Amy Davis’ consumer tips: Check your store receipts for pricing errors
May 22: Check your store receipts for pricing errors
HOUSTON – In 2011, I noticed so many errors on my grocery store receipts, I started logging them. I called the project “Operation Price Check.” At the time, Kroger had what they called a “Scan Right Guarantee” where if the price of an item scanned more than what the price said on the shelf, the customer could get that item for free. In 12 months, I was overcharged more than $60. After I called the errors to the cashier’s attention every time, I was refunded more than $140. Kroger has since discontinued the “Scan Right Guarantee.” This is what a Kroger representative emailed me last year when I asked about it:
“We discontinued the Scan Right guarantee several years ago. The scan right guarantee was introduced when scanners were new in our stores and there was a general distrust of computers. We do regular scan audits in our stores to ensure that our prices are scanning accurately. And most importantly, we empower our associates to make it right for our customers when any issues arise, not just issues related to scanning.”
Even without that guarantee in place, it goes to show how much more you could be paying in error if you don’t check your receipt before you leave the store.
May 20: A $20 online defensive driving course can lower your car insurance as much as 20%
You’ll need to call your auto insurance carrier on this one to find out how much you can save, but most companies will discount your rate between 5% and 20% when you take an approved defensive driving course. If you pay $600 for insurance a year, you could save $120 for up to three years. Most online defensive driving courses cost between $20 and $40. Make sure the course you choose is approved by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR).
May 19: Make some money with a temporary or extra job
Typhoon Texas is looking to fill 1,000 seasonal jobs as the west Houston waterpark eyes a summer opening when authorized by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Part-time, seasonal positions are available in water safety, janitorial, food and beverage, front gate, maintenance and other areas. Apply online.
John Moore Services is aiming to fill 50 permanent full-time positions within plumbing, HVAC and electrical trades. A few available positions include installers, service technicians and sales technicians. Each role requires a trade license and a minimum of two years of residential experience. John Moore Services offers sign-on bonuses for qualified candidates and provides competitive benefits. Apply here or email your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sourcepoint Mortgage has more than 700 U.S. job openings (75 in Houston) – customer service, mortgage processing, mortgage underwriting, as well as in their Mortgage Training Associates program. These are all currently work-from-home opportunities, which may move back to offices once things normalize. Interviews, onboarding and training will all be done remotely.
You can find more job openings here.
May 18: 5 uses for your old coffee grounds that can save you money
You’ve heard the old saying “Waste not, want not.” That’s the idea here. Don’t waste what you do have and you’ll never be in need.
If there’s one thing I do have a lot of, it’s coffee grounds. Instead of tossing yours in the trash, you can use them for one of these 5 things:
Simply mix a handful or two of coffee grounds into the soil around your plants. Coffee grounds are rich in calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, all minerals that promote plant growth.
At-home skin treatments
You can use coffee grounds to make an exfoliating face mask, a coffee/sugar body polish, a foot scrub, and a lip smoother. A teaspoon of coffee grounds wrapped in a damp paper towel can be applied to puffy eyes to reduce swelling.
As a furniture stain
Google this for directions. Maybe you can try it during the quarantine.
Put a bowl of these in your fridge or freezer to absorb unwanted odors. You can fill old pantyhose or socks with coffee grounds to make sachets that can go in your drawers, your car, your shoes, or anywhere else that has a bad smell.
Coffee grounds can be used to keep away mosquitoes, fruit flies, and beetles. Just set out small bowls filled with coffee grounds, or sprinkle them around any outdoor areas where you hang out and don’t want to be bothered by bugs.
Not everything you read about home cleaning remedies are true. Here’s why you should never get rid of coffee grounds down your garbage disposal.
May 15: Protest your property taxes and save thousands on your tax bill
This could be the most important thing you do all year and you should do it every year. Protesting your taxes keeps your property tax bill lower. Friday, May 15 is the deadline (or 30 days from when you received your property tax appraisal), but you only need a few minutes to file your protest online. Now is the time to look around your home and find everything wrong with it. Unleash your “negative Nelly” to find water stains, leaks, cracks in your foundation, drainage issues outside, eyesores near your home that are likely bringing down the value of your property. Get out your phone and start taking pictures of those items as evidence for the Appraisal Review Board. You can look up how much your neighbor’s homes are valued at online at HCAD. Are their homes approximately the same size and quality as your home, but valued higher or lower? Use their appraisals as proof of why your value should be lower.
