I also find that important advice is mixed in with silly stuff, like “refinance your mortgage” with “use your coffee grounds twice”!
Furthermore, I have read that men get advice that’s global and involves managing the whole budget, whereas women get advice that’s very detailed and targeted at saving a few pennies here and there.
I don’t know if that’s true, and Lord knows I’m no financial expert. But I’m going to tell you two things that definitely fall in the category of “learn from my mistakes” and hopefully won’t overwhelm you.
First, do everything you can — do whatever it takes — to pay your bills on time.
And by this I mean the bills that charge you a late fee.
Are you spending hours clipping coupons that will save you a few bucks and then spacing out on your cell phone bill? Do you realize that a late charge of $25 on a bill of $100 represents a 25% interest rate? Would you take out a loan that charged you 25% interest? You’d be mighty foolish to do so, and yet that is what is happening when you forget to pay this bill.
Credit card companies are notorious for changing their due dates slightly every month. If you are one day late with your payment, you will likely be slapped with a $39 late fee.
Do you realize that if your balance is, say, $1000, this is a 3.9% interest rate (not compounded, I can’t do that kind of math, but my way understates the rate) on top of whatever rate you are already paying? So if that card charges you 7.9% (which is too high), you are actually paying 11.8% (way too high!) by being late.
So if you are like me, and have several cards because of the benefits you get (free shipping from L. L. Bean, points at Amazon, frequent flier miles, etc.), your chances of missing a due date are pretty good, and then all your benefits are wiped out. It would have been better to pay $11 in shipping that sweater than $39 in a late fee!
Stop and think of how many coupons you would have to clip to get back that $39!
If you don’t keep your checking account balance up to date, you risk bounced-check fees, which amount to a very expensive loan from the bank. You can check your balances online, you know!
Make a list of when your bills are due and tape it next to your computer. Enter the dates in your tickle file (Google Calendar is a great application — try it!) so that you get an email reminding yourself to pay on time. Do what it takes to stop getting smacked down by these fees!
And this talk of interest rates brings me to my second tip for saving big money.
Second, take advantage of a good offer to transfer your credit-card balances to a lower-rate card.
Get out your bills and check the interest rate — it’s printed there on the statement.
Get the best rate you can (you can even call the company and ask them to lower your rate — sometimes that works!). Lately I’ve gotten many offers for 2.99%. Do it! Just make sure that it’s for the life of the balance, not just a few months.
Then: don’t use that card for purchases! That’s where they get you. Just keep your transferred balance on there and pay it off as you are able.
So those are two tips from a sadder but wiser budget balancer. I’m no expert, but even I can tell that you will save more money doing these two things than hunting down a cheaper can of beans!