Switching Insurance Companies

I stayed home with my sick daughter Tuesday, so I thought it would be a good use of my time to call some insurance companies while she was taking a nap.

I ended up calling different companies for 3 hours, but did end up saving $600/year between our homeowners insurance, rental property insurance, and car insurance.  It was cheaper for us to go with one company for the car insurance, and another for the home and rental, instead of using the same company for all three.

I’ve been with the same insurance company since I just started driving at 16 years old.  They have slowly increased the rates over the past couple years, and the agent I’ve had the entire time retired, so I had someone new.  I thought that was a good time to see if I could get the same insurance for a cheaper price.

When comparing policies, dig out your existing policy so you can compare the numbers for all the details.  Have the insurance agent you’re speaking with over the phone give you the limits for everything that’s covered, so you can make a fair comparison.  It takes some time, but you can save some serious money.  Our car insurance is half the price of our previous policy, so that alone saves us a ton of cash.

If you haven’t shopped around for insurance in a while, maybe it’s time.  Call around and compare your policies to what other companies offer.  You might be able to save some serious cash by switching, just like we did.

Picking a Bank – Is It Time to Switch?

There are a lot of options when picking a bank.  There are local banks, credit unions, nationwide banks, and online banks.  If your bank has fees associated with it, a limited online bill pay system, limited ATM access, or any other reason you’re not happy, maybe it’s time to switch.  A lot of options exist out there that might be a better fit.  But how do you know where to start?  What features should you look for?

Start by looking at the fees.  Get a bank that has little to no fees associated with it, and stay away from banks with a lot of fees.  Larger banks won’t give you the individual attention you might need, and will treat you just like a number.  Find out about the customer service for some banks, as you will most likely need to use them at some point for fraudulent charges, etc.

Local banks can be good, but they usually aren’t the best choice, in my opinion.  They typically have a limited subset of ATMs that you can use without a fee, and have very limited online bill pay, if anything.  The good side to a local bank is that you should expect great customer service.

Credit unions are usually a good choice.  They usually have fewer fees, and care about their customers (since you are typically a part owner in a credit union when you sign up for an account).  The customer service is usually good, but find out for sure before signing up.  They are typically local, but some offer a refund on any ATM fees you would have to pay to a third party ATM.  Ask people that live near you what credit union they use, and their experience with them.  Find out if they have online bill pay, and try to take a test drive to see how cumbersome it is to use.

Big banks (such as Bank of America) usually have a great online bill pay system, but offer horrendous customer service.  I’ve experienced this myself.  We were Bank of America customers for years, but when I finally had to utilize the customer service, I fired them.  I kept them around for so long because their online bill pay was easy to use, and I already had everything set up in there.  When they made me set up my accounts from scratch, and pay for new checks again, I left.  They charged fees for a lot of things (checks, overage “protection,” transferring money to a non BoA account, monthly maintenance fees, etc).

I don’t use checks for much, but it’s still nice to have them around.  Some online banks (such as Charles Schwab) offer completely free checking accounts.  Even the checks are free.  You have to have an investment account with their free checking, but that’s not that big of a deal.  You can hide the account online if you really want, so you’ll never even see it. You don’t have to have any money in it either, so you can pretend that it doesn’t even exist.  There’s no minimum amount that you have to keep in the account, and no monthly maintenance fees.  You even get paid a small interest rate each month, as an added bonus.  The downside to an online bank is depositing money.  Schwab gives you envelopes to mail in a deposit, and you can deposit checks via their mobile app (I love that feature!).  Schwab also refunds ATM fees, so you can always get cash if you need it.  Capital One 360 has something similar, but I only have a savings account there.

