Managing Household Finances

5 Easy and Quick Steps to Save Big on Medical Bills

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by Alex on March 31, 2014

5-easy-steps-to-save-on-medical-bills

It has been a while since we have talked about this – like four years! So we thought it was time to share with you one way to save big money on your medical and doctor bills.  We were reminded to tell you about this again because we just used these steps again last week and saved another $252 by following these steps to save money on our medical bills!

We first mentioned this a while back when we told you about our $1,000 meal.  That “expensive meal” was mainly due to a quick trip to the emergency room; as it turned out it was actually $1,300 submitted to insurance (not our portion thankfully!).  But, even after insurance, our portion of the emergency room was $600 (we were so close to meeting our high deductible if you’re wondering).  So why are we telling you all of this?  It’s because we want to always give you the full scoop, but even more so let you know what we really paid.  Even though the hospital showed my portion as $600, I paid $450 which then resulted in a zero balance!!  How did we do it?

The secret is in negotiating your balance by paying the total amount in full and early.  We do this all the time and are successful in negotiating the rate a majority of the time.

Here’s the simple steps we use:

  1. Make sure to watch closely for your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from the medical insurance company.  The sooner you can call the hospital/practice, the more bartering power you have. It shows you are on top of the bill and a responsible person.  This sets the stage for them to give you a balance break.
  2. Call and plan on paying the amount in one lump sum – you lose your negotiating power unless you can pay it all right then.
  3. Speak kindly to the person that answers and confirm your information.  Ask them if there is any way they could give you a discount if you pay in full today.  Explain that you would like to pay this balance in full.
  4. If the representative can’t help you, thank him or her for all their awesome help and ask to talk to their supervisor or administrator (trying to skip talking to the representative in step #3 is often viewed as offensive and rude – and just last week I didn’t need to talk to a supervisor to receive the discount).  Remember to be kind and relate that you will make sure to tell the supervisor how much you appreciated the help – you only want to talk to the supervisor to see if they might be able to help with discounting the balance.
  5. When the supervisor gets on the line make sure to do as you just said – tell him or her that you really did appreciate the representative’s help.  Then ask what kind of discount they will give you for paying in full today (again remembering to be very kind in the phone call).  Explain that you would like to pay this all off today and if you did that, would they give you a discount?

And voila!  Our average discount is generally about 10-25% off the remaining portion of the bill.  We really can’t give you the definitive answer why they do this, but it appears some of the reasons is due to lesser administrative costs in combination with how difficult it can be to collect the amount in full.  Cassie used to work as a paralegal early in our marriage and one major client was a large hospital.  Eventually they would have to go the legal route with collecting on the long overdue unpaid medical bills.  It’s a nightmare for doctors and hospitals to collect the amount they are owed.  So many will be happy to reduce for full payment and close the account that day! It saves them tons of money to reduce the “risk” of not collecting.

We don’t have large medical bills often but when we do, we try to follow this process.  We can’t say that it has worked every time – because it hasn’t.  Some are not willing to negotiate.  However, it only takes a few minutes to ask and it is worth asking, especially if you can save big money.  We have  but we just did this process again this past week on another emergency bill and sure enough, I followed the steps above and within minutes, I saved $220 and the bill was complete.

Now we did want to clarify and give a caveat.  When we were in debt and had our financial woes, there was no way we could do this – we did not have an extra few hundred laying around to pay off a medical bill all at once.  It wasn’t until we became debt-free and had money saved to be able to cover things like this.  We tell you this because we realize that it will require extra money around, and that we haven’t always been able to do this.  We also want to make this an encouragement for yet another reason to become debt-free!

Have you ever tried this before?  What tips do you have?

Alex & Cassie
 

Why It’s Important to Create a Price Comparison Shopping List

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by Cassie on March 10, 2014

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As a reminder, the 30 Be Intentional baby steps are designed to get you on the right foot, the right track and give you energy, efficiency and organization which will propel you into a life that is able to develop an overall financially smart, happy and frugal home. We encourage couples and families to do these challenges together so the whole house can function well!

As the 30 steps go along, we will be focusing on 5 areas for the Be Intentional Month:

  • Self
  • Home
  • Budget
  • Schedule
  • Frugality

See the full list of baby steps HERE.

Today’s challenge is to help in the area of frugality again and this one is going into a home binder that we will be sharing with you in a few days, so print it and get started on filling it in and then you can store it in this binder coming up!

