Author Archives: femmefrugality

How to Negotiate Your Cable Bill

You aren’t doomed to pay retail on your bills.  A few minutes on the phone can save you up to thousands a year.  This is particularly true for recurring bills, like rent or credit card payments.

Another huge one?

Your cable and internet bill.

This bill can get large quickly if you’re not on a reduced-price contract. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to negotiate your cable bill.

Prepare for Negotiations with Your Cable Company

Like most things in life, your negotiations with your cable company will benefit from some preparation. First, you’ll want to gather info like:

  • Your current cable package.
  • Your current internet package and speed.
  • The channels your family ‘can’t live without.’

See if there are any specific programming needs that could be met through streaming rather than through a cable package.

Shop the competition.

Most cable companies and internet service providers roll out the red carpet for new customers. As a new customer, you may be able to secure introductory pricing in exchange for signing a one- or two-year contract.

If you have Comcast, for example, and Spectrum is another provider in your area, you would want to check out Spectrum’s offers for new customers.

Switching providers can cost you money in terms of installation and other fees. You’re not necessarily committing to switching providers at this point. But having this information can help you as you negotiate with you current provider.

Research current deals.

You aren’t going to qualify for introductory pricing with your current service provider. But that doesn’t mean they won’t offer you a lower price.

Your ability to get a new price will depend on your contract. Some providers may allow you to sign up for a new package twelve months into a twenty-four month package. Others may make you wait until your current contract expires.

But once your contract expires, most companies will offer you reduced-price packages to get you back on contract. They won’t be as low as the offers for new customers, but they’re often dramatically cheaper than going month-to-month.

Talk to the Right Person

When you call to negotiate your internet bill, the first person you talk to isn’t likely the best-suited to help you. Often, you want to talk to someone in sales. Some companies will even have a department specifically as a stop-gap for customers considering cancellation, complete with reps authorized to provide even lower-priced packages.

If the first person you talk to can’t help you, or isn’t giving you a price you can afford, ask to talk to someone in another department — sales or customer retention. If there is no other department, ask to speak to a manager. Be kind and respectful about your ask, but don’t be afraid to make it.

If you’re not getting anywhere, it’s okay to call again later. The odds of getting the same representative — especially if you’re dealing with a larger company — is slim. The next person you talk to may be more willing or able to help you.

Ask About Bundle Pricing

Once you’ve found a helpful representative, they’ll likely offer you bundle packages. This can include services for internet, cable and home phone lines.

Bundled services are less expensive. However, bundles can also be pack with preselected channels you don’t actually need. Check to make sure the bundle is actually cheaper than what you need rather than what you’re often being sold: A padded bundle.

Ask about smaller internet and cable packages.

I’ve never had a customer service representative offer me a package with bare-bones basic cable.

I have to ask for it explicitly.

Often, bundling your internet with basic cable will result in a lower bill than if you get internet alone. However, if you have to rent extra equipment it can end up being a wash or even more expensive.

Cut the cord.

If you really want to save on cable, you can cut it altogether. Services like Netflix and Sling TV have given us a myriad of viewing options at a sliver of the price.

Low-Cost Internet Programs

There are certain situations where government programs can help you get discounted or even free internet access. A couple of the big ones include:

  • Lifeline. Lifeline is an FCC program that has been around since 1985. Initiated with the intent of helping lower-income Americans have access to a landline, it has since evolved and now includes broadband access. You can apply for the Lifeline program here if you meet the income eligibility guidelines. You can also inquire with your internet service provider about low-income programs.
  • ConnectHomeUSA. The ConnectHome program was created under the Obama administration. It was a pilot program, and the expansion — ConnectHomeUSA — was opened in 2017. This program provides free or subsidized internet services, capped at under $10/month. It also provides discounted laptops and tablets, along with digital literacy programs. It’s currently available in 48 states & DC, and is targeted at those who live in HUD housing.
  • EveryoneOn. The nonprofit partner that runs ConnectHomeUSA — EveryoneOn — also has a tool that can help you look for additional assistance programs. There are even some programs you qualify for simply by virtue of having a K-12 child.

Why Representation Matters in Finance Media

This latest installment in the Intersectional Money Series is by Jamila Souffrant.

We’d all like to think that success is attainable for anyone who has the proper tools, drive and necessary grit to withstand all the challenges that come, building wealth and accomplishing goals along the way. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the same resources or begins at similar starting points in the money and entrepreneurship game. 

