Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Taking a long trip? Unplug your bills

Some utilities will give you a reduced rate for nonuse.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 3, 2011 12:36PM

My phone provider, Qwest, is now called CenturyLink. Recently a customer-service rep phoned to see if I am getting the best deal possible. Turns out I am, but the service rep suggested a new frugal hack.

I mentioned that one of my upcoming trips might last as long as seven or eight weeks. He said, "Then you'll be turning off your phone, right?"

I didn't know you could do that. Some frugalist I am.

Temporarily dropping service will cut my bill in half. Calls will go to voice mail, which I can check from wherever I happen to be. Best of all, there won't be a fee to dial back the service or to ramp it up when I return.

This is so cool that I'll forgive the company for the hideous neologisms it uses to describe the service: a "vacational suspend." Ack.

There's not much else to cancel since I don't have cable or satellite television (in fact, I don't have a TV). But I contacted my Internet provider, Clear, to see if it would suspend me vacationally.

Yep. If I shut down service temporarily I'll be charged only $9.

I always hold my Seattle Times newspaper delivery whenever I'm away. Yes, I still read newspapers. If it's a short trip, I request they be delivered all at once upon my return. If I'm away more than seven days, the Times will simply extend my subscription.

Too soon old, too late smart

I sure wish I'd thought to ask about this before now. Since last summer I've taken six trips that lasted anywhere from three to eight weeks. Think of all the money I would have saved by shutting down those services. Post continues after video.

Well, I know about it now -- and so do you. If you're planning a decently long trip, contact your own phone, Internet, cable or satellite companies to see what kind of deal you can swing. Be sure to ask about fees that might apply.

The only thing I won't change during these longer trips is mail delivery. You can get a temporary change of address form and have mail redirected free of charge, or get the "premium forwarding service," which costs $15 to sign up and then $14.75 a week.

After talking with someone from the post office about the ins and outs of forwarding (both the free and pay varieties), I'm going to stick with what works for me. If I'm gone less than a month, I just have the mail held. For longer trips:

  • I have it held for three or four weeks.
  • I arrange for it all to be dropped off, then a neighbor picks it up.
  • I let ordinary delivery resume for a few days and then arrange for another hold, which lasts until I get back.

My neighbor also checks my front door to see if any packages have been delivered. Yes, she is swell.

Saved from house-sitter hassles

In return, when M goes away I watch her cat. But I've been traveling so much that I feel she's doing more for me than I am for her.

This perceived inequity makes me a little nervous, even though she swears it's a fair trade. She doesn't want someone just to check the water dish, scoop the litter box and skedaddle, but rather someone who will pet and play with Kitty for a while.

Suits me. I just take along a book, and when both Kitty and I are tired of the catnip mouse or the ball we sit on the couch together. She purrs, I read and we both relax.

I still think M's getting the short end of the stick, though, especially since she's saving me from another house-sitter hassle. She's a student, so I'm going to give her some Amazon gift cards to go toward textbooks. (Or toward more catnip mice.)

Of course, I get these cards free from Swagbucks. Some frugal hacks just never get old.

MSN Money columnist Donna Freedman blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

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