Sunday, April 20, 2003

Take time to tidy up finances

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

Spring cleaning means clearing out cupboards. But I've got another suggestion for sprucing up: tidying up your bills.

Few of us who run small companies like to cull through the fine print on our monthly invoices. But by taking a half-day once a year to re-evaluate our monthly expenses, we can substantially lower our overhead.

Here's the plan for your spring savings session:

• Collect advertisements for the types of services you use. This will give you ammunition when negotiating with your current provider.

• Set aside a few hours to make phone calls.

• Collect the most recent statements of all accounts you pay regularly.

Make the call

Now get ready to make calls. For each account, you'll call your sales rep, agent or customer service and do the following:

• Ask. This seems tough, but it's surprisingly uncomplicated. Just say, "Hi, I'm calling about my account. I see I'm paying a rate of (insert your rate here). Is there any way I can lower that?"

• Probe. Don't take a simple "That's our standard rate" for an answer. Ask if they have rates for new accounts or larger customers. Ask to have those rates applied to you.

• Negotiate. Since few customers take the time to call for better rates, most companies will offer you something. Take that as a starting point, not a final offer. Mention the other deals you've seen or been offered.

• Be courteous. The goal is to have vendors want to keep you as a customer.

Areas to check

Be certain to re-evaluate these costs:

• Local and long-distance phone service. There's a whole new world of competition for land-line telephone service, with former long-distance providers competing against local phone companies. Don't hesitate to switch.

• Wireless-cellular service. Look at your past bills to see if you're paying for too many or too few minutes. Definitely ask for concessions, such as a new phone or a "good customer" credit on your bill before signing another contract.

• Credit cards. We were able to lower every credit card interest rate by calling each provider. With so many offers of zero percent interest available, credit card companies are very willing to negotiate.

• Mortgages. I think interest rates are going to go up, up, up, as the national deficit increases, draining available capital. So lock in lower rates now.

• Rent. Many communities face a glut of commercial space, so it may be a good time to renegotiate your lease.

• Insurance. Ask your agent to review all your policies. Don't just look at lowering premiums, but make certain you've got the appropriate coverage.

• Shipping. A couple of years ago, FedEx entered the ground shipping business with very competitive rates. So compare costs.

Each one of these costs may not be very significant, but to paraphrase an old quote: "A few dollars here and a few dollars there, and pretty soon, you're talking about real money."

Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Plan" and "The Successful Business Organizer." To receive Rhonda's free business tips newsletter, register at

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