The bills. They come in and you pay them.
Maybe you’re super organised with your finances and have your bill payments all automated. You’re so on top of those bills, you don’t even have to think about them.
Which is good.
One less thing to worry about when life is busy.
But if you never stop to consider the household bills, you may end up paying too much.
About $11.6 billion too much.
Alright, maybe not that much, but a share of the estimated $11.6 billion Australians are overpaying on their bills by not comparing service providers, according to recent research [PDF report] conducted by the Queensland University of Technology.
Less than 25% of us actually compare service providers (like our mortgage, insurance, phone, internet, energy etc.) and switch for a better deal each year. The main reason for not switching is because it all just seems like too much effort.
And I get that.
There are years we have just renewed insurances or contracts because it’s the easiest thing to do. Sure, we’ve had good intentions to look around and compare prices, but suddenly we arrive at the night before payment is due, and we promise ourselves we’ll be savvier….next year.
For those people who actually do end up switching, the savings can really add up. The QUT research (sponsored by Heritage Bank) found that:
- More than 50% of those who switched home loans saved at least $1,000 a year, up to 30% saved more than $2,000.
- The most frequent savings range on switching credit cards was between $200 and $300.
- Most respondents saved between $100 and $200 on home and contents insurance.
- Most respondents saved up to $200 by switching energy providers.
- Most respondents saved up to $400 a year by switching supermarkets.
- The most frequent savings range for internet or mobile phone providers is more than $200.
That’s an average saving of around $2,000 a year which is nothing to sneeze about.
After reading these figures, I was determined not to let another year slide by without comparing all our household bills.
And so far, our experience has certainly been similar to the QUT findings – we’ve saved money on every bill we’ve compared.
I’ve saved $144 a year by switching mobile phone plans, $50 on contents insurance, and $220 on the car insurance (actually I didn’t end up switching insurances in the end, but comparing the market was useful for negotiations). And we’re looking at a saving of $65 a month ($780 a year!!) for changing our home phone/internet bundle.
That’s over $1000. I’m totally gobsmacked! I thought we were pretty on top of the bills, but it seems they have gotten away from us over the last couple of years!
Look out mortgage, you’re next!
But let’s come back to the whole it’s too hard, too confusing and too much effort part. Yes, it does take a bit of effort to compare all the different service providers out there. And yes, it can be confusing, especially when it comes to insurance products!
If you don’t have a system, it can nearly do your head in!
The following 8 steps will help reduce the effort of comparing service providers. The savings make that effort worth it!
how to switch and save
1. NOTE DOWN YOUR CURRENT SERVICE COSTS AND CONDITIONS
Before you can look for a better deal, you need understand your current bills – how much they cost and exactly what you’re paying for! You’ll never know if you’re getting a better deal if you don’t know what you’re paying for now! Here’s what to look for:
For your home loan write down:
- your current interest rate (and it’s conditions, i.e.. whether it is variable, fixed, interest only, introductory offer etc.)
- current fees
- loan features (i.e. offset account, redraw facility etc.)
- current payment
For your credit card write down:
- your current interest rate
- minimum monthly repayment amount
For your insurances write down:
- your current premium amount (and whether you pay yearly or monthly)
- your sum insured (for cars check whether it is market or agreed value)
- your coverage (what your insurance actually covers you for. Some insurance has a fact sheet that outlines this, others you may need to read the product disclosure statement – look online or call your insurance provider)
- your current excess
- existing discounts
- no-claim bonuses
- extras you’re paying for on top of the basic premium (I was seriously surprised at some of the extras we had being paying for – the person on the phone made them sound like they were part of the basic premium – they weren’t!! It wasn’t until I dug a little deeper that I found the extras were optional!)
For your mobile phone write down:
- your current monthly bill
- current usage (talk, texts and data)
- whether it’s pre-paid vs post-paid (plan)
For internet/landline (if applicable) write down:
- your current monthly bill
- your average monthly data usage (how much data do you actually need? My hubby is a Gamer. He purchased and downloaded Total War Rome 2 the other day and it took 25 gig for just one download!)
- usage costs (i.e. local, national and international call costs or costs of going over your data limit)
- bundles and other deals
For your energy provider:
- your current peak tariff
- your current off-peak tariffs
- any other tariffs that are applicable
- your average usage
- any other charges or discounts applicable
For your groceries:
- keep receipts to compare
If you’re unsure at all, call your current provider and grill them until you’ve got all the relevant information and read the PDS statement for your product (you can usually find it on your provider’s website).
Understanding your current services and usage is essential for making informed comparisons with other service providers. It can all get a bit confusing, so do take a moment to write these things down – it will make things so much easier to compare!
