We get more bills for running our homes than ever before. Ten or twenty years ago, we didn’t have such complex cable bills, had no Internet or cell charges at all. Now, we’re all tied up to a myriad of monthly charges.
And many of them are quite high. Energy is pricey these days. Cable? Brutal. Property taxes have soared and insurance rates are insane.
It’s tough to keep track of all these expenses and make sure you’re getting the best deals and not being ripped off.
Here are my tips for staying on top of home expenses.
Find a system that keeps all your bills in one place so you don’t forget to pay them and you can easily nab them when there’s a problem. For me that system is digital. Many banks now allow you to get your bills sent direct to your banking portal. But I’m a big fan of epost.ca. This is the site of Canada Post, which has serious privacy rules. The site keeps your bill for seven years (the magic number for keeping all your financial information for tax purposes) and you can keep track of most of your bills in one place, make notes (I always note when the bill was paid and write down my bank’s confirmation number). You see the balances in one place and can click on the bill for details.
Downsides: epost does not synch up with all my bills, and a I get my gas bill and a few others on paper only, and my credit card both in paper and electronically. At tax time (since I’m self employed some home expenses are write offs) it is somewhat easier to enter a pile of phone bills all at once instead of scrolling down to find them online. But the filing is simpler and I have less paper at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, you want to pay all your bills the same way simply so you can keep track. I use the “pay bills and transfer funds” portal on RBC.com, which has a good transaction history section. Paying bills by cheque or at the bank machines sometimes doesn’t leave you with as good a paper trail: be consistent and keep records so if there’s a dispute you can quickly look up when you paid that hydro bill.
Review Your Bills
This is an annoyance, but you really need to review all your bills at least twice a year. Things like utilities are less flexible. That said, that rental water heater might be gouging you. Look at how much you’re paying, see how much heaters are new and call the company to find out if you can buy back yours and save money long term. But be careful: water heaters, at least in Ontario, are a hot consumer area right now and you will get hard sells.
Banking fees, meanwhile, are a great place to save money. Look at your statements and see what you’re paying and call to find out if there’s a better deal. With bank fees as they are these days, having numerous accounts is not worth it. Consider changing to a no-fee account and skip the fees altogether.
Internet, cable and cell phone providers are the most likely companies you’ll be calling regularly with issues about your bill. Have your bill in hand when making a complaint about an extra fee. Also, make sure you use all the channels you are getting charged extra usage fees for – this is a common area for gouging.
Be firm with these folks, if you insinuate you may leave, often deals are offered. I just talked to my cable company and now have the highest cable packages for the same price as the medium package. Mind you, the deal expires in two months and if I don’t call at the right part of the billing cycle, I’ll likely get dinged another month. (Plus my kid will flip out when he loses his favourite cartoon channel again.)
If you have all of these services with one provider, read here to find out why you should beware of bundle packages.
Insurance is key too: make sure you are not paying a high replacement rate for a beat up old car. Go through your statement at renewal time, line by line, and see where you can save money.
Know your Rights
When you run your home, you have to see yourself as a consumer. Be sure everyone providing you services is playing fair. Every province in Canada has consumer protection laws. A good place to get general and provincial information is the Consumers Association of Canada.
Rules vary across the country, but generally speaking service providers must spell out all the terms of service (often in fine print). They must notify you if things change and usually give you 30 days notice for changes to services or prices. Always call to complain if you don’t like what you see: consumer outrage has made companies back off from egregious policies. Don’t feel shy about complaining or reporting a worrisome practice (the web site above offers a complain roadmap for each province).
Carefully managing your household expenses can mean the difference between feeling cash-strapped every month and getting true value for what you pay for. Take the time to get this stuff in order — it will pay off.