are looking into new rates, consider your deductibles and whether they still meet your current needs. Perhaps your vehicle is older and not worth as much, or maybe you recently changed addresses. Changing your deductible can help you stop wasting money.
Whether you trim costs off your cable subscription or improve your 401k asset allocation, you can put a stop on automated services that are making your poorer. Follow these steps for getting the most out of your monthly services.