Be Intentional Baby Step #22:

Create Your Regular Shopping List with Price Comparisons

What is a Price Comparison Shopping list? 

This is a free download and you print as many as you need.  Then as you are shopping over the next few months, slowly fill this out to show what the regular price is of the items you buy on a normal basis.  This will help you to monitor sales prices that are posted in our grocery shopping section to compare with the regular price to help you determine when it is a good time to stock-up on that item!

The point of this is to know your price point to help save you money and become a savvy and wise grocery shopper. The cool thing is, this will help you to save loads of money, whether or not you use coupons!

This might seem overwhelming at first, but I am going to tell you that you do not need to have it all filled out today.  The challenge is to print it off and get it in your home binder and fill-it out as time goes on.  I personally find that I could not do something like this just sitting down at one sitting.  I forget and don’t realize just all of the foods we have on our normal “non-coupon” shopping list.  These are items I pretty much buy when we are out regardless of whether there is a coupon and sale attached with it.

Why It’s Important to Complete the Price Comparison List

This list is vitally important as you can then use this list to help you:

  • form future recipes
  • keep your pantry stocked with a several month supply
  • keep inventory
  • This is the FIRST step in our “4 Tricks of the Trade” to save 60-70% on your groceries, household and personal care each week.
  • most of all, track prices so that when your family’s “normal” item goes on sale somewhere, you can nab it for the lowest prices!

I find that this list is often built when I run out of a regular use item.  Just keep it handy and then begin to fill-it out.  It is designed to list a comparison price for up to three stores for each item.  In addition, you can create the store abbreviation legend in the bottom section in case you forget or one of your family member’s uses the list one day!

Here’s some examples for the legend on my list: WM = Walmart, KR = Kroger, TG = Target, etc.

In the end, this is going to be a very useful tool, so just get it printed and started and handy to continue to work on! You will be thankful that you have it!

<== Download your printable Shopping List and Prices Comparison Form HERE

One final thing….. we also have a Facebook Group where you can engage in discussions, receive encouragement and talk to others that are participating in the challenges too for more ideas! Head to the Be Intentional with The Thrifty Couple Facebook Page HERE and ask to join us there! You can also invite friends and spouses too!

Alex & Cassie
 

You May Have Lost Money Out There and Here’s How To Find It: We Just Found $100

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by Cassie on January 29, 2014

floating lost money

We mentioned this back in 2010, but since it has been a few years, we thought it would be good to remind you about possibly finding lost money! In fact, it comes up again here on our site because we check every once in a while and every time we have come up dry….. except this time! We had just under $100 waiting to be claimed from a medical bill we made an “overpayment” on! SWEET!

In fact, we have checked this over the past few years because we know it works! Last time we found $75 for a family member that was waiting to be claimed! We didn’t have any then, but we do now!

And apparently many people do! There is around 33 billion dollars from 117 million accounts* that have unclaimed money sitting, waiting to be claimed from bank accounts, stocks, dividends, paychecks, etc.  The average account holds around $280!

So if you have you ever wondered if you have unclaimed, lost money floating around out there that you just need to claim? It would be difficult if not nearly impossible to think back over your whole life to determine whether any portion of that unclaimed money belongs to you! Well, thankfully it is actually easy and FREE to claim any lost money that is due to you.

There are two sites that you check this information from:

Each of these sites walk you through the steps to enter your name and any any state that you have resided in and then informs you if you have missing money to claim.  These sites are officially endorsed by each of the states.

We actually heard about these sites many years ago and checked it then.  Neither of us had missing money then and we just checked again today and found money today, so check it often!

When you do a search (like in the case of me searching under family members names) it does not give you any details.  The actual person has to make the claim.  But you can do your close family a favor and check for them too!

We are curious if you have missing money coming to you. Let us know! With 33 billion unclaimed, surely someone is a new millionaire amongst us!

* The actual facts regarding the 33 Billion dollars and 117 million accounts in this article were taken from unclaimed.org/what.

Alex & Cassie
 

Start 2014 Off On The Right Financial Foot with This Free Credit Report and Credit Score Check

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by Alex on January 2, 2014


Start 2014 on the right financial foot and know what is going on with your credit and credit score.  Even better is when you can check it and monitor for free and securely.

We take advantage of free credit report options ourselves and have had some minor mistakes that we could fix that did help our score some.  It also allows us to stay motivated to stay on financial track. So with that, we will let you know when we see free credit score or report opportunities.