Why is it important to represent minorities?

Sometimes, the advantages that push you closer to success are tangible such as supportive parents or access to a well-connected social network. Some advantages are not as easy to detect because if you are not affected by them, they are somewhat invisible to you.

Personal characteristics such as confidence and courage are major intangible advantages any entrepreneur or business owner must have to succeed. If you were lucky, these personal attributes were first instilled in you by your parents. 

But we also receive this messaging of self worth and capability through mainstream media and from the world around us. 

In other words, seeing people who look like you, who talk like you and who you can relate to in positions of success matters when building your confidence. 

My experience with misrepresentation in finance media.

A couple of years ago, Entrepreneur Magazine picked up an article that I wrote for another site called Why Quitting My 6-Figure Job Was The Best Decision For My Family. When Entrepreneur first ran the story on its site, a white family was used as the stock photo. 

Once it was brought to Entrepreneur’s attention that the stock photo picture was a misrepresentation of me as the author, the image was changed to one that more closely represented my family — a black family. 

I don’t think Entrepreneur purposely used a white family as the story image knowing that I was a black author. I didn’t directly submit the article to the site and it was picked up as a syndication article from another site. Entrepreneur picked the image that they thought went best with the article. 

But why should a white family be the go-to image of happiness and success? This is an example of the implicit bias and systematic inequalities that exist in our society. The default image of success is usually white.

Representation reinforces that success is possible.

In a society where people of color, specifically black people, have been blocked from building wealth and attaining economic freedom, we desperately want and need to see more people who look like us achieving happiness and financial success. 

For so long, we didn’t see ourselves in the traditional happy and positive news stories. There is still a big discrepancy today in how black people are portrayed in the media. 

Sometimes, all it takes to spark the confidence that you, too, can be successful, is seeing just one person who looks like you. One person doing something you want to do, but thought was impossible.

I get excited every time I see someone accomplishing something amazing reported in the media who looks like me. Not only do I cheer them on like they are a friend in my head, but it creates a sense of hope that if it were possible for them to achieve it, it can be possible for me to achieve it, too. 

Why representation in financial media is important for everyone.

Representation does not only matter for people of color and other marginalised groups. It also really matters to everyone else. 

It’s important that non people of color see positive representation of people who don’t look like them in the media. This further reinforces inclusion, diversity and challenges the overall perception of what the typical success looks like.  

About the Author

Jamila Souffrant is a podcaster, writer and founder of JourneytoLaunch.com where she shares her journey to reach Financial Independence while helping others do the same. 

Jamila is considered a go-to financial thought leader in the personal finance field and is the resident financial expert on a weekly segment on News12 — the most watched local TV news-station in NYC. She has been featured in other notable media outlets such as ESSENCE, Refinery 29, Money Magazine, CNBC, CBS, Business Insider and more. The Journey To Launch Podcast was also named one of “27 Podcasts You Need To Start Listening To In 2018 by BuzzFeed”.

Jamila and her husband saved $169,000 in two years and are debt free besides their mortgage. She is also a mother of three young children and lives in Brooklyn, NY. 

More from the Intersectional Money Series

Black woman wearing a white shirt with black trim smiling. Background is blurry trees.

Why Representation Matters in Finance Media

Sometimes, all it takes to spark the confidence that you can be successful is seeing just one person who looks like you represeneted in the media.

Black woman wearing black sweater typing at a blue keyboard

A Lesson Learned: The Black Tax

When I first heard of the Black tax, it was often described in the context of Black Americans and immigrants who are having to deal with the financial and emotional pressure of supporting family members. I connected with that assumption, but learned that I was wrong.

domestic violence advocate

The Intersection of Islamophobia and Domestic Violence

Nour Naas shares her important story and perspective on domestic violence and how marginalized groups face additional barriers when it comes to reporting.

First-hand account of disableism impacting your money situation from an autistic woman.

How Disableism Has Affected My Finances

How hard is it to get a job when you're autistic? And then, once you have a job, how hard is it to keep even if the quality of your work is excellent? Read this important and eye-opening post--and then pass it along to the HR manager at work.

Even During COVID-19, Amazon Fresh Saves Me Time and Money

This piece is by contributing writer Chelsea Jensen.

This sounds like it just may be worth the subscription fee to not have to go to the grocery store and have food delivered to my door.

