What if you could save tens of thousands of dollars by making a few painless tweaks to your family finances? That's what I have been teaching people to do in our "Good Morning America" Savings Makeovers. When my bosses decided they would offer my savings services to our viewers, hundreds of you responded by signing up right here on the Web site. I read all the entries and chose the Strickland family of Purcellville, Va., for this second Savings Makeover.
(Click here to see the first Savings Makeover, where I found $46,993 in savings for a Baltimore family.)
Once I have gathered the details of a family's finances, here's how I search for savings for them. Basically, I use my book, "Save Big," as a 338-page cheat sheet. (Click here to read the introduction to "SAVE BIG." Click here to read a free sample chapter about Creative Couponing, which can save you as much as 80 percent on groceries.)
There are 110 big savings strategies in the book, each with the potential to save you at least $1,000 on your most common expenses. This time I used half a dozen of these great, easy tricks to help the Stricklands save $188,852.
The Stricklands have made some wise money moves on their own, so I went into this makeover nervously, wondering whether I could really help them. But Mike and Kim Strickland have seven children, so their expenses are understandably high.
"It's that many more children to try to send through college," Kim Strickland said, "So you have to be smart with how you spend your money."
That was my opening. I realized that some of the same expenses that everybody struggles with would be even costlier for the Stricklands because they're multiplied times nine people. They needed to cut costs on some of the big, boring expenses in life so they would have more money to put toward those college educations.
Cell Phone Bills: Pattern = Plan
My first target was their cell phone bill. The Stricklands were paying $578 a month for six cell phones. Ouch! I asked FixMyCellBill.com, powered by Validas, to analyze their cell phone bills and look for savings. This innovative Web site does what human brains cannot: It analyzes several different providers and hundreds of different calling plans to find the one that fits your pattern best. With cell phones, pattern = plan. That is the key to saving big.
Sure enough, FixMyCellBill.com found $829 in annual savings for the Stricklands. They were paying for more minutes than they actually used. "We suspect that you can save an additional $240 a year by lowering your minute plan again," Todd Dunphy of Validas, the company behind FixMyCellBill.com, told the family.
Other targets: The Strickland's talk and text time was not allocated as strategically as it could have been. (The Stricklands have a 14-year-old daughter. Need I say more?) And they had not registered the numbers they call most with their carrier. Some cell phone carriers have programs in which calls to your top numbers are free, but you must register those numbers. (Tip: Check before registering numbers that are with the same carrier. Those in-network calls are likely free already.)