Well, today is one of those opportunities.  We have personally used this option!

This is a really nice and free tool that we have used and appreciated to have for many reasons.

But first, you may wonder why we are posting this. Why is a couple that promotes paying off debt and working towards your financial goals (without more debt) promoting a tool to track your credit score?  We just shared our 2×2 Plan where we paid off $100K of debt.  Does this even make sense?

It does when you consider using a tool for your purposes.  Credit Sesame is a free tool that you can use to get your credit score each month, view your debt balances broken down into simple categories, amongst other tools.   During portions of our debt-payoff, we were paying a fee each month to evaluate our credit reports and balances.  It was a helpful and motivational tool to have.  We still check our scores and credit today, but for a different purpose now that we are free of our consumer debt.

Here’s what we read about Credit Sesame:

Credit Sesame is a free online personal finance tool that gives consumers an easy way to monitor and manage their credit and loans all in one place and save money on debt. It provides consumers with free access to their credit score every month, analysis, advice and tools to take control of their finances, unlock their credit potential and borrow smarter. The greatest perk of Credit Sesame, it’s 100% Free! They don’t require a credit card, and there are no trial periods.

When we say to use the tool for your purposes, what we mean is use this tool for the reasons you want to use it.

Just like your home, your finances need to be cleaned up regularly. With spring-cleaning fever around the corner, it’s time to give your winter finances a fresh look and get your credit in tip-top shape.

Did you know that the recent FTC study found that over 20% of Americans or 40 Million credit reports have reporting errors that are costing consumers money in credit card interest rates and loans? Start your spring cleaning by making sure that your credit report does not contain erroneous information that could be impacting your credit score. Keep tabs on your credit report activities and your score by signing up for free credit monitoring and score services like Credit Sesame, so that you can easily protect your financial good standing.

* Receive daily credit monitoring alerts
* Get your FREE Credit Score Monthly
* Limit ID Theft Damage
* Find Potential Errors Sooner
* Get Access to Better Loans and Save Money

We are not too concerned about our score at this point after we fixed a couple of mistakes (from doing this the first time!), since we are debt-free. But we another reason that was important to us to monitor and check was to – make sure we don’t see any loans show up on our account or changes to our credit scores (one for each of us) each month.  If we see a mysterious loan added to our account next month, we know we need to take action immediately.  If we see our monthly update to our credit score drop all the sudden – we need to find out why.  What we are doing is trying to use a tool to protect our family and at the same time not have to pay $14-$20 per month, which is what many people do pay to check their scores and credit.

We use Credit Sesame because its one of the tools we depend upon to protect our family from identify theft.  But you always have to be careful of free tools – how can you trust them?  Here’s a couple of things you can find right on their site:

  • They don’t share any of your information at all unless you request them to.  Even their employees don’t have access to your data.  Its secure and encrypted.  That’s important to us.
  • They are certified by the big security companies.  You can even tell from the image below that McAfee runs a daily scan on their site to ensure it meets their security standards, which McAfee states “help protect you from identify theft, viruses, spyware, and other online threats.”

  • They have been featured in major media which helps calm us and let us know they are legit!  Just because a company offers something for free doesn’t mean we should use it.  But when they are certified, we see them all over the internet and are featured by large news sources we can take comfort they are a safe option for us.

Finally, we encourage you to sign up twice – once for you and once for your spouse.  You both have different social security numbers, you both are suspect to identity theft and we know first hand how things can “pop-up on one credit report” but not on the other.  You will need to sign up with different email addresses (standard security practice) due to privacy laws.

Sign up today for FREE HERE and give yourself a head start to track your credit score monthly and give yourself an extra sense of security by knowing you have visibility to your report – and all for FREE!

See more financial tools and resources here!

Alex & Cassie
 

10 Ways To Save on Your Homeowner’s and Auto Insurance Premiums

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by Alex on November 6, 2013

save-on-auto-and-home-insurance

Homeowners and Auto Insurance is a very valuable and very needed expense for nearly every household.  It is not something you should cut out of your budget (and if you owe money on a home or auto, your lender will require insurance).  So even though this expense is necessary, there are a few tips that we have discovered to help you reduce the cost of your insurance premiums for both your home and your autos.

Here’s some tips that we do as we strive to get great insurance for a good price and as we attempt to keep finding our 2% budget cuts.

