Becoming Stingy or Smart?

Spreadsheet Heaven or HellIn reference to the title of this entry and the previous entry on this topic, I’m starting to wonder if my rekindled budgeting obsession demonstrates that I’ve turned downright stingy or simply smarter. It might be a bit of both, although I prefer to think it’s more of the latter.

Yesterday I scooped out my most recent phone bill from my mailbox. It’s more of an FYI kind of bill because the total amount, which is stable every month unless I do some odd extra thing, is automatically debited from my personal account. Except this time I paid attention to the fine print and identified two lines in the details section that have long bothered me — something about maintenance fees.

So I called Bell — what an awful maze of “If you’re calling for this, press 1; if you’re calling for that, press 2” they have! — to speak to a live agent. The “interior cable maintenance” fee was described to me as a kind of insurance: for $6.95 (plus taxes) per month, if something happens to my line that the reception becomes horrible or some people can’t reach my number for whatever reason, I can get a repair person to come and won’t have to pay anything upfront. “You might never need this for 3, 4 or even 5 years,” the agent explained, “but if you did need a technician, it would cost you over $90 up front.” As for the other fee of $6.95 (plus taxes) per month, I was paying it for nothing because my non-Bell equipment wasn’t even registered with Bell, and it is meant for repairs on such third-party equipment.

I did the math out loud with the agent, rounding off the numbers.

The cabling maintenance: $7 * 12 months = $84 per year and I never used it in more than 3 years. At that price, I’d be better off forking out a one-time $90+ fee if I needed to.

The equipment fee: Same calculation, but if my phone sets suddenly stopped working well, I’d just buy new sets for probably less than 2 years’ worth of fees.

“So basically I’m reducing my phone bill by $14 per month excluding taxes, which works out to $168 per year,” I said. “It’s not much but it’s better than nothing, especially for something I’m not very likely to use!”

The agent laughed, implicitly agreeing with my logic. She then “took the opportunity” to warn me that the basic fee is going up by $2 starting in January. She didn’t mention, however, that the Québec Sales Tax is also going up 1% on January 1, 2012, bringing it to 9.5%, and since it’s charged on top of the federal GST of 5%, our sales tax rate will be 14.975%. Except that when all is said and done, if I compare my current monthly bill to the one I’ll be getting as of January, I’ll be paying almost 15% less, or the equivalent of the sales taxes. Not bad for one 10-minute phone call!

It’s wonderful to be taking back control of all aspects of my life, even trivial little things like this one. I also asked the janitor this weekend to have the rental office send a formal letter of complaint to my offending/offensive neighbours upstairs. These are little things, but they’re all contributing to feeling less powerless as I bemoaned earlier.

Centres StopMeanwhile, after work tomorrow, I’ll be going for my first of two consecutive soft-laser treatments in my latest attempt to quit smoking. This is an expensive proposition: it will cost nearly $800 but will include two “touch up” treatments over the next year and some herbal remedies for backup. But that is yet another testament to trying to regain control over my life.

I still have a few things to tackle in the coming days and weeks, all of them financial. But while “discipline” will be a featured word in my life for the coming months, I’m actually stoked about it all. I’m yearning for that sense of control I briefly held around June 2007, for when I fell in control, I’m able to make big decisions.

Indeed, it was in June 2007 that I stopped bitching about not living in Montréal and instead made plans to do so within less than a year…