STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Now, in this fragile economy, even if you haven't filed for bankruptcy, making a budget and sticking to it is essential, and that applies to almost everybody, says Janet Bodnar.
JANET BODNAR: People always think, oh, if only I earned more money, my paycheck would go farther, but that's never the way it works. You tend to spend up to as much as you make. So whether you make 30,000 or 130,000, everybody's always wanting to stretch it a little farther.
INSKEEP: Bodnar is the editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance and she has some tips on saving money.
BODNAR: The easy things are, for example, the grocery store, you know, big drain for many people's budgets. And the thing that's neat is now, with the Internet, with the Web, there are things online that can help you with your savings that, you know, in the olden days it was clip coupons and that's what you did on your weekends. Well, now you can actually sign up for the types of coupons for products that you're interested in, so you can custom make your coupons and you can get dings when something special comes out.
INSKEEP: Now, when you say sign up online for coupons, you're also giving away information about yourself to some company, aren't you?
BODNAR: That's true. They're going to find out about your shopping habits and that's good in the sense that you can get the coupons but maybe not so good in the sense that they know more about you than you would like them to know, so you really do have to balance that.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about a few larger steps that you can take in order to save some money here.
BODNAR: Your car insurance, for example. If you have a $250 deductible, if you were to raise that deductible to, say, $1,000, you could save 15 percent on your premiums.
BODNAR: Similar thing with your homeowner's insurance. You know, suppose you have $250 deductible, suppose you raise it to $2,500, you can save 25 percent, perhaps more, on your insurance premium.
INSKEEP: Does this matter of deductibles a symptom of a larger problem that people effectively over-insure, buy far more insurance than they really need?
BODNAR: Well, it kind of depends on what they over-insure for. A lot of people, for their homeowners, actually under-insured, they don't have enough insurance to actually replace the value of their home if something were to happen.
INSKEEP: If it was burned down or something?
BODNAR: Yeah. Exactly. You know, one thing would be to say, well, do I have enough? Do I have too much? What kind of makes sense to me? Where can I save?
INSKEEP: And of course there are millions of people right now who are stuck in houses paying high mortgage rates that they can barely handle.
BODNAR: Right. Exactly, which is another whole issue.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
INSKEEP: So how do we deal with that?
BODNAR: Well, I'll tell you this, one of the biggest ways to save money right now is refinancing your mortgage, and this is assuming everything's okay with your loan. You're just, you're not underwater, you're not ready to be foreclosed upon or anything like that. I mean, shoot, you can refinance a mortgage for four percent, a 30-year fixed rate mortgage for a little over four percent - that's a really good rate. In fact, my husband and I are thinking maybe we ought to do this.
INSKEEP: Does refinancing cost me something in the long-term, though? Because mostly likely I'm going to start that 30-year clock all over again and there'll be years and years more interest that I would not have paid.
BODNAR: That's true. Well, a couple things. First of all, it depends on what the interest rate is. Maybe it's - if it's significantly lower than the rate that you're paying now, it would result in some savings. A lot of people are saying, gee, I can get this lower rate, this lower payment and pay off my loan in 15 years.
INSKEEP: Can I ask one other thing, which is a factor in a lot of people's lives, and that's time.
INSKEEP: I think when people think about filling out forms, searching for coupons, searching for deals, and then, of course, giving away their information so you're going to be inundated with emails and phone calls, it's a lot of lost time.
INSKEEP: How would you direct people to make sure that they don't burn up so many hours that it's really not worth the savings?
BODNAR: I think it's a question of being realistic in figuring out what matters to you. I'll give you a personal example, if you'd like. We were in, my husband and I were in Costco actually, a week or two ago, and we had been thinking about getting a small TV.
BODNAR: And they had some TVs there. And so we said to ourselves, well, gee, you know, we haven't done research here, but I knew. I knew how much the upper level or the bigger TVs cost, so I figured, well, this is a little over $200, that's not a huge amount of money, I trust this store. This exactly what we're looking for. If we get this now, we'll save ourselves some time. So for us, the tradeoff seemed to make sense.
INSKEEP: Janet Bodnar of Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Thanks very much.
BODNAR: My pleasure.
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