Savings Makeover: Cut Your Costs by Thousands with Painless Financial Tweaks

New Jersey family saves $108,602 with a few simple tricks.

ByABC News via logo
December 7, 2009, 5:05 PM

July 21, 2010 — -- It's possible to save tens of thousands of dollars by using a few savvy --but simple—strategies. When we offered savings makeovers based on the strategies in my book SAVE BIG: Cut Your Top 5 Costs and Save Thousands, hundreds of "GMA" viewers wrote in. For my first "GMA" Savings Makeover, I found $46,993 in savings for the family. My second makeover netted $188,852 in savings! After that big one, I vowed that next I would make over a family with significant debt to show that even for people in that tough situation there are smart moves you can make to get out from under the bills and SAVE BIG.

Robin Shoblock of East Windsor, New Jersey, was the ideal candidate because she and her husband are normally financially solid, but a series of setbacks had put them in debt. Her husband, Gary, had been laid off from his job in pharmaceutical sales because of the recession. This came right after Robin quit her job to pursue her dream of getting a college degree at last. All this for a family that expanded from four people to seven a few years ago when Robin's sister died and the Shoblocks took in her three kids.

"I'm sure if you ask the kids, they'll tell you that there's been a lot of stress in the house," Robin told us. So I set out to reduce their stress --and their bills.

Strategy #1: Shop around for tech providers = $2,280 savings

First, I shopped around for cable, phone and Internet providers for the Shoblocks. I asked them if they would consider canceling cable altogether for the maximum savings, but the Shoblocks are huge sports fans, so they told me, essentially, "no way." They've been through a lot, so I decided to try to find a way for them to save money but keep that little pleasure.

The Shoblocks were paying $178 a month for a bundle that included cable, home phone and Internet -- and I just knew we could do better. By taking advantage of an introductory offer for new customers at a competitor company, I found them savings of $2,280 over the next three years! It took me about half an hour of comparing Internet speeds, channel lineups and so on.

It's the kind of move anybody can make. You just have to commit a little window of time to the task, buckle down, and go for it. Another option is for the Shoblocks to take the offer I found them back to their current carrier and see if the company will match it.

To see how I saved the Shoblocks an additional $1,168 a year on their cell phone bills, click here for our Web Extra.

Strategy #2: Shop around for medical procedures = $3,980 savings

You can also shop around for medical procedures, but few people think to try. Robin's doctor wants her to get a routine colonoscopy. That's expensive and the Shoblocks have to satisfy a high deductible before their health insurance kicks in, so this is their own money we're talking about.

Even if you have a low deductible, it's worthwhile to get the lowest possible price on medical procedures because many health insurance policies, instead of charging a flat co-pay, require you to pay a percentage of the cost, called "coinsurance."

It's also beneficial to keep costs down, because you want to stay away from the "lifetime maximum" amount of money that your health insurance will pay over the years. So, we called 10 facilities near Robin's house and found one that was $3,980 less than the rest!

"Wow, that's not necessarily good news because I don't want to get it," Robin joked. "Now I may have to!" This was no fluke. There are dramatic price differences between testing facilities for things like MRIs and CT Scans too. It was another hour-long task and if you think of your savings as your "earnings," it's like making $3,980 an hour. Nice!

Strategy #3: Check into student loan forgiveness = $17,500 savings

Robin and her daughter Jill both just graduated from college -- a huge accomplishment -- and huge debt. But Robin plans to become a teacher, and didn't realize the government will forgive $17,500 worth of her student loans if she works in an underprivileged school. Teachers who spend at least five years working in a designated Title 1 school can qualify to have their Stafford loans forgiven.

Robin doesn't have to do this now, but could take advantage of the opportunity at any point in her career. "There are a lot of challenges, but, I think, a lot of rewards," Robin said. There are also Perkins loan forgiveness programs for teachers. Mark Kantrowitz, founder of the indispensable financial aid website, points out there are loan forgiveness programs for people who plan to pursue other types of careers as well. He catalogs the possibilities on his site, which is a terrific resource.

To learn how Robin's daughter Jill -- and any college graduate -- can wipe out nearly $5,000 of their student loans, see our Web Extra.