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When you're about to make a big purchase, you probably do hours of research to find the best deal. Maybe you save a couple of hundred bucks along the way.
But what if I told you that you could save just as much -- and maybe a lot more -- every month? All you have to do is take a closer look at the dozens of small purchases you make every month, especially those automatic monthly bills you pay and don't even think about.
The classic example, of course, is a health club membership, where you sign up in January and make your last visit sometime around Groundhog Day. Gym owners count on people paying even if they don't use the service -- and they make it as difficult as possible to cancel your membership.
In this post, I've collected some of my favorite money-saving tips, most of which come down to reviewing those small transactions regularly, with the help of calendar reminders. Yes, this stuff can be a hassle, but I prefer to think of it as an investment, just like a stock that pays a dividend. In exchange for a little work now, you get to collect savings every month. At the end of the year, you'll be shocked at how much your total savings will be.
If you have a small business, even a side hustle, you probably own a few internet domains. Owners of small to medium-sized businesses sometimes have a substantial collection of these web addresses, each of which comes with an annual bill.
Lots of businesses still have domains registered with Network Solutions, which used to be literally the only place where you could register a .com domain -- and the legacy registrar still charges like it has a monopoly. For a two-year domain registration, I was quoted a price of $25 for each of the first two years, with a $37.99 annual cost for subsequent renewals. Oh, and privacy protection is $1.99 every four weeks, or $25.87 per year. After five years, you've paid Network Solutions just under $300 for a single domain.
Domain registrars often attract new customers by offering a great deal on the initial registration, then make up for it by jacking up the price for renewals. GoDaddy, for example, offers a .com domain for a penny for the first year; then, in the small print, they confess that a 2-year purchase is required and the second and subsequent years will be billed at $19.99. Privacy protection is free, at least. After five years, you've spent $80 on that domain.
At $12 a year, you'd come out way ahead with Google Domains, which also offers privacy protection for free.
Of course, factors like reliability and security should be at the top of your list, but there are plenty of high-quality domain registrars that don't cost an arm and a leg. Switching to a less expensive domain registrar can cut your annual bill dramatically.
How much do you pay every month for cell phone service? Your current plan was probably a good deal when you signed up for it years ago, but you might be able to find a better deal with a little comparative shopping. Given the competition among US carriers, you might be able to lock in savings that add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.
The best offers are typically available when you change carriers, because those companies are willing to give new customers big incentives to switch, typically as a prepaid credit card. If you're still paying monthly for a phone you purchased last year, for example, the new carrier might be willing to pay off that device as an inducement for you to switch.
Every carrier offers discounts for active military personnel, veterans, and first responders. Some offer discounts for nurses, teachers, and students as well. If the primary account holder in your family is over 55, it's worth checking out T-Mobile's Unlimited 55+ plans; you can get two lines with unlimited data, calls, and texting for $35 each (taxes and fees included). That Magenta 55+ plan is $50 a month less than the exact same Magenta+ plan for customers under 55, for a total savings of at least $600 a year.
If you don't want to change carriers, ask your current carrier if they offer an employee discount. If you have a company email address, it's easy to check.
How many big purchases are you going to make this year? Are you planning to replace your computer, buy new mobile phones, or upgrade your video conferencing hardware in your conference room?
Also: The best business credit cards with 0% APR
Even in a small office, that can represent a big expenditure. You could pay for the whole thing in cash, or you could use a line of credit. But why not take advantage of the opportunity to open a new business credit card that offers 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers? This type of offer is available regularly, with no-interest periods that run as long as two years. The result can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in savings compared to the interest you'd otherwise pay.
If you're not already getting at least 1% of the purchase price back for every transaction you make using your business and personal credit cards, it might be time to switch. It helps if you know where you do most of your spending, because credit cards can have a dizzying matrix of reward categories. The Chase Ink Business Preferred card, for example, offers 3X points on each dollar for spending on shipping, search engine advertising, internet, cable, phone services, and travel on the first $150,000 spent each year.
And if you do most of your purchases at Amazon or Costco, check out their personal and business cards, which are especially generous in terms of cash back.