2. WRITE DOWN ANY EXTRA FEATURES YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD
Maybe you want an offset account on your loan. Or you want to add windscreen protection to your car insurance. Or you need more data on your phone or internet plan.
Or maybe you’ve found your home and contents is underinsured and you need to increase the amount. Or you want to change the excess.
Now’s the time to consider whether your current services are adequate and if not, exactly what you want.
And just as importantly, if you are currently paying for features you don’t want, make sure to note that down too.
When you’re looking around, be wary of being swayed by added enticements. Sure, a 12 month subscription to Netflix as part of your bundle might sound good, but do you really need it? Is it really worth the extra monthly payment?
3. CHECK CONTRACT RULES AND EXIT FEES
Usually, the best time to compare service providers is at the end of a contract, fixed interest period or when it’s time to renew a premium.
However, depending on your contract rules and exit costs, you may be better off exiting early. Quite often, exist fees can change depending on how much of your contract you have remaining or current interest rates.
If the savings over the remaining contract period are more than the exist or break fees, then you may be better off switching early.
The only way to find out if you should switch now or wait is to call your service provider and ask what the rules and fees are.
4. USE A COMPARISON TOOL OR SERVICE WISELY TO COMPARE PROVIDERS
You could do all the leg work yourself and compare service providers, but it is easier to use a free comparison tool or service to do the work for you. A good one will have access to hundreds of products – many more than you could ever compare yourself.
This is where all those notes you made above come in handy – you can now make informed comparisons to see if you really are going to get a better deal.
But…while these services are useful when comparing products, you need to be aware that they have their flaws.
When it comes to using comparison tools or services it’s really, really important to remember that no comparison service compares every provider out there in the market (some compare way more than others), so use at least 2 to get the best comparison!
Comparison sites are useful for research, but when it comes to signing up to a service provider, it’s a good idea to contact the provider directly or get an online quote direct from the provider for your top 3 favourites – you may get an even cheaper deal with online quote discounts.
There are so many comparison sites to choose from, it can be a little overwhelming. These are a couple of the better ones:
- Canstar (an independent and well known comparison site)
- Moneyhound (a Yahoo service – partnered with RateCity, WhistleOut, SwitchWise and Lifebroker)
- Choice (not a comparison site, but has lots of impartial information about comparing products)
- Energy Made Easy (government site)
For home loans, a mortgage broker can make the process very easy. You can absolutely shop around for mortgage brokers to get the best deal, but applying for more than one loan at once may affect your credit rating.
5. READ THE FINE PRINT
The dreaded fine print. Do you read the terms and conditions before handing over your money? Do you know what it is you’re really buying?
The fine print is boring and sometimes a little confusing, but the only way to compare apples with apples is to read it.
Take a few notes. Draw up a table. What exact services are you buying? In the case of insurance, what exactly are you covered for?
Some companies make this easier by providing a simple factsheet that covers in point-form the relevant information. Details of phone and net plans, for instance, are usually set out in an easy to understand table on the company’s website.
Home and contents insurers are now required by law to provide consumers with a one page facts sheet. This is to make comparing products easier for you and me!
If this information is not available in a factsheet, be sure to read the PDS provided before purchasing a product.
6. CONSIDER A COMPANY’S REPUTATION
Is the company you’re considering reliable? Does it provide a good service?
You will probably have a good idea of a company’s reputation if it’s a big, well established business. But what about all the little fellas out there that may offer a better deal?
The best way to gauge a company is to ask the people you know. If your friends or family are unhappy with a company, or they know someone who is, they won’t hold back! Just be sure to get the details of why they are unhappy with a certain company and remember to take complaints with a grain of salt.
If you are a part of a forum or Facebook group, you could ask there too. A few reviews will give you a good idea of whether a company you’re considering switching to is reliable or not.
7. SWITCH AND SAVE
Now that you’ve done your research and you’re confident you’ve found a cheaper price, it’s time to switch.
Except in the case of using a mortgage broker (who will do all the hard work for you), simply fill out an online application or quote or give your preferred company a phone call. They will do the rest.
Double check whether you have to inform your current provider by giving them a call. They may need to hear from you if there will be contract break fees.
8. RECORD THE DETAILS OF YOUR NEW AGREEMENT
You’ve switched and saved. Congratulations!
Just one last thing.
File the relevant details of your new products in a safe place so that next year, or at the end of your contract, when it’s time to make comparisons again, you’ve already got the details you need on hand and ready to go.
Do you switch to save or are you loyal to your good ol’ faithful? I admit that while we try to compare each year, for some products we’ve chosen loyalty over savings (or more accurately, laziness over savings) and that’s cost us over the years.
Get super savvy with your money and use the growing competition in Australia to your advantage by comparing, switching and saving.
What’s the best saving you’ve made when you switched service providers? Let us know in the comments below.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.