Here is some help to get you started on protesting. Just make sure you do it. And let me know if you have any questions. Good luck!
May 13: Put an ad on your car to make some money
You’ve seen cars wrapped and decorated with a company’s logo. Chances are the person who owns the vehicle either works for the business... or maybe they’re just getting paid to advertise with a sort of mobile billboard.
Companies like Wrapify will pay up to hundreds of dollars a month for you to turn your car into an advertisement for their product or service. You have to download the app on your Apple or Android smartphone and apply. When there is a campaign in your area, Wrapify will contact you about the opportunity.
Beware of car wrap scams that try to trick you into sending con artists your money. You can read about how those work here.
May 12: Participate in a clinical trial to earn extra cash
Local hospitals offer money for people to participate in medical trials. Hospitals and clinics do this all the time, and you can find local medical studies easily by searching online.
May 11: Make money off your old electronics
While most of us are home more often, many of us are using the time to purge and organize areas of our home. When you come across that drawer or closet full of old cell phones, tablets and computers, pile them all of the table and find out how much money you can get from them on these websites. Some let you trade-in for newer models, other sites pay you cash. You might as well declutter and earn a little extra money in the process.
Amazon Trade-In lets you send in your old electronics and receive an Amazon gift card in exchange. The card is tied to your account, so you don’t make actual cash... but you can use it for anything you would buy on Amazon.
Apple Trade-In accepts smartphones, tablets, watches and other devices in exchange for an Apple Store gift card.
Best Buy Trade-In program accepts just about every type of electronic device that they sell. You send it in to Best Buy using a pre-paid label and they will send you a Best Buy gift card in return.
Nextworth asks you some questions about your device online. If it wants your old electronics, it will make you an offer. When you accept, you can a print out a prepaid label. Once Nextworth receives your device and verifies its condition, you will get paid by check or Paypal.
If you don’t want to check the trade-in value of your device at 5 or more sites, just go to Flipsy. This site will provide you with a list of businesses that want to buy your device and how much each is willing to pay.
May 8: Lower your car insurance bill by 70%
If your car has been sitting in your driveway a lot these days because of the coronavirus pandemic, you may be able to save some money on your car insurance. This will only work if your family has at least two vehicles and you’re not using one.
Call your car insurance company and ask if they offer a storage or parked car policy. This coverage is usually used by people who are away on deployment for weeks or months at a time, and it can save consumers as much as 70% on their auto policy.
Once you're ready to drive again, just call up your insurance carrier and let them know to switch your policy back.
If you try this and you’re successful, I want to hear from you! Let me know how much you saved and who insures your vehicle.
May 6: Go easy on the Lysol and other disinfectants
In your haste to clean, disinfect and eradicate any trace of the coronavirus, the hardware on your front door may now look like this.
The damage may have been caused by Lysol. Kaitlyn Sharp, owner of Custom Plumbing & Hardware, says you should not spray Lysol on door hardware or faucets because it can damage them. Sharp says you may be stuck with this look now. Some of her clients have luck using WD-40, olive or vegetable oil along with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to restore some of the shine and color.
If you still have the care instructions or warranty information for the hardware, read those to find out how you should clean it. If you don’t, Sharp recommends dish soap with plain old hot water. Wipe it on. Let it set for several minutes and then wipe it off and dry the area. It’s a lot cheaper than Lysol too.
May 5: Save money by making gifts instead of buying them
Unless your mom really needs or wants something specific, we all know handmade gifts are the most appreciated. I saw this DIY photo candle online and thought it looked like a great idea.
All you need is a pillar candle, white tissue paper, wax paper, plain printer paper, a printer, scissors and a digital photo you want to use. This could also make a cute Teacher Appreciation gift. On that note, this little gift I’ve given in year’s past to teachers seems especially useful this year.
Just trace your child's hand onto a piece of construction paper. Cut it out. Print out these "Hands Down You're the Best Around" tags and attach them to a bottle of soap, hand sanitizer or hand lotion. Our teachers all live close by, so we'll drop them off to let them know we appreciate all of their hard work while we are learning from a distance.