But don't stop at cash back. These days, card issuers compete for your business by offering additional discounts, typically offered as statement credits. The American Express Blue Business Plus card is especially rich in this regard, currently offering 10% back on purchases at Dell, with a maximum statement credit of $1500 per year. You also get 50% off FedEx shipping, up to a total of $1000. And there's no annual fee.
Also: The best American Express business cards
Finally, look at extra perks like cell phone protection, which reimburses you if your mobile device is lost, stolen, or damaged. Just be sure you pay your monthly wireless bill in full with the card that offers this coverage.
Most online services offer a free trial, so you can evaluate the product and see whether it meets your needs. Invariably, they insist that you supply a credit card number that they can begin charging as soon as the free trial ends. If you forget to cancel, the recurring charges can add up: $10 here, $20 there, pretty soon you're talking serious money.
Also: Chase Ink Business Cash vs. Preferred vs. Unlimited: Which credit card is best for you?
It sounds counterintuitive, but the best way to avoid those accidental unwanted charges is to sign up for a free trial and then immediately cancel the services. Most services will allow you to continue using the service until the trial period runs out. If you like the service and want to continue, you can return to the account management page and turn those automatic payments back on. If not, you're off the hook.
An even more foolproof way to avoid unwanted charges is to set up a virtual credit card using the privacy.com service. For personal accounts, the service is free and allows you to set up as many as 12 cards a month, each of which can be limited to a specific merchant, to a specific charge amount, or a total amount. They can also be time-limited and canceled with one click. For $10 a month, the Pro account gives you 1% back on purchases along with the ability to create up to 36 cards per month.
Regardless of which method you use, I recommend checking your credit card activity at least twice per month. Those regular inspections allow you to see unexpected charges and dispute them promptly; they also give you a heads-up about any recurring charges that you might need to cancel. If you find even one dubious charge or a subscription you no longer need to pay for, the effort will have been worth it.
When PC makers unveil new models with fast, cutting-edge CPUs, they rarely offer discounts. If you want to be the first on your block with that technology, you can expect to pay a premium for the privilege.
But guess what? The prices on those models usually go down a few months later, and they'll drop again a year later when the even newer models with the even faster, even more cutting-edge CPUs are introduced.
Also: How to choose the right PC: Everything you need to know about picking a computer for work
If you're convinced a just-announced PC model is perfect for you, set a reminder in your calendar for six months later and check the price. Then keep checking every month or so, and be ready to buy when you see a proper price cut.
All of the leading PC makers (including Apple) offer no-questions-asked return policies for the computers they sell online. If you take delivery of a new Windows PC or Mac, you typically have 14 days to try it out. If you don't like it, you can return it for a full refund. If you buy direct from a mobile device manufacturer, you typically get the same return conditions.
Also: Where to buy a used laptop
So, what happens to those practically brand-new, barely used devices? They become incredible bargains for smart shoppers like you. They're inspected, refurbished, repackaged, and then sold with a full warranty, at a significant discount from the price that you would pay for the exact same product new.
Earlier this year, for example, I saved more than $1,000 on a new Dell Precision Workstation by shopping at Dell's online outlet store.
Inventory turns over quickly at these online outlets, and the best bargains disappear quickly. The best shopping strategy is to visit regularly for a few weeks to get an idea of what models and prices are available, then be ready to buy when you see your ideal configuration appear.
Note: These sites are US only.
A decade ago, more than half of all bank profits came from fees. But as financial tech takes over, those days are ending. If you're still doing your checking and credit card processing with a big national bank, it's worth adding up just how you're paying in fees each month.
In fact, the rise of virtual banks and payment processors means there's plenty of competition for your business. With a little comparison shopping, you can probably get a sign-up bonus and cut those fees dramatically.
Times change. So do insurance rates and coverage requirements.
Between your home and small business, you might have a half-dozen separate insurance policies. It's a good idea to review those policies annually to make sure your coverage is correct and your rates are competitive.
One of the easiest ways to get significant savings is to consolidate your coverage and take advantage of multi-policy discounts. You might also qualify for a discount if you're over 55 or if you have a monitored security and fire alarm system; some companies even offer discounts for installing smart home technology, like leak detectors that can shut off the water and send you an alert before you incur significant damage.