29 ways you waste cash
Being smart with your money is easy when you make big purchases. But what about all the little ways you can leak cash? Here's how to plug the holes.
This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.
I consider myself a budget Jedi. I watch my accounts like a hawk, shop sales and stay home more often than I'd like to save money. But back in February, I realized I was still wasting money. In fact, I wasted $35.94 in stupid little ways in one week.
But I don't think I'm the only one with a few leaks in her finances, and Stacy Johnson of Money Talks News agrees. In the video below, he gives you eight ways you're wasting money. Check it out and then read on for 21 more.
Here's how to avoid Stacy's eight money-wasters, plus others to watch out for:
As Stacy said, the average cost of cable is about $100 a month. And it's still rising. A recent study by consumer research firm NPD Group "expects the average pay-TV bill to reach $123 by the year 2015 and $200 by 2020."
I canceled my cable about six months ago and haven't looked back. I keep up with the TV shows I like with Netflix ($9.99 per month for streaming) and Hulu (free for basic, $7.99 a month for extended). Many networks also stream their shows on their websites. For example:
There's a reason why the most popular story we've ever published is "You don't have to pay for cable TV."
Big banks charge an average of $110 a year for checking accounts if customers don't meet their minimum requirements, U.S. News & World Report says.
Your options? Get better terms at a community bank or credit union. The National Credit Union Administration has a credit union locator to help find one nearby.
Another option is an online-only bank. Without the overhead of brick-and-mortar branches, the terms are often better. Consumerism Commentary has a great starting point: "The best online checking accounts."
A 16-ounce bottle of water costs about $1.50 at my local gas station. Buy a bottle of water five days a week, and you'll spend $30 a month and $360 a year. While it's not quite free, water from your tap is way cheaper. If you hate the taste -- and I do -- you can buy a water-filtration system for as little as $20. Check out Consumer Reports' "Water filters: Green buying guide."
If you're not paying your credit card balance off in full each month, you're wasting money on interest. Carrying a $1,000 balance on a card that charges 18% costs nearly $200 every year.
Pay off your plastic. If you can't, use any number of online credit card comparisons to find the lowest possible rate.
My bank charged a $2.50 "convenience fee" for using an ATM that's not in its network. I didn't live near a branch, so I was paying about $130 a year to use my own money. I changed banks, and now I use an app, ATM Hunter, to find my new bank's closest ATM.
As Stacy said in the video, you can pay up to $2.50 to call 411, depending on which service you use. Instead, use the search feature on your smartphone -- connect to a Wi-Fi network so you don't use data -- or dial Free411 at (800) Free411. The results are sponsored by companies, and you'll have to listen to a 10-second ad, but it's free.
Some brand names are worth paying more for, but there are plenty of things you should always buy generic. For example, basic food stocks like rice, sugar and flour. Many generic over-the-counter medications have the same ingredients as the name brands. And for cleaning supplies like bleach, can a name brand really be worth extra money?
I'm an avid reader, but I haven't paid retail for years. There are plenty of free or cheaper options for getting new books:
- Get them free from the library.
- Use a book-swapping service to trade books you no longer want for ones you do.
- Scour garage sales for books. I've bought many hardcovers for $1 this way.
By law, the three major credit bureaus have to give you a free copy of your credit report once a year. Don't buy one until you've used up your freebies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you order your free credit reports, dispute any errors you find with the credit bureaus. Then look for articles with more tips give your credit score a boost.
Between 2009 and 2010, full-time students spent an average of $17,464 on tuition, room and board, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But you can get a college degree cheaper (or even free) with scholarships. There are thousands out there.
You'll pay up to $35 to check your luggage when you fly. JetBlue and Southwest don't charge extra for baggage, but most do. Check Airfarewatchdog's Airline Baggage Fees Chart before you book. If you're getting charged, limit yourself to a carry-on.
Most wireless plans include free long distance. If you call during off-peak hours, you won't use your minutes, either. You can also make long-distance calls over your Internet connection with Skype and Google Voice. Both services offer free state-to-state calls and inexpensive international calls.