  1. Get a new quote annually.  Get new quotes from other carriers to compare costs and see if you can find a lower rate with the coverage you desire.  We get an annual insurance check.
  2. Have insurance companies compete. With your new quote, you can either switch providers, or take this quote to your current provider and see if they will compete for your business.  If you have been a good customer with no claims that year, there is a very good likelyhood that your current insurance will compete.
  3. Increase deductible – You buy insurance to be protected in case of the “unexpected.”  But it really is unexpected and many go their entire life without needing to make any insurance claims. So, we recommend increasing your deductible so that your monthly premium will be reduced.
  4. Get the minimum coverage needed on your vehicle.  Meaning if you own your vehicle, only get liability.  You typically are only required to get comprehensive if you still owe your lender money on your vehicle (another reason to get out of debt :)) Do talk to your insurance agent as far as other coverage they would recommend such as uninsured driver and medical expenses.
  5. Ask about any of these discounts:
    • Discounts for having safety measures in place like alarm systems – If your home has certain safety measures in place, you may be in for a discount. The most common is an alarm or security system.
    • Discounts for professionals - This one was new to us this year. We recently re-evaluated our policy and discovered that we could receive an additional discount for being a professional (by day, I am a Software Engineer).  You will need to prove your professional status, generally with college transcripts, degree, or professional certificate.  Also, a professional is going to be defined differently for each insurance company.
    • Discounts for marital status - If you are married, you may be able to get additional discounts.
    • Good credit discounts - If you have decent/good credit, this may also give you an additional discount!
    • Good driver discounts - If you are typically a “good” driver and have not had any violations in a couple of years or on your record.  You will want to check with your state as to how long violations will stay on your record. It varies from state to state and from violation to violation, but the average for minor traffic violations is 2 years.
    • Good Student discounts - This would be a helpful one for any of the “teens” that are on your insurance.  Much like credit rating for adults, a student’s good grades are often used to judge the “responsibility” factor of a teen and so if you have a good student in your house, you may earn some extra discounts.
    • Low mileage discount - If you do not drive a lot (usually less than 8K miles per year), you may be eligible for additional discounts.
  6. Only insure rebuilding costs, not the cost of the land – If the unexpected were to happen, it is most likely going to happen to only your home and the claim you would be making would be the cost to rebuild your home – not the land! The land your home sits on is generally included in the total value of your home (like the price if you were to sell it!), but you will be able to “reuse” the land and so there is no since in insuring the land, just the cost to rebuild the home that sits on that land.
  7. Pay your policy in a 6 month or 1 year lump sum. - This is another common discount among insurance providers. Many will give you a dollar amount discount or percentage off discount by paying your premiums for a full 6 months or even 1 year.
  8. Check with employer to see if they have a group discount for homeowner’s or auto insurance – Many companies will have provided a group purchasing discount through that employer – you can think of it like a co-op.  Some larger companies will offer this discount as an “added benefit” to working for their company by allowing employees to buy into the group plan.
  9. Combine policies with one company – Another common discount is the multiple policy discount.  Many insurance providers will give you discounts if you also purchase your car insurance, life insurance, etc. with your homeowner’s policy.
  10. Think twice before going with a discount company. We have always bought our insurance through one of the top insurance companies (All State or any of the ones with “Farm” in the name) as the service is high quality and the claims submitted are most often paid up on our behalf. We have heard many, many bad reports from the discount companies in regards to paying up on claims. So be aware that you may be getting what you pay for. We can’t name names, but do your research and check reviews online and with the Better Business Bureau to verify if this is a discount company worth going with.

As a side note, we follow the above steps each year and we also discovered a super sweet discount and pricing for couples and individuals that fall into a certain category.  If you have no violations on your record – or in other words, a good driving record  and really good credit – you may want to look into Farm Bureau as they have an elite discount program for those that fall into this elite category.  Although it is not many that will qualify for it, if you have the above factors, then this is worth checking out.  We discovered it this year as we were doing our annual “shopping around” and it is probably going to be something we will not be able to beat in the future.

You really can find discounts on those expenses.  Please share with us any tips that you might have in getting a bit of your money back from purchasing home insurance.

Disclaimer:  We are not licensed insurance agents.  As such, please do not consider this as professional advice, but please always solicit and work with a certified insurance agent prior to implementing any of the ideas presented in this post.

Alex & Cassie