I think our setup is pretty ideal.  We have Schwab for our online checking account where we do all of our bill pay and daily transactions, and we have a local credit union that handles our savings account through a high interest checking account.  If we need cash, I will use the credit union, and try to use one of their ATMs (although they do refund any ATM fees).  I deposit any checks we get through the Schwab mobile app, which is even easier than going to an ATM (since you can deposit checks from your living room in your pajamas if you want).  I have envelopes to send a deposit in, but have never used them.  I’d probably go deposit the money in my credit union if it’s over their $1000 daily deposit limit on the mobile app, or if the mobile app won’t accept the check for some reason.

When looking to switch banks, make sure you get one with no fees.  You should never have to pay any sort of a fee for a bank to hold on to your money.  There are just too many options out there that make fees obsolete.  Good luck picking out a new bank!

Time For a Change – Need Your Feedback!

It’s time to come up with a better name/slogan for my blog.  It’s too generic, but I’m having a hard time coming up with something that fits better.  I’ve got a few ideas, but want to hear from you guys.  So leave a comment below that you think represents my blog.

Remember, this blog is about personal finances, and events that occur in my life.  I want to try to capture both aspects in the name.  I’m looking for something catchy that people can remember.

Let me know your thoughts!  Let’s turn this into a discussion post, with lots of comments.

I Spent $400 And Didn’t Think Twice About It

That’s right.  You read that correctly.  Just yesterday, we decided to drop $400 and I didn’t even have to think about it.  That’s a ton of money, but it was money we planned on spending for a while, and it was in the budget.  Here’s what happened.

We’ve been looking at a front screen door for over a year now.  We’ve done research, read reviews, etc. and finally narrowed it down to a specific door.  We wanted a screen door so we can get a breeze to blow through our house.  All of our windows in the main living area are in the back of the house, so it can still feel stuffy during the beautiful spring and fall days.  So we decided we wanted to get a storm door with a screen for our front door, in order to let the fresh air flow through our house.

After all our research, we almost bought one last fall.  The only problem was that we didn’t quite have enough saved up for the expensive $300 price tag on the door we really liked.  So we decided to wait until this spring.

I install home theater systems on the side, and I just completed a job.  We took the money that I got paid for that, and allocated it to the door.  I also had a 10% off coupon that Discover decided to just randomly send me for Home Depot (that expires at the end of the month), so I used that.  Just over $300 spent, just like that.

But we weren’t done.  We also have a lot of mulch around some landscaping in the front of our house, so I got some mulch ($40 total).  I had to repair a part of our landscaping, as well.  We planted something that didn’t end up making it, so I had to repair the mesh under the mulch.  I had to buy a huge roll of fabric (which I will end up using later on), but it costed $13.

And over the not so cold winter months we got a vole.  I received some gift cards to Lowes for my birthday, so I decided to splurge on two solar powered noise stakes (for $19 a piece) that is supposed to get them to naturally move out of the area, instead of trying to poison them in a cheap way like I have in the past.  (The cheap poison backfired on me when my dog dug up and ate some of the poison.  We had to get her stomach pumped.  She was fine, but it was an ordeal I won’t be repeating.)

So when you add all of it up, I ended up spending just over $400 in one trip.  And I didn’t even blink.  That’s something you won’t see me do very often, but I will do if we have money allocated toward something.  That’s the beauty of having a budget.  You spend on what you want, and you don’t feel bad about doing it.  I don’t spend money in other areas, but we do spend it where we want to.  A budget doesn’t stop you from spending your hard earned money; it helps you decide where to spend the limited amount of money you have, while keeping you living within your means.

New Year’s Goals – Progress Update – Three Months

It’s April, and the temperatures are just starting to warm up outside.  Things are pretty plain with this update, as everything went as scheduled.  Here’s a quick update on my 2013 New Year’s Goals:

1) Reduce debt by 68.33%.
Target: 8.79%, Actual: 10.06%.  We contributed pretty much as expected this month.  Here’s a graph of my progress so far:

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 7.18.26 PM2) Run a 5k.
I’m hoping I can complete this by the fall.  Haven’t started yet.

3) Complete a bike race.
Haven’t started this yet.  It’ll come once it warms up outside.