Many popular software programs have free alternatives that are nearly as good as the paid versions. For example, the free OpenOffice suite mimics Microsoft Office, and Pixlr offers free online photo editing with both vintage effects and a basic editor. For more advanced editing, use free software like Gimp.
In my area, a grande caramel macchiato costs $4.55. Buy one every weekday and you'll spend $22.75 a week, $91 a month, and $1,092 a year. By comparison, a 16-ounce bag of coffee costs $5.99 and I can make about 82 cups per bag. That's 7 cents per cup, a savings of $4.48 a day.
I like to have a nice meal out every once in a while, but I've wasted a ton of money eating fast food I didn't really want because I didn't plan ahead. If I hit the drive-through twice a week, I spend $12 on average. That is $48 a month, or enough for a really nice meal I actually want.
Instead, keep snacks on hand, freeze leftovers to eat later, and plan your trips to the grocery store so that you always have something at home to eat.
Growing up, I got lectures about leaving the lights on and "air conditioning the neighborhood." I didn't care too much then because I didn't pay the bill, but now I'm a stickler. The result: My summer utility bills rarely top $100. If you have lights or a ceiling fan on in a room you're not in, you're wasting money.
Becoming complacent about your insurance can cost you money. Shop around once a year. Insurance shopping tools can be found online.
If you're automatically paying for something every month -- like a gym membership, magazine subscription or streaming service -- make sure you use it. For example, here are mine:
- Gym membership, $29.99 a month.
- Netflix subscription, $9.99 a month.
- Popular Mechanics subscription, $1 a month.
That's more than $40 a month. I make sure I get my money's worth out of them.
In many hotels, you'll pay silly fees on top of the room price. Don't be afraid to dispute them or find lower-cost services and/or hotels.
Some online or over-the-phone bill payment services come with fees. For example, my electric company charges $2.95 to pay online through its website. Instead, I use free bill pay through my bank. I still get to pay online, but I skip the fee and save $35.40 a year.
Many companies match an employee's 401k contribution up to a certain percent. If you're not contributing enough to get the maximum match, you're losing out on free money. Ask your HR department for information.
Unless your car requires premium fuel, don't buy it. Paying a premium isn't going to extend the life of your car or give you a significant mileage boost. In fact, Edmunds.com studied cars built from 2008 to 2012 and found that many models didn't need premium fuel even though the manufacturer recommended it. Here's what they had to say:
In today's automobiles, advances in engine technology mean that even if the owner's manual recommends premium gasoline, the car will typically run on regular without knocking. Its performance will suffer only slightly: Perhaps it might be a half-second slower from zero to 60 mph. The key for drivers is to know whether premium gasoline is merely recommended or if it's required.
Edmunds has a list of cars that need premium fuel (and a list of those that don't).
Cars don't need oil changes as frequently as they used to. If you're getting your oil changed every 3,000 miles, you're probably doing it too often. Follow the recommended mileage in your owner's manual.
Now that coupons are available online, you're wasting money if you're not using them. Do a quick coupon search before you buy anything, including clothes, groceries and electronics. You can find coupons on sites like:
Consumer Reports says the average person spends $600 a year on wireless service. But many people pay for services they never use. For example, I had an $85 unlimited plan and rarely used more than 1,000 minutes a month. So I switched to a cheaper 1,000-minute plan and saved $20 a month.
Being disorganized about your finances leads to costly late payment and overdraft fees. You can easily rack up hundreds in fees. For example, even a single $25 late fee per month will cost $300 extra a year. Set up bill reminders and keep your checkbook balanced.
While you need to protect some things in your life -- like your car or your house -- you don't need to insure everything. Things like extended service contracts, home warranties and identity theft insurance often aren't worth the money.
When you shop online, there are hundreds of sites competing for your business. Buy those shoes at the first site you go to and you may be wasting money. Compare the purchase and shipping price at three or more sites before you buy anything.
Who doesn't know that impulse purchases are a bad idea? Three quick tips:
- Make a list. Take it with you and stick to it.
- Eat beforehand. An empty stomach can doom the most prepared shopper, especially at the supermarket.
- Shop alone. Bringing children (or a significant other who acts like a child) is a sure way to fill your cart with impulse buys.
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