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Ways to uncover your hidden money

Wouldn’t it be nice to find an extra $100, $200, or even a $1000/yr just lying around? Of course, it would! Yet, for many of us, we overpay for things we don’t need, and we don’t take enough advantage of the programs and benefits that are already offered to us. Simply put, we’re leaving money on the table (and apparently on the couch).

That’s what this post is about. It’s about finding the hidden money in your life. If you are looking for ways to find extra money to pay off debt, enjoy a vacation, stretch your budget or like me – are planning for a new baby, here are a few places to find your hidden treasures, without spending a penny.

The usual suspects

  • Time for some change. There are coins lying around everywhere: pockets, couches, washer/dryers, cars, jackets, and almost always near parking meters and around convenience stores. Did I miss anything? Oh yeah, the fact that collecting these won’t do you any good unless you actually deposit them. Buried in a mountain of my unwrapped coins, I found $143 in already rolled coins. Jackpot!
  • Bottle empties. While different provinces/states have different regulations on what is actually reimbursable: from alcohol, glass bottles, cans to milk containers, it might be a good time to clear out your garage (or someone else’s). Who knows you might get back a fistful of dollars. In Ontario, only alcohol bottle deposits exist, everything else is recycled. And while I do have thoughts of trekking my bottles across provincial borders, I keep getting flashbacks of the Seinfeld Bottle Deposit episode.

Things that go unclaimed in the night

  • Unclaimed lottery tickets. Okay, these are not the ones likely to make you a millionaire, and although I don’t play the lottery myself, I do get a stack of scratch tickets every year tucked inside birthday cards, where I’ve won a buck or two but never got around to cashing it in. You usually have at least a year to cash it in. I just did this and found I have a whopping $20 in winnings! Yippee!
  • Unclaimed company/union benefits. Most employers offer discounts/services to their employees as part of their benefits packages (and on top of any health benefits) to attract new hires. But when was the last time you took advantage of a company discount? Check if your company has any programs that could cover the cost of your gym membership, fitness/nutritional coaching, education or give you special rates on certain services you’re already using (such as cellphone plans).
  • Unclaimed balances. When someone has any type of account with a balance and no account activity for a period of 10 years, the balance (provided it’s not wiped out by bank fees) is turned over to the Bank of Canada. At the end of 2012, there were approximately 1.3 million unclaimed balances. You can check if your name is on the list here or visit www.unclaimed.org for unclaimed balances and property in the U.S.
  • Unfiled taxes. It’s still hard to believe that some people don’t file their taxes every year. Maybe afraid to think of the amount of taxes they have owing. But not only is it the right thing to do, chances are, the government may owe you a tax refund. And if you haven’t already filed, now’s your chance to look for any tax deductions. Tax deductions don’t only apply to businesses. Property taxes, medical bills, tuition credits, to name a few, may apply in your area, provided you have the proper receipts.
  • Unclaimed tax deductions. If you run a business, you should already know there are plenty of business expenses you can claim. Here’s a list of allowable business expenses you can claim in Canada and in the U.S. But what if you forgot to claim them or found an item on that list that applies to you? Most countries allow a certain amount of time to make any corrections to your tax return. In Canada, you have up to two years.

Other good money hiding spots

  • Bank fees. Are you still paying $20-$30 a month for an account you barely use? Check how many transactions you actually make and reduce your costs, or better yet, choose an online bank with absolutely no fees and free checking.
  • Insurance premiums. Only you can determine if you’re overinsured, but one quick and easy way to reduce your insurance costs on home and auto is by raising your insurance deductibles. The insurance deductible is simply how much of the initial car repair you’re willing to pay out of pocket, before your insurance kicks in. The more you’re willing to pay upfront in the case of an accident, the lower your insurance premiums. Another one, that I’m guilty of, is paying attention to your mileage. When I moved to my current job, I estimated that I would be driving about 25,000km/yr. Boy was I wrong! Since work is only 10km away for me now, I’ve only been driving approximately 15,000km/yr. So I was paying extra for years and only found out because the place I go for my oil change had a history of my mileage. So lesson learned: pay attention to your mileage and notify your insurance agent if anything changes.
  • Overpaying for services you don’t use? Take a good look at your expenses. It may be a good time to ditch that those memberships you haven’t used in the past year. Other easy places to cut: cellphone, cable bill, internet. What are the competitors offering? Is your current provider offering any promotions? Take 5 minutes to call them up and ask if there are any ways you can reduce what you pay. You might find you’re paying for extra services like long-distance or extra bandwidth that you don’t use.
  • There’s green in being green. Cut down on your electricity and energy costs. It’s not only good for the environment, it’s good for the wallet too. Here are some heating tips and cooling tips to get you started.
  • Loyalty programs / frequent flyer miles. Looking for a break? Need a vacation, but can’t seem to find the funds? Maybe the loyalty rewards you’ve been collecting all the years can be your ticket. Or maybe your ticket to free gas or groceries. A lot of reward programs have started allowing your points to expire, which means, if you don’t use them, you lose them!
  • Lurking in your basement and garage. Craigslist and Kijiji offer quick and easy ways to sell your gently used and unwanted items, without any fees. I wrote a whole post about it here.
  • Ask for a raise. Whether you’re an employee or you’re on your own.

Now, your money does you no good if it stays hidden. Use the found money to pay off debt, fund a trip or use it for something fun. There are lots of places and ways to find money with no investment on your part needed. All you need is a little time, and in some cases, a little luck. But remember, hidden money lies wherever you seek it.

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