Amazon Fresh is a grocery delivery service owned by Amazon. It works mainly with Whole Foods Market and offers free grocery delivery to Amazon Prime members in select regions on orders that meet the local free delivery threshold. To check your region’s eligibility, sign in to your Amazon account, or enter your zip code here.

You can shop Amazon Fresh online or with the Amazon shopping app as long as you are logged into your Amazon Prime account. 

How I Use Amazon Fresh Regularly

I have been using Amazon Fresh as a grocery delivery service minimum once a week for about two years. It saves me so much time and money! 

On the Amazon Fresh website (or app), I save my grocery lists so that all I have to do is add the grocery item from the list into my cart. I have a list saved as “The Basics,” or the things I order every week. 

I also have separate grocery lists saved based on my favorite recipes, which makes it easy to add the items for that recipe to my cart. My order is in by 9 PM, and it’s delivered on my front porch before 7 AM the next morning. I unpack the groceries, recycle the bags, and I’m done! Using Amazon Fresh takes me about 10-15 minutes versus spending hours at the grocery store. 

Where can you get Amazon Fresh?

Amazon Fresh is unfortunately not available everywhere. However, it is currently available to Amazon Prime members in the following cities.

  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Houston
  • Indianapolis
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Minneapolis
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Washington, D.C.

Amazon expanded its Fresh service to Germany, delivering in Berlin, Hamburg, Potsdam, and Munich in 2017.

How much does Amazon Fresh cost?

As an Amazon Prime member, the Amazon Fresh Attended Delivery and Doorstep Delivery is free to customers on orders over the local free shipping threshold before tax. Delivery addresses in eligible regions will receive free shipping on orders of $35 or more before tax. Other regions receive free shipping on orders of $50 or more before tax. If your region is eligible for the $35 local free shipping threshold, you will see it automatically apply during checkout. 

Delivery fees also may vary depending on the delivery method you choose. For example, if you select a 1-hour delivery window, you will incur an additional cost. The total fees will show when you go to place your order. 

Is Amazon Fresh worth it?

Amazon Fresh is worth it for me because it’s free with my Amazon Prime membership. My Prime membership costs me $119 a year or roughly $9.92 per month. I would have a Prime membership regardless of the Amazon Fresh delivery service as I use the Prime perks on lots of other things!

Amazon Fresh has helped my husband and I stay on track with our weekly grocery budget. Which, ultimately, has helped us stay on track with paying off a lot of our debt. What I love is that you can see what your total grocery cost will be when you start the checkout process. 

There have been so many times that I have gone back and deleted a tub of ice cream or that $8 organic snack to stick to my budget. When shopping at the grocery store, you don’t have the advantage of instantly seeing your total as you add items to your cart. I recommend looking for the sale items on the “Fresh Deals” page. The items with orange labels under them show you how much you save.

It May Not Be Worth It If

  • You think you will only use your Amazon Prime membership for Amazon Fresh. If that’s the case, it’s probably not worth the cost. Some of the other grocery delivery services have lower or no membership fee (see below). 
  • You will only use it as a filler between trips to the store. It may not be worth the extra cost. 
  • You are particular about picking out your produce items. 

And, I get it, and some of you love the experience of going to the grocery store. The end cap displays, new product offerings, and of course, the samples! If you like any of those items, Amazon Fresh probably won’t be your cup of tea. 

How to Get an Amazon Fresh Time Slot During the Pandemic

If you haven’t ever used Amazon Fresh, there is a chance that you will be put on a waitlist because of the increased demand for online grocery shopping due to COVID-19. Although, it appears that Amazon is working through that list pretty quickly— more than 80% of eligible Prime members can shop without having to request an invitation. 

Getting a delivery time slot has proven to be more difficult due to the increased demand for grocery delivery services. Before the pandemic, there was a lot more availability for 1-hour delivery time slots.

Now finding the 1-hour time slots is more difficult. For the past few weeks, I’ve had good luck with the 2- hour delivery time slots. You could also try this computer program that tells you when a delivery time slot opens up — I have not tried this yet. 

At the start of COVID-19, when many people started to panic shop, I placed an order and was lucky enough to get a time slot. It was delivered hours past the original delivery time window I selected. In recent months, I have also had items in my order that were no longer available at the time of my delivery, and I was refunded. 