May 4: Now is a good time to take advantage of low-interest refinance rates
What is your current interest rate on your mortgage? Bankrate is showing refinance rates as low as 3% right now. That is pretty amazing. If you haven’t been laid off, or if you have and you have some extra money on hand for closing costs, you can save a load of money by refinancing your mortgage right now. Get on the phone and ask your lender what rates you can get if you refinance. Then call around some other banks to compare the rate.
Another option is recasting your loan. Recasting does require some cash upfront, just like refinancing, but you can lower your monthly payment significantly without adding to the length of your loan. This works best for homeowners who have been in their homes for a while and paid a significant amount down on their principal. The bank basically reamoritizes your loan based on how much you owe now. Your interest rate doesn’t change-- just how much you owe and your monthly note. Banks usually require you to pay about 10% of what you owe before they will let you recast your loan; but that 10% goes towards your balance. We were able to lower our monthly note by more than a third by recasting our mortgage in 2019. Call your bank and ask about it.
April 30: This browser extension can save you money every time you shop online
I normally don’t like browser extensions. They can be super annoying and cause all kinds of pop-ups when you’re trying to work. But Rakuten (formerly E-Bates) has only helped me save money. You’re probably familiar with shopping through other web portals to save money at certain retailers. For example, if you’re going to buy something from Macy’s online, you could go through Ebates, and save 5% or 10% off the purchase. You can still use coupons and promo codes too. These savings sites are great, but I would always forget to check them when shopping. When you install Rakuten as a browser extension, it recognizes when you are checking out at a retailer that it has partnered with to save you money... and before you check out, it will alert you “Wait! We can save you on this purchase!” With just one click, you can save money. Rakuten mails you a check every 3 months with all of the savings you have accrued. I just got my statement for April that shows I have earned $13.02.
If you join now using this link https://www.rakuten.com/r/AMYSDA14?eeid=28187 & spend $30, we will both earn $30. This deal is only good through 5/1... but no hurry! Even if you don’t use the link- join anytime and start saving!
April 29: Review your credit card statements
I made an appointment on my calendar to review my credit card statement last weekend. I specifically wanted to make sure all of the hotels and car rental companies that promised to refund our money for a canceled vacation we had scheduled in March had indeed credited my account. It took me approximately 15 minutes to spot $279 in money I shouldn’t have to pay. The car rental company only refunded $87 of the $187 I had prepaid, even though the company’s website touts that they are refunding customers 100% for cancellations in certain time periods due to COVID-19. A quick email to customer service cleared that up and got me the remaining $100 and an apology.
I also noticed a $179 charge from an electricity company I have never used. Disputing the charge was super easy online. Now I am waiting for my card company to reverse that charge.
I know I am not breaking new ground here, but check your credit card statements. While you’re there, if you see any recurring charges from subscription services you don’t need or no longer want- break up with them and save the money.
April 28: Make an easy $400 by switching banks
Like any other company, banks are willing to compete for your business. Many lure new customers with sign-up bonuses. That’s right-- all you have to do to get money is switch banks. The best bonus we found available right now is $400 from Wells Fargo when you open an Everyday Checking account online by July 31. You do need to read the fine print. You must set up a direct deposit in the account and receive at least $4,000 in direct deposits within 90 days of opening the account. But then you get your $400 bonus. It might be the easiest $400 you earn this year.
The more you put in your checking, the more you can earn in bonuses. Bankrate has done all of the homework for you. Click here for a list of the best bank sign-up bonuses and what you have to do to get them.
April 27: Make money from your store receipts
While I have found I am spending less money during this pandemic, my grocery bills have remained the same. If anything, we are eating at home far more often. And every time I return home with my groceries, I make it a habit to snap a picture of my receipt. Why? So I can earn a little extra money.
