Cut back on your monthly bills

By Mark Bullock - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Money is tight these days for many families, which makes pinching pennies even more important. One of the best ways to save is to take a closer look at exactly what you're paying every month.

First, do you have bills you can ax altogether? For example, are you paying for a Netflix service you never use? Have you not read that magazine in months? Go ahead cancel it!

Then it's time to examine the bills you have left.

Your phone bill

Latasha Gunn cut her phone bill by getting rid of services she didn't need.

"With a land line, you can get a basic line, without any extra services, and it costs about $35/month," she said.

Instead of paying long distance to her phone company, Dorothy Armster-Thomas bought a calling card.

"So if I want to make long distance calls, I just use the card," she explained.

Whatever you do, don't dial 411 for information. It will considerably raise your bill every time you use it. Instead, use free information services like 1-800-FREE-411 or GOOG 411.

If you have a cell phone, you might even consider getting rid of your land line altogether.

"Most of the time, the cell phone has all the features you need," said Matera Austin of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Your cable bill

Austin says it's important to re-evaluate the way you use your services, especially when it comes to cable.

"See if you're actually watching Encore or all those HBO channels and if you're not, see if there's a plan that better fits your lifestyle," she said.

And pay attention to special promotions. If you're phone or cable company is offering a deal to new customers, call and ask for the same promotion. You'd be surprised how often it works.

Cable is actually one of the bills you get rid of altogether. With digital television, you might be surprised by how many channels you can get with a simple antenna.

You can get all the major networks like NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX. But WSFA also provides a free weather channel, Weather Plus, and a free oldies channel, The Retro Television Network (RTN).

Alabama Public Television is also available over the air, along with its two digital channels -- APT Create (design and cooking shows) and APT IQ (children's programming).

Other bills

There are other bills you can't lower, like your credit card or mortgage bills. But you CAN ask for a lower interest rate, especially if you're a good customer.

"Most credit card companies and your lenders want you to pay on time. So if you're a good customer, they often will offer you a lower rate in order to keep you," Austin said.

You can save on your utility bills by watching your water usage and weatherizing your home. Even a simple change to energy efficient light bulbs can make a difference.

You'll find do-it-yourself energy audits for your home here.

And if you have more questions, the cooperative extension system can help with dozens of free brochures and classes.