Also, certain items are still tough to find. For example, toilet paper always tends to be out of stock, and hand soap usually only has one or two brand options. Amazon has been hiring people like crazy; hopefully, they are on track to keep up with the demand. Especially if we are hit with a second wave of the virus and stay-at-home orders later this year. 

Alternatives to Amazon Fresh

There are a few other grocery delivery alternatives to check out if you don’t live within the service area of Amazon Fresh or are having difficulty getting a time slot. 

Your Local Grocery Store or Co-Op

A food co-op is a grocery store owned by people in the community. The majority of co-ops have good relationships with local farmers that provide them with natural and organic produce, meat, and dairy. 

Here are some resources to help you find a co-op in your area:

Instacart

Instacart connects you with shoppers in your area to pick up local groceries for you. Instead of shopping by product (like with Amazon Fresh), you’ll choose a store in your area and shop from that store’s inventory. Retailers set the pricing. 

The amount of the additional costs can vary based on the size of your order and the designated delivery window. Instacart is available in a much wider geographical area than Amazon Fresh. Instacart only carries items from the specific store you choose from, while Amazon Fresh offers a mix of their store brands, the Whole Foods 365 brand, and others. 

Typically, the standard delivery fee is $3.99, and the service fee is 5% of your order total. You do not need to be a member to shop with Instacart. However, if you sign up for Instacart Express (starting at $99 for the year or $9.99 a month), you’ll get free delivery on orders more than $35. 

The annual cost of Instacart Express is cheaper than Amazon Fresh when you account for Prime membership fees. 

Shipt

Shipt offers same-day delivery from stores in your area. If you want to use Shipt, you’ll have to choose a membership plan. The options include an annual plan for $99 (which works out to be about $8.25 per month) or a monthly plan for $14.

Once you’ve signed up, you can shop online or with an app on your iOS or Android device. With your membership, orders over $35 are eligible for free delivery. Amazon Fresh currently services a larger geographical area than Shipt, but Shipt is cheaper. 

Walmart

Last year, Walmart launched Delivery Unlimited, and it currently delivers from 1,400 stores. If you’re eligible, you can sign up for a $12.95 monthly membership or a $98 annual membership and avoid the per-order fee. If you order more than once per month, this may be a great way to save over time. The Walmart annual membership fee is the cheapest option out of all the grocery delivery services mentioned above, including Amazon Fresh. 

How You Can Make Money as a Broke College Student

The following post is contributed by Martin of Studenomics, where he tries to make personal finance fun since you have enough to stress about. You can click here to check out the wide range of content on everything from student loans to getting paid to drink coffee.

Hundred dollar bill on white background with pink and blue triangles. Text reads, 'How to make money as a broke college student.'

We can all agree that times are tough financially as a student. You don’t have any money since you don’t get paid to be a student. You have all of the energy in the world, but you don’t have much money to do anything. So you feel stuck.

This is why I did everything possible in college to start making money. Your college experience can be much more pleasant with some money to enjoy life more and to avoid racking up massive amounts of debt that will haunt you for decades to come

Let’s look at how college students can start making money…

Continue reading

5 Surprising Things Health Insurance Covers

Okay, I'm definitely checking my policy to see if my health insurance covers formula or a hot tub. The third one on this list is pretty amazing, too!

If you’re paying for health insurance anyways, make sure you’re getting the most for your money. Here are five surprising things your health insurance may cover.  Plans and coverages vary, but it’s worth investigating to find out.

Some state's Medicaid programs cover diapers for kids with disabilities.
Does Medicaid cover diapers?

Having a child over age three who is not potty trained can be taxing, both emotionally and fiscally.  If your child has a disability or learning delay, you could get your diapers for free.

Depending on your state, Medicaid will cover diapers in this situation. If your child falls into one of those categories, odds are you already have some version of Medicaid–if you live in a state that chooses to support its disabled children through Medicaid.

When I say disability I of course mean things along the lines of children with Autism or Down’s Syndrome, but “learning delays” is a much broader term.  Perhaps your child has delays with fine or gross motor skills, or they aren’t talking or communicating at a level that is “normal” yet. Both of these things can lead to serious problems with getting your kiddo on the potty every time.

Talk to your doctor at your child’s three year check up, and ask them to write a prescription. Even if you don’t have Medicaid, some private insurers will still offer this benefit.

Does your health insurance or Medicaid cover gym membership?

Does my insurer cover a gym membership?

