Checking your bills can help you save hundreds of dollars a year

We could all use a little more money or find a way to cut some expenses, right?

Fellow Northerners, have you heard about the Northern Ontario Energy Credit?

It’s been on the television quite a bit lately, but I’ve learned to tune out advertising. It was hard to miss the huge ads in the newspaper, however. According to the ads and the website, the credit is to help offset the higher heating costs we face in the North.

The sentiment is great, yet I have to wonder why the government is spending hundreds of thousands on television advertisements and half-page colour newspaper ads instead of channelling that money into making a larger payout to those in need. Why the ad? Why the need to apply for it? Our tax returns show where we live, and how much we make, so why not just send us the money? Isn’t that what they did for the HST? We didn’t have to apply for that tax credit, the cheque just showed up.

Regardless, those of us living in Algoma, Cochrane, Kenora, Manitoulin, Nipissing, Parry Sound, Rainy River, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Timiskaming are eligible. Why turn down up to $200? Application forms are available online at or at Service Ontario, and they ask that you apply before Nov. 15.

As for cutting expenses, have you taken a look at your bank statements, or telephone bills, insurance or utility bills lately? Don’t just pay them blindly; there are hundreds of dollars to save each year with a couple of telephone calls.

Are you paying too much in bank fees per month (especially since many banks offer fee-free accounts these days)? In addition to the monthly fees, there are also the Interac fees (convenient yes -cheap no), and extra fees if you don’t maintain a minimum balance. Of all of them, it is the last that annoys me the most. If even one day my balance dips below $1,000 (which a bill payment often does to me) I am charged an extra fee. It doesn’t seem to matter that my average balance for the month well exceeded the minimum. Nor do they reward me when my balance well exceeds their minimum. Conclusion -time to look into changing banks to a no-fee chequing account.

Credit card companies are taking even more advantage than the banks (if this is possible), especially as their rates have not come down, even though actual lending rates are at an all-time low. Some might even liken them to loan sharks in ties. Personally, I avoid hundreds of dollars in interest annually by paying off my card each month. What’s the secret? Wait for it … I only buy things I can afford!

Telephone bills/cellphone bills are similar to bank statements in that I often find myself either overpaying for a long distance package of which I don’t fully take advantage or don’t have enough minutes for the calls I am making. As a bonus, living in a border town, the big joke on your cell statement is often the roaming fees if you’ve forgotten to turn off that feature. Recently, I shaved $15 off my monthly bills, for an annual savings of $180, simply by bundling home telephone services with Internet and cable.

Insurance companies also offer bundling deals, so make sure that your house and car with are with the same provider and that you are getting the multiplan discount. I’m saving another $115 a year for having noticed the discount wasn’t applied.

One sizeable charge that seems to fly under the radar is the hot water tank rental fee. Most of us pay $25 a month or $300 a year to rent our water heaters. You can buy a reputable brand tank with a 12-year warranty for $600 and let’s assume $300 in plumbing labour (for a nice divisible number). In three years the investment is paid off, which leaves you saving $300 a year for the next nine years, totalling $2,700 (that’s a free vacation right there).

Wouldn’t it be nice if service providers called us with these savings opportunities they identified for us? And wouldn’t it be ideal if the government would just mail us a larger cheque instead of spending money on so many ads to tell us about the program? Since both are unlikely, consider making a few well-placed telephone calls, and mailing in your Energy Credit form to save/get hundreds or thousands of extra dollars a year.

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