If you haven’t downloaded the Fetch app, you are missing out. This is the easiest rebate app I have ever used. When you open the app and take a picture of your grocery store receipt, you get points. You will always get a minimum of 25 points no matter what you buy. Each week, you can get extra points when you buy products from certain manufacturers. For example, this week when you buy Axe, Caress, Dove or Suave products, you get eight times the points for those items. You’ll get 500 points for buying Nature Valley granola bars. Those points add up. Every 1000 points are equivalent to $1. You can trade those points in for e-gift cards to dozens of retailers. My go-to is always Amazon because I know I will always use the reward; but you can get gift cards to Sephora and Ulta, Game Stop, even to load onto a virtual Mastercard or Visa to use anywhere. Right now, if you use my referral code & upload your first receipt by Wednesday, you will get an automatic 2000 points (and I will get 4000)! Oh-- and if you forget to upload your receipt the day you shop, no worries. You have up to 14 days after the date on your receipt to upload it. If you have some receipts in your wallet now... you can upload those and start accumulating points. My referral code is: D7UHA
Ibotta is still in the cashback game too, and you can make your receipts do double duty by uploading them here AND on Fetch. To be honest, after I discovered Fetch, I haven’t used Ibotta as much on grocery receipts because it is more time-consuming.
There are three steps: First, you open the app and click to activate offers for things you purchased or plan to buy at the store. Some of the items and brands are very random, and I may not buy anything on the list. Just figuring that out takes time to scroll through every offer. One offer on the app, for example, is $2 back when you purchase any size of Tampax Tampons at Walmart. You can get .25 back when you purchase any Coca-Cola product at Walmart. Step 2: You may also need to scan the barcodes of the products you purchased. Step 3: Take a picture of your receipt that shows your purchased items/ offers that you activated. You accumulate dollars this way. When you reach $20, you can withdraw your cash via Paypal, Venmo or you can get in e-gift cards for dozens of retailers.
You can also use Ibotta in stores. I did it recently at Ulta. This is the Pay with Ibotta feature. You have to connect a valid credit or debit card to your Ibotta account. When you visit an available retailer from the Pay with Ibotta section located on the Home Screen, tap the retailer you’re shopping at and enter the total amount of the purchase. Then, you’ll review and tap Pay. Present your Pay with Ibotta gift card QR code to the cashier to scan as payment. I got $6.40 in my account instantly.
April 24: Cut your electric bill with these 10 simple steps
How much do you pay for electricity every month? Whatever it is, you can trim that bill by changing your habits. These things are super easy... and once you realize how much money they can save you overtime, they don’t seem so difficult.
Your HVAC system uses the most energy of any single appliance or system in your home. It accounts for 46% of the electricity you use each month.
- Turn your thermostat to 78F in the summer. I know that seems a bit warm, but did you know you can lower the temperature in your home another 4 degrees by turning on your ceiling fans?
- Replace the air filters in your home every 3 months. It will help your AC system run more smoothly, using less electricity.
- Set your fridge to 38 degrees and your freezer to 5 degrees. This will keep your food fresh, but your fridge and freezer won’t need to work as hard to maintain the temperature.
- Take shorter showers. Hot water is expensive. If two people in your home cut their shower time by one minute each, you could save $30 over a year.
- Don’t wash your clothes in hot water. By switching from hot to cold water for an average of three loads per week, you could save up to $22 per year on your energy bill.
- Adjust the temperature on your water heater. The default temperature setting on water heaters is typically 140 degrees. Lowering it to 120 degrees can reduce your water heating costs by up to 10%. Leaving town for a few days? Turn your water heater to the lowest setting to conserve energy usage.
- Unplug unused electronics. Standby power can account for 10% of an average household’s annual electricity use. Unplug unused electronics and save $50 a year.
- Run full loads. Cut one load of wash per week, even if you’re already using cold water only, and you could save $18 a year on your laundry costs.
- Toss a towel in the dryer. A dry towel added to your dryer load can significantly reduce drying times. If you’re doing seven loads a week this could save you $27 a year.
- That heat-dry setting on your dishwasher is expensive. De-select it and, based on one load of dishes a day, save up to $27 for the year.
April 23: Save money by switching to store brand products instead of name brands
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: buying generic, store-brand items instead of national name brand products can really save you money.
The most obvious place to put this into practice is the grocery store, but it extends to all sorts of items, from cleaning products to air filters. I tested this theory with 21 different products in 2018, putting the store brands to a blind taste test against the name brands. In 2019, we did the same taste test with 10 different types of generic and name-brand cereals. And because I will go literally anywhere to save you a buck, we also tested name brand toilet paper versus store brands in 2018.
Check out these stories to see which store brands came out on top. And if you’re wondering where to draw the line, there are some items you shouldn’t buy generic.
