It didn’t take me weeks of research and hours of wasted time waiting on the phone to foreign call centres – all I needed was a few hours, a stubborn refusal to be ripped off, and some insider tricks I’ve picked up in my day job at One Big Switch, where I help Australian households to save on their bills.
Here’s how I did it – and how you can too.
CALL YOUR BANK
At the start of the year, I’m embarrassed to say that our home loan interest rate had risen by about 90 basis points (0.90 per cent) before we’d really noticed.
Like thousands of Australians, it was because we had an “interest-only” loan. Regulators have been clamping down on these riskier types of loans in recent years, so banks have been raising the rates on them.
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission estimated they made an extra $1 billion in interest from people like me who didn’t immediately refinance.
I called our mortgage broker, Fawzi, and said we were happy to move to a “principal and interest” loan for a lower rate, and what could he negotiate for us?
Fawzi called the bank. They offered a 0.60 per cent reduction straight off the bat.
But I knew from my own research and experience that this was just their first offer.
I was also aware there were lenders out there offering variable rates under 3.5 per cent p.a. so I mentioned some of the examples I’d seen and I asked our broker to keep pushing. “If we have to move, we’ll move,” I said.
So he went back to the bank and played hardball. He told them he needed a retention offer. In the end they knocked off 0.80 per cent p.a. And we got a big bank rate starting with a “3”. We’ve got decades left paying off our home, so that should add up to a small fortune over time.
Saving: about $2000 per annum
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
We’d barely had time to celebrate that win when tragedy struck: our Wi-Fi went down.
I contacted our broadband provider and they said the local electricity network had replaced some poles and wires and accidentally cut the broadband cable for our area.
For the next couple of weeks, I hassled them for a date when it would be fixed, but they continued to blame the power company.
I busted the data cap on my mobile plan because we had no Wi-Fi at home. My kids nearly died of Netflix deprivation. We were forced to read books! It was like the 1980s all over again.
But then my wife told me she’d heard that if you lodge an official complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, aka “TIO”, the provider has to open a file and allocate someone to resolve your issue.
So I did. Two weeks later, the internet came back on. We’d been down for a few weeks but the telco contacted me to offer a $459.80 bill credit for the period (our plan costs $60 a month).
It was a huge inconvenience but at the end of the day we chalked it up as a win – about six months’ free Wi-Fi in exchange for almost a month without it.
Saving: About $460
THE THING ABOUT CREDIT CARDS
In the middle of the year, I chopped up my credit card.
Like most Australians, I’ve had about $3000 debt on a card for the past decade. Sometimes it was more, sometimes less, but it always ended up back at about $3000 somehow.
Also like a lot of Australians, we had some savings sitting in another account, reducing the cost of our mortgage payments (an “offset”).
But this made no sense: I was paying 20 per cent p.a. interest on my $3000 credit card debt while our savings were working to reduce the interest on my mortgage, where the rate was less than a quarter of that.
I decided to bite the bullet (once again, thanks to some encouragement from my wiser, better half), pay the card off and chop it up.
This will save me about $600 a year in interest. Sure, I was getting points and it was handy to have, but I’d rather be debt-free, and I’ve now got a debit card that I can use anywhere a credit card is welcome.
Saving: About $600pa
I was on a pretty good mobile deal, getting 10GB of data for $40 a month. But I know from dealing with telcos that the mobile market changes faster than Australia changes Prime Ministers.
As the data becomes cheaper for the providers, there’s a sort of “data creep” that occurs. Every year or so, the telcos give a big boost to all their new plans – and once one does it, the others have to follow.
So when I saw my provider Optus offering 30GB for $35 on their website, I checked whether I was out of contract and – bingo! – I upgraded.
All I had to do to get more data for less was to recontract for another 12 months. Fine with me.
Saving: About $60pa
BILLS, BILLS, BILLS
Finally, it was time to check my energy plan. I was on an 18 per cent electricity discount.
That’s not a bad number but there are bigger discounts out there. The thing is, my plan had very low rates, so overall it used to be one of the cheapest around.
But surprise, surprise – sometime in the past year my provider had rejigged their offer so I was now getting only 12 per cent pay-on-time discount unless I prepaid.
Most energy plans in Australia work like this – the retailer can change them at any point in time as long as they send you an FYI (which is sometimes buried in the fine print of your next bill).
So it was time to switch, and I knew that One Big Switch had an enormous 30 per cent pay-on-time discount available from Alinta Energy in NSW, so that was an easy decision.
Saving: About $150pa
So there it is – about $3270 worth of savings over a year from just a few hours of haggling, complaining, switching and, yes, listening to my wife.
If someone offered you over $3000 for a few hours’ work, wouldn’t you take it? (You would. Even if it meant listening to your partner!)
Joel Gibson is the campaign director at One Big Switch. This is an edited extract from KILL BILLS! The 9 Insider Tricks You Need to Win the War on Household Bills (Simon & Schuster, RRP $19.99).