Find Money You Didn’t Know You Had
April is Financial Literacy Month, an opportunity to increase your knowledge and skills to manage your finances. For LSS Financial Counseling, it is an opportunity to share our experiences and information about how to create a more stable financial future.
The two of us, Ashley and Tasha, have a combined total of 26 years of experience in financial counseling. We have met with thousands of individuals and families who have faced money challenges ranging from debt to mortgages to low credit scores. We know that life throws us curveballs that land us on that razor thin line between financial stability and chaos.
Because of the pandemic and the uncertainty it creates, individuals and families are a little on edge when it comes to finances. Many of us are looking for ways to cut costs and build savings. The good news is there are places you can find money you didn’t know you had. Discovering this unexpected treasure is similar to finding cash under your couch cushions. Here are some “cushions” you can look under to find that cash.
Tasha’s Experience: Capture What is Missing
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some reduction in expenses for many. Personally, our family is spending less than we were prior to COVID-19. Since I am working from home, our need to fill up the gas tank has been cut in half. My children’s sports and summer camps were canceled. We’re eating out less, and I am handling the family’s haircuts. On haircuts alone, we saved more than $300 over a six-month period.
Take time now to review your own budget. Look for areas where your spending has been reduced, such as:
- Student Loan Payments
- Day care
- Gym memberships
- Sports and activities
Reviewing these budget items and others will help you determine how much you are not spending.
Next, get a plan in place for what to do with this new-found money, or it will easily get lost in your everyday spending. If you’re uncertain of your employment stability or don’t have an emergency savings account, I recommend putting the extra funds towards savings first. Ideally, you want to have enough money saved to cover 3 to 6 months’ worth of living expenses. Once your savings are built up to a comfortable level, use that extra money to pay down debt.
Ashley’s Advice: Your Credit Can Save You or Cost You
You might have heard that better credit ratings get you better rates, but what does that really mean? Well, it can mean thousands of dollars! A lifetime of poor credit habits and a poor credit record will cost about $200,000 more in fees and interest than a lifetime of excellent credit will. If that isn’t jaw dropping enough, here are some other ways improving and protecting your credit will save you money:
- Cheaper auto and homeowner’s insurance
- Better cell phone packages
- Credit cards with better rates and rewards
- Little to no deposits on utilities
- More employment opportunities (30% of employers check credit as a part of the hiring process.)
The best place to start is by reviewing your credit report. You can meet with one of our LSS counselors for a FREE credit report review or visit www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit report. You can pull your report weekly (for free) until April 20, 2022 due to the pandemic. After that date, you will still be able to get one free report annually from each of the three credit bureaus (Transunion, Equifax, and Experian).
Once you have reviewed your credit report, start improving your score by:
- Disputing any inaccurate information, including personal information.
- Making on-time payments, which has the largest impact on your credit score.
- Paying down credit cards.
- Maintaining a credit card balance of less than 30% of your total credit card limit.
A Little Time Can Save a Lot of Money – More Advice from Ashley
Taking time to make changes to your budget can seem like a deterrent to taking action, but every month that goes by is more money slipping through our fingers. Just a couple of hours of your time could save you more than $100 a month! Here’s where to start:
- Call your cell phone and internet providers, and talk to the retention department. Let them know you are thinking of leaving for a cheaper competitor. Then ask if there is a deal they can offer you to stay. They will! I do this every 6 months and save $20 a month.
- Contact your heat and electric company, and ask to get on a budget plan. This will keep your energy bills the same year-round, making it easier to budget with no major increase in your winter bill.
- Drop your cable for internet TV. The average cable bill is $60-$75/month. If you don’t have a smart TV, use streaming services -- for example, Chromecast, Apple TV, or Roku -- to watch TV.
- Swap your paid streaming services like Netflix and Hulu for free streaming services such as Peacock, Crackle, IMDBtv, tubi and Vudu. This is another savings of $20/month.
- Plan your meals, and order your groceries online for pick up. It will ensure that you get only what you need and prevent any impulse buys. This small change can make a dramatic reduction in your grocery bill.
- Shop for new auto and homeowner’s insurance, especially if your credit has improved since you last checked quotes.
- Unsubscribe from ALL the retail emails you are getting. This prevents you from shopping for something that you didn’t need or want until you got that email. All specials are listed on the store's website, which means that the only thing you’ll miss out on is the temptation!
LSS Financial Counseling has provided trusted, non-judgmental support for more than 30 years, working with individuals and families to find “cash in their couch cushions” and save money. Our experienced counselors also provide free, confidential support with budgeting, expense tracking, debt repayment, credit reviews, options for getting lower credit card rates and strategies to build savings. Call 888.577.2227 to schedule a phone or virtual session, or get all your support online.
Ashley Hagelin is a Financial Counseling Supervisor with LSS Financial Counseling.
Tasha Symiczek is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling.