By Teresa McUsic,
THE SAVVY CONSUMER
For 14 years now this column has been about saving you money, shopping wisely and knowing your rights as a consumer.
So to start out 2015, let’s look at ten ideas that can cut your household costs. See how many you have implemented and make it a New Year’s resolution to look into those you haven’t used.
- Toll tag—Toll tags cut your toll fees up to 50 percent and with almost 1,000 miles of toll lanes. including the new Chisholm Trail Parkway, open or under construction in DFW, it’s time to sign up apply online at www.ntta.org or in person at area grocery stores, libraries or city offices. Cost is free and the account is tied to a credit card, check or cash.
- Home insurance—A recent study by Consumer Federation of America showed that many major insurers increase rates to their most loyal customers figuring they aren’t going to switch no matter the cost. Don’t be one of those people. I switched to Amica this year and received a check back at the end of the year for 10 percent of the annual premium because it is a mutual company owned by the policy holders and that can pay dividends. While the dividend isn’t guaranteed, it is a nice offset when it comes. It pays to shop around.
- Cheaper flying--It may be a hike to cross the Metroplex to Love Field, but Southwest Air has opened up direct flights to 17 markets from Boston and New York to San Francisco and Los Angeles. In addition to often the cheapest airfares, Southwest still lets you check two bags for free. And if you are unsure of your travel plans, and don’t want to get caught paying hefty transfer fees, Southwest doesn’t charge anything for that either. Remember, Southwest fares won’t show up on Kayak or Travelocity. The only website where you can check the airline’s fares is www.southwest.com.
- Home efficiency and appliances--Tackling energy efficiency in your home and buying efficient appliances always saves on your utility bills, but Oncor and Atmos Energy both have programs that can help pay for some of the cost of these home improvements. Learn more about the Atmos appliance rebates by calling 888-286-6700 or go to website at www.AtmosEnergy.com/efficiency. Learn more about the Oncor’s home efficiency programs, which helps pay for everything from attic insulation to solar panels, by calling Oncor at 866-728-3674 or go to www.TakeALoadOffTexas.com. Oncor’s program is funded annually and starts in February.
- Electricity--Rates are falling again, so it’s important to compare plans when you come up for renewal at www.powertochoose.com, the Public Utility Commission’s website. North Texans can choose from 254 plans. Narrow your choice by number of months, type of rate (fixed or variable), renewable energy makeup (from zero to 100 percent), prepaid and other options. Twelve-month, fixed-rate plans start at 7.2 cents a kilowatt hour, with 100 percent renewal plans starting at 8.4 cents.
- Cell phones--Competition has also heated up among cell phone carriers. We went toe-to-toe with Sprint recently wagging T-Mobile’s latest plan in their faces. The results? A $100 a month cheaper bill. It’s difficult to figure out the language of the different plans, but once you get it down, it’s easy to negotiate. To compare plans, check out the easy-to-read chart of the major carriers at www.consumerreports.org by searching for low-cost phone plans.
- Free tax prep help--There are a bunch of free online forms and places for free face-to-face help in filling out those forms. AARP will do anyone’s taxes for free regardless of age at 40 sites throughout the area. Walk-ins are welcome, but you can also make an appointment and find a location by dialing 211. If you want to do your own taxes, TaxAct, offers free online tax software to all incomes for all tax forms at www.TaxAct.com. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, software provider also provides free e-filing and tax help via email.
- Cut the cable cord. The Wall Street Journal says 2015 is the year to cut the cord with your cable television service. Instead, stream your movies and TV shows from the Internet using Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and other services. Most major league sports and national news shows are already streaming and HBO announced it will be available online in 2015. So get a good broadband service and buy a streaming box or stick for your TV like Roku 3 or Apple TV.
- Coupons—In addition to clipping coupons, you can now download apps like Ibotta, Target Cartwheel and Checkout 51 to get cash rebates on your purchases. Target and grocery stores also have mobile coupons that can be tied to your loyalty card and used at check out. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for local deals to restaurants and events at Groupon, Living Social and DealNews.
- Free legal advice—The Tarrant County Bar Association (TCBA) offers several programs with free legal advice. One is Legal Line, a free call-in service from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. The number is 817-335-1239. TCBA also has a lawyer referral service where you receive 30 minutes of consultation for $20. The referral service can be reached at 817-336-4101, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.to 4:30 p.m. or email at email@example.com. TCBA also will holds its informative and free one-day seminar covering a number of legal topics called the Peoples Law School on April 10. Check their website, www.TarrantBar.org, closer to the date for registration.
Have more ideas on how to save money? Send them to me and I’ll share with readers.
Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. TMcUsic@SavvyCOnsumer.net