Stand by-- I’ve just had an idea. What if I did an entire shopping trip, comparing my cart total if I buy name brands versus how much the same generic items would cost?
Let me know which store brand items you swear by. Send me an email at email@example.com or on Facebook @KPRC2AmyDavis.
April 22: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for the win
This tip may not save you a ton of money, but it can save you time. The next time you’re shopping, drop a pack of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers into your cart. One viewer told me she uses them to get burned-on oil and grease off of her pots and pans. It sounded crazy enough that I gave it a try. And guess what? It worked like a charm.
It worked on one of my non-stick pans and a stainless steel pan too.
While I was tackling projects, I also tried the eraser on the tabletop of a play table in my son’s room. He went a little nuts with stickers and left these marks all over it.
The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser worked so much quicker and easier than rubbing alcohol ever has.
What are some projects you’ve used a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser on? Send me your before and after pictures on Facebook @KPRC2AmyDavis.
April 20: This is how you can lower your cable bill
If you haven’t cut the cable cord, that monthly bill is probably one of your biggest (aside from your mortgage and car loan, of course). While you’re trimming expenses, do yourself a favor and take some time to slash that bad boy. The expert on this subject is a blogger I turn to often. Kyle James is the creator of “Rather Be Shopping.” In this post, he walks you through exactly what to do and say to get your bills lowered with Dish Network, DIRECTV, AT&T, Verizon & Comcast. When I did this story on-air in February, several viewers emailed to tell me they negotiated savings of more than $250. Let me know how you do.
April 17: Look for this fee on your electric bill to get a big refund
This is an oldie, but a goodie when it comes to finding money when you need it. Get out your electric bill and scan the fees for Misc GRT or MGRT. It stands for “miscellaneous gross receipts tax.” If you live outside the city limits (of any city), you should not be paying that tax. If you see it on your bill, you have likely been paying that fee every month for years... and you can get that money back.
I first did this story in 2009. Then again in 2013. Each time, I heard from viewers that were refunded hundreds of dollars.
The first thing to do if you notice you’re being charged the GRT or gross receipts tax is to call your electric company.
Be prepared for the customer service representative to tell you that it's not wrong and you do owe it. You'll probably have to escalate the call to a supervisor.
One of the easiest ways to figure out if you technically live in the city is to look at who you pay for water and trash service. If you pay a municipal utility district and not a city, you do not live in the city (and you should not be paying the fee).
April 16: Save money on iced coffee by making your own
As an early morning reporter and mom of three, I work two shifts. I brew six cups of coffee at 3:30 a.m. for my first shift, sipping on the java as late as 9 a.m.
Shift two usually begins just before school pick-up at 2:30 p.m. (No one’s going anywhere these days, but I’m just as tired!). That’s when I realize I am never going to make it through homework and dinner until bedtime at 8 p.m. without another caffeine fix. For that, I usually grab an iced coffee or cold brew from the fridge and take it to go. It costs between $4 and $5 for a bottle each week.
This week, I took the advice of viewers Peggy Sue Odneal-Kaiser and Kathleen Duggan and started freezing the coffee I don’t drink from the carafe each morning. Now when I want cold coffee, I can grab a frozen cube or two, pour some milk or sweetener over it in a cup and be on my way! If it saves me $5 a week, I will save $260 a year. You can always get fancy and look up some delicious cold coffee recipes on Pinterest to dress them up.
April 14: Save Money with Meal Planning- Here are 2 weeks of menus & a shopping list
I think it’s safe to say we’re all cooking a lot more these days. Our grocery bills have doubled, with me trying to keep enough food in the house to feed the whole family breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. When we’re buying so much, it’s easy to overload our shopping carts and then waste a lot of food we don’t eat before it goes bad. There’s a cure for that. It’s called meal planning!
I asked the Creative Contessa Nora Kapche to plan 2 weeks of meals for all of us. She has the recipes and even the printable shopping list on her website. All you have to do is buy the ingredients (stick to the list) & make the food. You save time, money and your sanity not having to think about what’s for dinner.
How do these dinners sound?
