Better Budgeting: We Always Have Options

We Always Have Options

Financial Journey (featured column)
by Karen Kuebler

I’m sure you have had one of these experiences. The moment when you realize you are really fed up with a situation and you are going to do something to change it. I seem to have them fairly often, especially when I open a bill.

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About a year ago, I became really upset over our phone bills. When we retired we moved to a location which is not close to any of our family. Naturally, we wanted to stay in touch with our four children.

We’ve used different forms of correspondence including e-mails and cassette tapes. But it just isn’t the same as communicating directly with your children to stay in touch with their lives. Phone bills that used to be about $40 a month were now running $125 month. I was so frustrated, it got to the point I didn’t want to open the bills anymore.

Then we started getting creative. This is where it is fun to brainstorm different ideas to accomplish the same goals. I looked at all of the taxes and different fees we were paying to have a long distance carrier. It was at that point we decided to drop our long distance carrier. We found there were three ways we could communicate long distance for less than we were paying.

We had to get a cellular phone early in 2000 because of some personal family crises, and we needed a way to be able to contact our children and have them contact us when we were out of town. We had 350 minutes on the phone and had to pay a flat amount, whether we used the minutes or not.

We started using all of the available minutes with our cell phone. We found calling cards through Costco that averaged out to 4.2 cents a minute. There is also a service available on the internet for close to that same amount. We figured with these three options we shouldn’t have any problems keeping in touch.

We realized we could drop our voice messaging service which was costing $8 a month, because we found a free service available through the internet which automatically answers your phone if you are on the computer and downloads the message immediately.

We like this even better because we are now able to get off the computer and return calls immediately if they are important. A few months ago we realized we didn’t need the 350 minutes available on our cellular phone and reduced it to 250 minutes, saving us another $20 per month.

Making the initial call to drop our long distance service was the scariest part of all. I felt like I was cutting off my lifeline, and the sky would fall or something. But, guess what? It has been working great for over a year.

We are able to talk to all of our children frequently and our phone bill has been running in the $40 per month area again. It is also great that we can use these long distance services when we are out of town and don’t have to pay the outrageous prices charged by hotels or regular calling cards issued to your phone number!

With all of these changes our basic phone bill is only $20 per month. A few weeks ago, my son had to go into the hospital for an emergency surgery. The only way he could think to contact us was to place a collect call.

Having been trained years ago, I got the number of the hospital from him and called him back. Since he was moving a little slowly, the call was 3 minutes. I received the bill a couple of days ago and the collect call was over $11 for 3 lousy minutes!

Okay, this is where I started fuming. I certainly was thankful our son called, but I felt it was outrageous for the phone company to charge this much money for an emergency call. I felt there should be some kind of an "allowance" for emergency situations, similar to the way airlines generally offer special bereavement rates.

I called our phone company to plead my case. I had to go through four different customer service representatives. The first and second reps said they could not help me. I would need to contact the long distance carrier.

The second person said she didn’t mind giving me the phone number, but she knew it would be a waste of my time and they absolutely would not do anything to help me....just because that is the way the collect call system works. Tilt!!! That did it! Nobody ever tells me I can’t do something. That is just the challenge I need to do it.

I proceeded with my call and when I finally reached the Collect Department of the long distance carrier, I explained the circumstances. I said I wouldn’t mind paying something for the collect call, but for an emergency 3 minute call to be over half of our base bill was extremely frustrating. It took some time, but I was credited $10 for that call.

The moral of this story, we do have options for just about anything. Think about ways you can do things differently and save many dollars. The idea of dropping our long distance carrier didn’t occur to me for over 20 years. Of course, calling card services have never been so abundant and inexpensive.

We get trapped into old ways of thinking. And, never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. That’s all I need to make sure I’ll do it!

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Copyright © 2001 by Karen Kuebler. All rights reserved.

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