Your health insurer wants you to be healthy.  Healthy people don’t file as many claims. And the less claims insurers have to pay out, the more money they can keep in their pockets.

As a result, many insurers cover gym memberships in one way or another. Some work with specific gyms to give you a discount or even a free membership, while others will offer your a set amount in reimbursement.

If your insurer doesn’t cover gym memberships, that doesn’t mean you can’t get fit. Trying working out at home or going to reasonably priced gyms like 24 Hour Fitness. If you want to try them out, you can get a free pass here.

Does Medicaid pay for gym membership?

If you have Medicaid, gym membership may be covered depending on which state you live in. Most states do not offer it as a benefit, but a handful ran experiments with behavior incentives funded by federal grants in the 2010’s.

It’s not just your state’s Medicaid laws that come into play. Some Medicaid plans extend this benefit even if the state does not require it. Many of these programs are run in partnership with the YWCA/YMCA and other like community organizations.

Call your Medicaid provider. They’ll be able to tell you if it’s a covered benefit or available as part of an auxiliary rewards program.

Is massage therapy covered by health insurance?

Are massages covered by health insurance?

Are you in desperate need of a massage?

Well, you may be able to get that covered, too. Especially if you have chronic back pain, were in an accident, or see a chiropractor/physical therapist regularly. If you have pain, talk to your physician about it.  If you can get a prescription from any of these medical specialists for massages, insurers will often cover the therapy.

Don’t know where to find a masseuse in your area? Use Spafinder Wellness 365’s search tool.

Insurance will sometimes pay for a hot tub if you have a medical need for it.

Wait–hot tubs are covered by insurance?!

WHAAAAAAAT?!?!  

I know.  It’s crazy good news.

Here’s the thing: To get a hot tub covered by insurance, you have to have an actual medical need for it. Like injury. Spine problems. Etc. If you do, asking your doctor if s/he thinks hot tub therapy would help certainly doesn’t hurt.

If they do think it would be beneficial to your situation, make sure they write a script. From there, call your insurance company.  If you’ve got the Rx, and your policy doesn’t specifically state that a hot tub isn’t covered, it should count as a qualifying piece of durable medical equipment (DME). Durable medical equipment is covered on many plans.

If it’s not, and you still really want and can afford that hot tub, take the prescription with you when you buy it.  That will eliminate the sales tax.

Plus, if insurance doesn’t cover the hot tub, it could be tax-deductible as a medical expense.  So is the electric you’ll use to run it.

Be very careful here, though. If you’re throwing hot tub parties or your family is using it, you could run into some serious trouble if you get audited.  

Buying a hot tub sans insurance company? Just because it’s tax deductible doesn’t mean you shouldn’t score a great deal. Make sure to check out sites like Groupon before making your purchase.

Does Medicaid cover hot tubs?

In most states, yes. That’s assuming that the hot tub is prescribed as a necessary piece of durable medical equipment by your doctor. And it doesn’t mean your insurer will make the process easy.

Some states have restrictions on qualifying DME, though restrictive policies can — in some cases — be litigated.

Does Medicare cover hot tubs?

Yes, if you have Medicare Part B coverage. There are several caveats to get coverage, though.

First, your doctor must deem a hot tub medically necessary and write you a prescription. Your doctor must participate in Medicare, though we’re assuming that’s already the case.

Then, you have to find a manufacturer who also works with Medicare.

You may still have to pay for 20% of the cost, and plan deductibles apply.

Check out the states that require insurance to provide prescription formulas.

Are there any instances of insurance covering formula?

Yes. If your child needs a prescription formula, such as Alimentium or Nurtamigen, it may be covered.

Usually these coverages are in the form of reimbursement, and usually your health insurance company will give you the run around–even if prescription formula is clearly covered in your policy.

Stay strong. This stuff is expensive. It’s worth saving your receipts not giving up. You pay for that benefit, and you deserve to have them fulfill their end of the bargain.

If you live in one of the following states, there is legislation dictating that your insurance cover these prescription formulas, regardless of if they want to or not:

  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Illinois
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Minnesota
  • Arizona
  • South Dakota
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • New Hampshire
  • Massachusetts
  • Pennsylvania
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island

Get more details about each state’s specific legislation here.  Knowing your rights within the law can be a powerful tool to speeding up the process.

Another option for families in states which do not mandate this coverage is to look into your local Women, Infants, and Children program.