Monday: Thin Sliced Chicken Breast over confetti rice and lemon pepper Brussel sprouts
Tuesday: Ground Turkey/Beef Stuffed Bell Pepper with buttered corn
Wednesday: Pork Loin chops with buttered mashed potatoes and green peas
Thursday: Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos with Rice and Beans
Friday: Italian Meatballs with Spaghetti and side salad
Saturday: Order Take Out from Local Business
Sunday: Pork Fried Rice
Monday: Chicken Alfredo Pasta with broccoli and side salad
Tuesday: Taco Soup
Wednesday: Crock Pot Pork with Potatoes and carrots
Thursday: Thai Chicken Stir Fry over Rice
Friday: Crock Pot Chili
Saturday: Order Take Out from Local Business
Sunday: Pork Tacos or BBQ Baked Potatoes
April 13: Home cleaning projects with items you already have
Is it just me or are you now also noticing a lot of things you’ve neglected at home?
Being here 24/7 has given me a lot more time to see spots and stains and build up in areas I should have cleaned a long time ago.
This scale and hard water build-up on the heads in my shower really started bumming me out. With no place to go, I decided to tackle it once and for all.
Here is what you need to remove this build up:
- Ziploc bags (sandwich size or gallon size- depending on the size of your showerhead)
- White vinegar
- Rubber bands or electrical tape
- Scrub brush
- Pour the vinegar into the Ziploc bag.
- Pull the bag over the shower head so the vinegar is covering the entire thing.
- Secure the bag with a rubber band or electrical tape.. or both.
- Leave the bags on 3 or more hours.
- When you remove the bags, gently scrub the limescale away.
April 10: It pays to shop around for lower Rx prices
Prescription drug prices are constantly changing. If there is a drug you refill regularly or even a new one you only need for a short time, it pays to shop around.
Take these 3 steps to get the best price on any medication:
- If it’s a new prescription, ask your doctor if there is a generic version of the drug. This can save you hundreds of dollars over the brand name medicine.
- Ask your doctor to give you the prescription instead of calling it in to a specific pharmacy. Make sure you can easily read the drug name, strength and dosage on the prescription.
- Check prescription drug comparison websites like these:
Honeybee Health is an accredited online pharmacy that offers free home delivery. You don’t need insurance because Honeybee Health works directly with wholesalers. They say they provide savings of up to 80% off other pharmacy’s prices.
April 9: Covid-19 has dropped electricity prices. Lock in a low rate now.
One positive effect of this health pandemic is that electricity rates have dropped in March. With so many large businesses shuttered, demand for electricity is down. Since electricity prices typically peak in the summer, that makes this a really good time to shop around for a new retail electric provider. The average price of electricity right now in Houston is about 9 cents a kilowatt for a 12 month plan Go check your bill to see if you are getting anywhere close to this. If you’re not, shop around for a fixed-rate plan that will carry you through the summer. The hottest months of the year are the worst time to be in variable rate plan or stuck without a contract.
Also, prepare yourself for a bigger electric bill. If your house is like mine and you’re working from home, you’ve been using a lot more power than usual these past few weeks.
There are several ways to find a new plan:
On the state's Power to Choose website, http://www.powertochoose.com/ you can shop for an electricity plan by typing in your ZIP code. Beware of low rates, because they often are much higher once you read the "Facts Label" also available on the website.
Once you narrow down your choices to two or three companies, check out the complaint ratings of those companies right on the same site.
There are a lot of websites and tools for shopping for electricity. Here are some of the most popular:
My True Cost: This website is owned and operated by CenterPoint Energy. When you input your smart meter number, the website can use your usage data to tell you how much your electric bill will be if you picked various plans on its website. CenterPoint charges the Retail Electric Providers if they want to be listed on this site, so there are far fewer plans here than on Power to Choose.
Geek Your Rate: This website finds you the lowest-priced electric provider and plan in your area based on your last 12 months of usage (You have to type it in from your bills). You pay a one-time fee of $9.95 to access the rates and the website’s algorithms to find your best plan for a 48-hour time period. You can also try it for free to see how it works, but the data Geek Your Rate gives in the free trial are 6 months old.
Smart Meter Texas: At this website, you can get access to your smart meter data so that you can shop around and know exactly what plans will work best for you. This is the same data CenterPoint uses on its My True Cost website. This site puts the information at your fingertips because, after all, it is your data.
