A few weeks ago, I saved our family $792 a year with a single, 10-minute phone call. A few months earlier, another quick call saved us $833 a year. Many times, saving money requires time and energy — sometimes for very little payoff. I prefer the lazier way: quick hits that don't take long but that reap big benefits.
Here are some small ways to save big.
1. Call your cell phone company. In case you haven't noticed, there's a price war going on among cell carriers right now. The major ones are slashing the costs of their plans even as they're enriching what you get (including more data for smartphones). These deals aren't just for new customers, but typically you have to ask for them — carriers won't lower your bill on their own.
I called our carrier several months ago when I heard it was dropping prices. Within minutes, the phone rep had chopped our bill by almost $70 a month and doubled our data allotment from 1 gigabyte of data a month to 2 gigabytes. More recently, I called in about another matter and the customer service rep volunteered that we could now get 3 GBs of data for the same price. It's a good idea to get in the habit of calling every few months just to see if there's a better deal.
2. Call your pay TV provider. If you're not ready to cut cable to save money, at least ask for a better deal. I used to have to play a lot of games with our television provider. I'd call and threaten to quit, they'd cut the price a little, I'd say that wasn't enough and they would transfer me to the "customer retention department," which had the power to wheel and deal.
Lately, though, I've been getting big price cuts just by calling up and saying, "Our TV bill is too high. What can you do to help me get it down?" The latest promotion shaved $66 a month off our TV/Internet/phone bundle, and the company installed, for free, a new router that nearly doubled our Internet speeds.
3. Install price comparison software. No single retailer offers the lowest prices on everything. Sometimes it doesn't matter, if you pay a little more to get the convenience of one-stop shopping. Other times, you'll want to make the effort, and price comparison software makes it easy.
One recent example: I put a much-desired potential Christmas present for my daughter on an Amazon wish list when it cost $58. Overnight, the price jumped to $69 — and then jumped again, in real time while I was watching the screen, to $71. I plugged the item's URL into PriceJump and was directed to Sears, which had the item for $62. I saved nine bucks in less than a minute, which would work out to an hourly rate of $540.
Having a price-comparison app (like RedLaser or PriceGrabber) on your smartphone and another installed or bookmarked on your browser (such as PriceJump) can help you check prices on the fly to make sure you're not getting gouged.
Liz Weston is an award-winning journalist and author of several money books, including the best-selling “Your Credit Score.” She writes about personal finance at her site AskLizWeston. You can like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.