The Provident Professor

Literary Finance and Personal References

Category: Bill-Busting Summer

Bill-Busting Summer, Part III: How We Cut Our Monthly Rent By $300

Easy: we moved. We hadn’t been planning on moving, but our landlord wanted to raise our rent, so we figured it couldn’t hurt to see what lose was out there. Once we started looking, we realized our current house was a little overvalued, even before the rent increase. What’s more, we didn’t actually need all the space we had. There were smaller, cuter, cheaper houses available in town.

Lesson 1: Don’t let the pain of moving keep you in the wrong place.

We should have moved earlier, but moving just seemed like such a pain that we stayed put year after year. Inertia is not your friend.

It took our landlord trying to hike our rent to get us to really consider leaving. Once we said we’d be moving out, our landlord tried to backtrack on the rent increase, but by then it was too late. (Sometime later I’ll write up the many lessons of property ownership that our inept landlord has taught me.) We discovered we could rent a smaller but more charming house just around the corner from our old house for $300 less than we were currently paying. That’s $390 less per month than the proposed rent increase.

Lesson 2: Every year before you sign a new lease, look for a new place.

You don’t have to move, but you should at least consider it. Go see two or three places that are available. Are they better? Cheaper? Try to forget the pain of moving (this checklist will help you out when the time comes) and imagine how a new house could change your budget or your commute.

Of course, moving can be a budget-buster. Our actual move was cheap, if protracted. We borrowed a pickup truck and enlisted some friends to help us move all the big stuff one Saturday. Then we took another week to ferry everything else from the old house to the new. But we’ve had to buy quite a bit of new stuff: the new place has much less storage, so we had to stock up on IKEA shelves and carts and drawers. And of course there were the curtains. And the inevitable multiple trips to the hardware store for all the things you suddenly discover you need.

Lesson 3: Weigh the cost of the move against the rent savings.

In our case, we could afford to spend quite a bit on the move before we started to eat into our savings: at $3600 less per year, we’d have to make a lot of trips to Lowe’s before we tipped into the red.

I’ve been avoiding tallying up our total spending on this move because we did buy a few more things than we strictly need, but most of what we bought is the kind of thing that’s always good to have: kitchen carts, metal shelves, and closet storage. Sure, we could have just gotten rid of a bunch of our stuff, but we actually use it all. We cook a ton, and we really use all the pots and gadgets and spices that we have crammed in our kitchen.

Lesson 4: Learn how to make creative use of storage space.

We could have easily looked at the new house and dismissed it because the closets are tiny and we used every one of our eight closets in the old house. But we spent some time thinking about how we could reorganize the stuff we had unreflectively jammed in the closets so that it could all live in the new house. And once we really thought about it, we realized that there was plenty of stuff we could move to the basement, and plenty more that we could store on shelves around the house. We’ll need to be a bit tidier and more organized, but that’s probably for the best.

Has anyone else learned any valuable renting lessons? I feel like people don’t talk about tips for renting as often as they talk about home ownership, but sometimes renting really is the smarter choice, and the tips and tricks are very different than they are for owning your home.

Tips for Energy Efficient Window Treatments

The Provident household has moved! Well, if you want to get technical about it, we’re still in the process of moving, but we are now fully occupying our new house, even if some of our stuff is still occupying our old house.

Moving is both an enormous pain and a fantastic opportunity. Our move is part of our Bill-Busting Summer, and I’ll talk about the money-saving details later. I don’t have definite opinions in the rent vs. buy debate except the opinion that renting is right for us in our particular time and place, but I will say this for renting: when you decide you want to spend less on housing every month, you can make that happen in the space of a month. Try doing that if you’ve got a mortgage.

Our new house is almost a hundred years old and is high on charm. It’s not exactly vintage, because that’s not our aesthetic. We’ve got more of a classic-meets-cheap furniture look going on, paired with my only slightly out-of-control collection of family china and glassware. Sort of a Minimalist Grandma kind of thing.

Whatever it is, it fits well in our new little bungalow. We’ve got high ceilings and chair rail molding and tons of great light coming in through what may well be the original windows. They are certainly not from our modern era of window technology. They are single pane and counter-weighted and they look lovely.

They also present a pretty big thermal problem. We’ve had highs in the 90s ever since we moved, and the sun beats down on the windows and the house heats up like a charming little greenhouse. I think we’ll see a similar, but more welcome, radiant heating effect in the winter, but at night, I’m fairly certain the windows will jettison every bit of warm air out into the world.
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Bill-Busting Summer, Part II: Wireless Service

Lowering our wireless bill was hands down the easiest part of my quest to trim our bills. Our contract runs out in September, so I’d been toying with the idea of unlocking our phones and taking them to a budget carrier. I priced out the various options, and then it occurred to me to check back with Verizon and see what their plans looked like today, as opposed to almost two years ago when we signed up with them.I know a lot of people hate Verizon, but then, a lot of people hate AT&T, and a lot of people hate Sprint, and so on. We’ve been pretty happy with Verizon, though, primarily because we live in a tiny town surrounded by mountains, so there’s a lot of the local area that gets pretty terrible cell coverage. You’re more likely to get a Verizon signal up in the mountains around here than you are to get an AT&T signal. If you have Sprint, you’re phone’s pretty much useless as soon as you leave town.

So I wanted to stay on the Verizon network, I just wanted to pay less for our cell phones, which were currently costing us $130 a month for talk, text and a shared 3GB of data. 3 GB is actually quite a bit more than we need, unless we’re on vacation. Our house has wifi, the colleges we work at have wifi, and we’ve only had smartphones for two or three years, so we never got in the habit of overdoing it with data on the go.

It took me about three minutes on the Verizon website to discover that their Verizon Plan would let us share 3GB of data for $45, plus $20 for each of our phone lines. That’s way less than $130 a month, and when the fall rolled around and we were through with summer travel, we could step the data back to 1GB, saving another $15 a month. Not only could I change our plan online, but I could retroactively apply the new plan to the previous month, resulting in a refund. The whole thing took about 20 minutes.

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Bill-Busting Summer, Part I: High-Speed Internet

This summer I made it my mission to take a long, hard look at all of our bills and see how many I could cut down to size. So far, I’ve trimmed about $380 from our monthly bills, and I’m not done yet.

Last year, I had cable for the first time in my life. And not just cable, HBO. I got up to date on every prestige drama I could. I binge-watched Silicon Valley, streamed Girls whenever I took a bath, and caught up on my mumblecore-boyfriend Mark Duplass’s show Togetherness. It was kind of great, but also totally unnecessary and not something I even really wanted. So how did it happen?

When we moved to town three years ago, we got an introductory rate from Comcast for our Internet. I think it was about $40 a month. Two years later, the rate went up, but it was still less than the standard rate, so I put off an unpleasant call to Comcast customer service with the rationalization that we were still saving money. But then last summer our rate was about to go up to $80 a month for Internet alone. And not even fast internet. We were surfing the Web at a crawl and Netflix was constantly buffering in the middle of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

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