Energy Ogre: Grab a recent electric bill and head to this website. Enter some basic information from your bill and within minutes, Energy Ogre lets you know if it can save you money. If it can, you pay the company for one year, either $10 a month or $120 up front. You can find promo codes online to get one month free. Once you sign up, the company keeps looking at energy plans to make sure you’re always getting the lowest rate possible. When you sign up with Energy Ogre, your electric bill and the $10 monthly fee is set on auto-pay so you don’t have to worry about remembering to pay each month.
Real Simple Energy: For $9 a month (Your first month is free.), this company searches for the best electric provider for you. They monitor your bills each month and look for the best rates available when your contract is near expiration. They also offer what they called “Fixed Bill,” where you get a fixed monthly bill with unlimited usage. Real Simple says it will never be more than what you agree to at sign up; and if you use less electricity, you earn up to 20% cash back at renewal.
Texas Power Agents: For $99 a year, Texas Power Agents will evaluate your current contract terms, access your historical usage, and determine the best plan for you going forward. If you are currently in a contract with an early termination fee, they can calculate if it is best for you to cancel now or stay until the contract is finished before securing a better deal.
Energy Choice Experts: This company provides an apples-to-apples cost comparison of all 12 month plans based upon a client’s usage history and guarantees they will find the Lowest Annual Cost plan for each client based upon their usage pattern. New clients pay a flat $35. Returning clients pay $30. You sign up the for electricity service yourself. They only provide the analysis (the hard part).
April 8: How to lower your cellphone bill
Cell phone carriers change their plans and promotions all the time. If you haven’t checked to see what your carrier and competing phone companies are charging lately, it’s time to do some research.
Follow these steps to lower your phone in an hour:
- Pull up or print out your most recent phone bill so you can see what you pay and how much data, texts and minutes you use.
- Go to My Rate Plan and/ or Whistle Out to check the rates of every plan offered in your area. You may even find your current cell phone company has a plan for less than what you pay. They won’t call you up and tell you about it, but if you call them, they will switch you to the cheaper plan.
- Armed with the new information, call your carrier. Tell them you need to lower your phone bill and that you’ve found you could pay less with ABC cell company.
- All of the big carriers offer discounts and savings for state and federal employees, military discounts and student and teacher discounts. They can drop the price of your monthly bill by 15-20%. Ask about these discounts.
- Signing up for autopay can pay off. Both Sprint and T-Mobile will give you at least $5 off your bill each month if you let them automatically deduct your payment from your bank account or debit card.
Don't be afraid to switch to a lesser-known discount carrier. Many are actually the little brothers and sisters of the big wireless companies. Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile are both owned by Sprint.
Boost is currently offering 4 unlimited lines for $25 each month. When you sign up now, you will also get a mobile hotspot. Cricket Wireless is owned by AT&T. Right now you can get 2 GB of high-speed data and unlimited talk and text for $15 a month. Metro PCS is owned by T-Mobile. The smaller, cheaper carriers share the same network as their parent companies. The only thing that’s smaller is the price you’ll pay.
Let me know how you do. I want to hear about your savings! Send me your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 7: How to save money and descale your coffee maker
While you’re home, it’s a good time to do all those maintenance projects you never have time to do. When I noticed my coffee maker yielding far fewer cups of water than what I poured into the reservoir, I knew something must be wrong.
I’ve descaled espresso machines before, but never a regular old school coffee pot. The truth is, if you have hard water, the minerals in it can build up over time and block the holes inside your machine. There’s no need to buy a new coffee maker. Just follow these steps to unclog those holes.
Here is what you’ll need:
- White vinegar or lemon juice with no pulp
- Fill the water reservoir with vinegar or lemon juice.
I tried mixing six cups of water with six cups of vinegar. I ran three cycles this way, but my machine was stilled clogged. Every time I let the mixture brew, about four cups would evaporate into steam from the top of the machine. Only eight of the 12 cups came out in the carafe. Take a look.
When I tried the same with undiluted lemon juice, I saw the chunks of sediment and debris that was clogging my machine in the carafe.
- Press the brew button on the machine.
- As soon as the lemon juice starts to drip into the coffee pot, turn it off.
- Let the machine set for at least four hours or even overnight.
- Then press the brew button again.
- Brew 2-3 carafes of plain water to make sure there is no residual lemon juice or vinegar left in your coffee maker.
I just saved you the $40 to $50 you would have spent on a new coffee maker.
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