Trib Tips

When the ball dropped in Times Square two and a half weeks ago, so did your take-home pay.
Marie Havenga
Jan 18, 2013

By now you're a few paychecks into the New Year and perhaps feeling the pinch of an Uncle Sam who mimics the Grinch.

If you make $50,000 a year, you're taking home $20 a week less than in recent years. If you earn $100,000, you're down $160 a month.

That's because the fiscal cliff resolution did not include an extension of the 2 percent Social Security payroll tax break that's been around since 2009.

So, although your wallet is a little lighter, try these tips to compensate for your pay cut and make your lifestyle a little tighter.

Cut the wires

The wires to your telephone landline, that is.

If you have Internet service in your home, you may be able to stop paying Ma Bell monthly and still have a system that operates like a landline. Many carriers are offering telephone service over Wi-Fi for about $20 a month.

My favorite options are Magic Jack Plus and netTALK Duo. You pay about $60 for the device upfront (available at Wal-Mart and Meijer), then $29.95 a year (not a typo) for phone service, including unlimited local and long distance calls. Your first year is included in the product price.

You can port your existing number or have the service assign one. Your existing phone(s) should work just fine.

I set my mom up with Magic Jack Plus more than a year ago. She's saving close to $50 a month.

Net Talk Duo has a fairly new model that operates solely on Wi-Fi without needing to be hooked to a modem.

If you've already cut ties with Ma Bell, consider slicing your cellphone's voice minutes and supplementing with one of these $30-a-year local and long-distance devices.

W-4 Like B-4

This move won't actually save you money, but it will put more flow in your funds. If you usually get a big income tax refund, stop into your personnel office and adjust your W-4.

The amount you choose to withhold has absolutely nothing to do with the number of exemptions you claim on your tax forms. It's simply a guideline.

If you get big bucks after tax time, dial down your W-4 so you take home more weekly. Think of it this way — if you get a big refund, you're loaning Uncle Sam money for the year at zero percent interest.

Sell your cell service

If you're signed up with a major carrier, you may be paying three or four times more than you need to for cellphone service. Try a prepaid BYOD (bring your own device) plan.

My personal favorite is Pageplus Cellular (pagepluscellular.com). It's the only smaller carrier that uses strictly Verizon towers, so coverage is outstanding. I pay $29.95 a month for a smartphone plan with voice, text and data that would have cost me about $100 with Verizon. And because Pageplus uses the same towers, my coverage is identical.

Here's the other cool part — there are no taxes or additional fees on top of the monthly charge. Have you looked at your major carrier bills lately? We were paying almost $15 a month in taxes and surcharges. Even if you're under contract with another carrier, the cost savings could more than cover your early termination fee.

A Pageplus voice and data plan for light users is only $12 a month, also including all taxes and fees.

Voice-only plans are also available for as little as 4 cents a minute.

Mortgage Makeover

If you have 20 percent or more equity in your home, you may be able to drop your private mortgage insurance. Although the insurance is mandatory for many borrowers who cough up less than a 20 percent down payment, as you pay down your debt — or the home appreciates — you may be able to ditch this extra expense.

Keep in mind that local home values are on the rise, so you may qualify. Call your lending institution to learn more about the process.

Have some favorite apps, household hints or savings secrets of your own you'd like to share? We'd love to hear from you. E-mail your suggestions to Marie Havenga at mhavenga@grandhaventribune.com. Include your name, address and phone number. You may also snail-mail ideas to: Trib Tips, 101 N. Third St., Grand Haven, MI 49417; or call 616-847-2628.

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