Financial Geekery

Stop lighting your money on fire. Please.

May 1, 2018

No, seriously, stop. Everyone knows there are a lot of things you "should" do to save money (or earn more), and you're not doing those things. Plus, there are things you don't know you should be doing.

 

I know what you're thinking -- a lot of those things take time and energy, and if you're like most tech professionals I know, those are in short supply! 

 

Except here's the thing -- a lot of them don't have to take time and energy, just money. And if you're going to make more money than you spend, then why not? Otherwise, you're just throwing money out the window due to unnecessary lack of optimization.

 

Some examples:


Protest your property taxes

 

Unless it's fun for you, I recommend hiring a professional company to protest your property taxes for you. They'll generally charge you around 40% of the decrease in taxes, but that's still money in your pocket you wouldn't otherwise have! 

 

Texas Protax is among the companies you can hire to take care of this for you, and true to their word, if your property taxes don't go down, they won't charge a dime. (I'm not necessarily recommending them above all others, but they won't take you for a ride, either.)


Negotiate your telecom bill

 

Cable, internet, and telephone bills are notorious for being negotiable. If you like the challenge of getting through to the customer retention department, you can do it yourself -- otherwise, you can hire someone to do it for you who'll charge a monthly fee or a percentage of the savings (note: generally this is the total anticipated savings over e.g. a two-year period, so be prepared for an accordingly large bill!). Billshark is one such company, as are BillFixers, BillAdvisor, and BillCutterz. And again: if they charge a percentage of money saved and make you $0, they charge $0.


Get compensated for late deliveries

 

If you're an Amazon Prime member, chances are you've gotten the occasional late delivery. The good news is that Amazon has a generous policy of extending your Prime membership should your delivery come late -- and the process of asking for and receiving said extension can be fully automated. Paribus is one service I know of who will do this for you, and they're always looking for ways to get refunds. Currently, Paribus is free, as they've been acquired by Capital One. (Note: you'll have to give them access to your e-mail inbox in order for their bots to do their automagic work, so if this makes you squeamish, consider going the manual route.) 


Get compensated for delayed or cancelled flights 

 

Similarly, most airlines have a policy that awards vouchers if a flight is delayed by more than two hours or cancelled outright -- but only if you ask the right way. Service is a, well, service that automates the protest process for you, again by using their bots to correlate flight confirmations in your inbox with flight delays/cancellations. They also have an interesting pricing model in that you can choose to pay a percentage of refunds or a flat monthly fee.


Get a single, good rewards card

 

I've already written about how to find a good rewards card. People tend to obsess over "miles", but honestly, your best bet is one simple card that just gives you 1.5-2% cash back on everything. You don't have to worry about tracking special "extra cash back" categories, and you don't have to figure out how to spend "miles" (and those cards generally get you 1.5-2% in airline tickets anyway!) -- just find a good card, use it for everything, and get the cash back. Money in your pocket with no additional ongoing effort.

 

Keep your savings account online

 

"Brick-and-mortar" savings accounts associated with your banking institution of choice generally give 1/10 of the rates of online savings accounts (or less!) Setting up an online account with a reputable, FDIC-insured institution generally takes no more than half an hour or so, and while as of 2018 interest rates still aren't anything to write home about, a one-time setup can last for years, or decades! Check out this article for more information on optimizing your savings.

 

Hire a good financial advisor

 

I know, you're about to have a heart attack and die from not-surprise: the financial advisor is recommending that you find a financial advisor. But I'm serious: maybe it's Seaborn Financial (especially if you're a tech professional in Texas), maybe it's someone else, but please: stop setting your money alight and find one!

 

A good advisor works like the things I've just been talking about: spend some money and do some up-front work, then reap the dividends for years or decades to come. But while the various tips and tricks above may net you hundreds of dollars over a few years, a good financial advisor nets you thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of your financial plan. How? They optimize your taxes, your insurance, your investments, your savings, your estate plan, your employee benefits -- virtually everything that goes into your financial situation. Sure, you're a smart tech professional, so you've likely got the basics covered -- but a financial advisor can take things the rest of the way, and when you're talking about your entire financial situation compounded over decades, the results are nothing short of profound.

 

So how do you find someone who can work that kind of magic -- and who won't take you for a ride? A little research goes a long way. Here's an article on the various kinds financial advisors out there, and another on how to systematically find the right one for you.

 

So go out there and get it done. The sooner you do, the less money you'll burn.

 

(As always, these articles are "80/80" -- appropriate for 80% of my audience, 80% of the time. Got a situation that isn't quite covered above? Don't hesitate to leave a comment or send an e-mail!)

 

 

* Yes, I know the name is misleading to those of you familiar with genetics -- I've raised the issue with them in the past. No, we're not male-only. "The Gen-X/Y Planning Network" would have been nearly as good and must less confusing, don't you agree?

 

 

Britton is an engineer-turned-financial-planner in Austin, Texas. As such, he shies away from suits and commissions, and instead tends towards blue jeans, data-driven analysis, and a fee-only approach to financial planning.

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