CONSUMER BUZZ | When the Well Runs Dry

ConsumerBuzz

When the Well Runs Dry

Summer is winding down.  As long as it took to come, it’s over so fast.  The dog days of summer will soon turn into the doldrums of fall/winter.  Back to school time = less disposable income and more expenses for school supplies, clothes, tuition, etc.  Virtually every one I talk to lately is feeling the pinch.  We’ve tightened our belts to the point where we’re about to pop!  We’ve cut back on the luxury items and are getting by on meeting the minimum needs.  Still, it does not seem like we’re doing enough.  What more can we do?  I read various articles and blogs about ways to generate more or “free” money and all the notions seem extremely far-fetched.

One practical way to save some cash is to consider buying generic.  You’d be surprised at what you save when you buy generic items that contain the same active ingredients as the name brand, like cold or allergy medicine.  I admit to being drawn to all the brand name items and the brand name stores but I have recently decided to give the lesser known brands a try.  And guess what, for most (not all) of the generic items I substituted, the quality and/or results were as good as the brand name items.  For items such as toilet tissue and paper towels, however, I had to stick with the brand name.  I’m just sayin..

Another way to save some cash relates to the type of gas you put in your vehicle.  I hear folks say all the time that their car runs better on the premium gas (regardless of the make/model/year of the car.  Come on – a 1999 Neon runs better on 97 percent octane?!).  However, if you check your owner’s manual you may be surprised to see that it says “car equipped to run on regular 87 percent octane.” I mean, it’s ok to periodically “treat” your baby to the “good stuff” but if you are routinely putting premium in your car and your owner’s book calls for regular octane, then you are throwing money away.

Consider increasing your insurance deductibles.  The higher the deductible (the amount you would pay out in the event of an accident) generally the lower the monthly payment amount.  If you haven’t had an accident in a while (or ever) and/or if you own a later model car, this may be worth considering.  Whatever that higher deductible is, say $1000 vs $250, just sock that amount away and enjoy having lower monthly premiums.

If you’re a homeowner and you’re currently paying mortgage insurance premiums (MIP), (generally you are required to pay this if you cannot put down the required down payment percentage) be sure to check your paperwork because MIP cancels after a certain period of time, assuming certain conditions are met.  You generally do not pay MIP for the life of the loan.  Banks are supposed to inform you about the termination and cancellation of your MIP but it’s something that can be easily overlooked by both the bank and you.

Speaking of banks, be sure you know your bank’s check availability policy.   Last week I had an emergency situation and had to deposit a check for a large sum of money.  By the time I arrived home from work and got the check out of the mail, my bank had closed for the day.  I remembered that my bank was part of a financial network and that I could deposit the check at any bank within the network and have the funds go directly into my account.  So, I raced to the neighborhood bank, that other bank, to deposit the funds into my account.  I deposited the check only to discover that they had put a hold on the majority of the funds for five days.   I mean, the whole point of me racing to the other bank was to have the funds as soon as possible.

I was further disgusted when I called my bank the next morning and, upon telling the customer service representative that I needed my funds right away, she began to ask me a series of infuriating questions.  Questions like, “well, did you get the check back,” “did they tell you they were going to hold the funds,” “why didn’t you get the check back if you were unhappy.”  I calmly explained that I did not know I had the option of getting the check back once I made the deposit (tip #1 in knowing your bank’s policies) and that I made the deposit through the drive-up window.  She then instructed me to go back to the other bank and see if I could get a copy of the check.  At this point, I’m like, really, what’s the odds of them just having my check laying around and then finding someone considerate enough to make a copy for me.  Nonetheless, I reluctantly agreed to call the bank to see if they could do what my bank suggested.   To my surprise, they were able to retrieve the check, made a copy, and faxed the copy to my bank.  Later that morning, my bank called me and said that they called the payor bank (the bank that the check was drawn on) and confirmed that the funds were in fact “good” (tip#2 – the payee bank can call the payor bank and verify immediately that the funds are available).  My bank did not have to do this and they could have, legally, held the funds for five days.   So, it’s important to check with your bank and get a copy of their availability policy. That way you know your rights and know what your bank can and cannot do with the money you deposit.