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10 'frugal' moves that waste money

Sometimes the choices we make to save money right now commit us to spending more down the road.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 19, 2012 12:44PM

This post comes from Paul Michael at partner blog Wise Bread.

 

Wise Bread on MSN MoneyHave you heard of the expression "penny-wise, pound-foolish"? It's something I heard a lot from my parents when growing up, and it can have multiple meanings:

  • You are very careful with small amounts of money, but throw caution to the wind with large amounts. This is akin to someone who eats from the dollar menu every day but then blows $100 every month on a gym membership that's never used.  
  • You do things to save money now, only to have those savings cost you more down the road.

The second definition is what I'm focusing on today, because it's easy to fall into the trap of saving money only to have it bite you later on. Here are 10 things you may be doing to save money that could actually cost you a lot more in the weeks, months or years to come. (See also: "The case for expensive shoes.")

 

Avoiding regular checkups with the doctor, dentist or optician.

It's something I did in college when money was tight. "Who needs to pay money to a dentist to have him tell me I should floss more?" Well, after leaving the dentist alone for a few years, I paid the price. Avoiding the regular cleanings and checkups left me facing a hefty bill later on when I needed a bunch of costly fillings. I was lucky that I didn't need root canals or replacement teeth.

 

Now I have a dental plan that covers free checkups twice a year, but even if you don't, get to the dentist and doctor for health checks. It's a lot better to pay a co-pay now than pay for major surgery later on. And worse still, it could even cost you your life, especially as so many conditions can be treated if they’re caught early enough.

 

Taking store credit card offers for discounts, but paying the minimum.

You are probably asked this all the time: "Would you like to sign up for our credit card today and save 30% instantly on your purchase?" It's a good deal, if you actually pay off the credit card in full when you get the first statement. Sadly, when that first statement arrives, many people find it way too easy to avoid the full amount and instead pay the much smaller minimum payment.

 

Before long, you're paying the minimum every month, adding more to the store card, and you're suddenly a credit card revolver who is paying hefty interest charges. That initial 30% you saved can cost you so much more if you're not careful. Pay it late, just once, and you can add late fees and interest rate hikes to your burden. Post continues below.

Doing your own taxes.

Many people use software like TurboTax and TaxCut, and they do save a bunch on an accountant. These software programs are OK for very basic tax preparation. But if you have anything slightly more complex, it's well worth your time to hire a tax professional to file your return. These people are trained in the minutiae of the lengthy tax codes, and they can find deductions or exemptions that you have no idea about. And while the software may be able to take these into consideration, you need to know what you can actually legally deduct before entering it.

 

My tax accountant charges about $250 to prepare my taxes, and she has saved me thousands over the years. She asks questions that the software doesn't, and she knows how to get me the biggest possible refund. I would never trust tax software over her for my situation, despite the massive initial savings. And remember, tax preparation fees are also tax-deductible the following year.

 

Building an emergency fund, but not contributing to a retirement plan.

It's essential these days to have an emergency fund. The finance experts say you need six months to one year of expenses (although how anyone does that in this dire economy, with massive unemployment and pay raises not meeting inflation, is something of a miracle). But experts also agree that you need to look after your financial future, as you probably cannot rely on a pension.

 

If you're squirreling away money in an emergency fund or savings account but not putting money into a 401k, IRA or other long-term savings plan, you're not preparing for something you know is coming -- old age. And with compound interest being what it is, every day you put it off is thousands of dollars wasted. If your employer has a 401k match, that's also additional money you are throwing away. Be smart and think long term. Once you have that savings mechanism in place, by all means build your emergency fund.

 

Buying the cheapest products to save money.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Buy cheap, buy twice. Now, being a Wise Bread blogger does not mean I don't like quality items; I just don't like to pay retail for them. Almost everything I buy is well below the RRP or MSRP, but it's usually a well-made product with a good rating. That goes for clothes, shoes, electronics, tools -- you name it. However, if you buy a screwdriver set for $1 at a dollar store, or get your shoes for a few bucks at a flea market stall, chances are, you'll be buying them again real soon.

 

Cheaply made, poor-quality items may save you a few bucks in the short term, but you'll only have to pay more later to replace them. And if you replace them with more cheap junk, you'll be repeating the cycle. You get what you pay for. The only time I would say that this is not true is buying generic brands at the grocery store. In that case, you're often buying the same product that's in the name-brand tin or packet but for half the price. 

 

Putting no money in the parking meter because "I'll be back quick!" 

You may be a world-class speedy shopper or errand runner, but you just aren't that lucky. Sooner or later, and probably sooner, if you try to dodge the parking meters, you will get a ticket. These days, a parking ticket can run you anywhere from $10 to $50, depending on the city you live in. Is it worth gambling that 25 cents for a ticket?

 

Getting suckered into BOGO deals and other sales.

BOGO, when it's genuine, is hard to resist. But even then, whether it's BOGO free or BOGO half price, you have to stop and ask yourself, "Would I really have bought this much of this item at this price anyway?"

 

For instance, if you go to a store looking for jam and you see BOGO free on jam, that's probably a great time to stock up. But if you're looking for a new pair of sneakers and see BOGO half off, stop and think. You went out looking to spend $60 on sneakers. Now you're spending about $100, including tax. Did you even want two pairs? Will you wear them both? Do you even like the second pair you're buying? Sure, it can be a great deal, but if you really only want, and need, one pair, you should only buy one pair.

 

Also, be careful when exploring the sales. It's easy to see those 75%-off stickers and go crazy, thinking you're saving money. If you are planning to resell the item for a profit, go for it. But don't think you'll get anything near full price for it somewhere else; there's a reason it's on sale. And if you are tempted to buy it just because it's cheap, ask yourself, "Would I have bought this if it were more expensive?" I see so many people buying bargains that just gather dust in the basement. And they would happily sell them for the price they paid just to have that money back.

 

Driving miles and miles for cheaper gas or other bargains.

As I write this, the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.28. And the average vehicle miles per gallon is about 23. That gives you about seven miles for every dollar you spend on gas. Do the math

 

For example, if you want to put 10 gallons of gas in your car and drive four miles out of your way to buy gas that is 5 cents cheaper per gallon, you have spent 57 cents to save 50 cents. And you've wasted your time, put more wear on your tires and used up oil life as well. True, it's not a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, it's just not worth it. I've also talked to people who traveled 30 to 40 miles, one way, to buy something used from Craigslist. So right there, you're adding up to $10 to the cost of the item you're buying.

 

Avoiding routine car maintenance.

Most of us use a car to get to work. A car is something that we need to make money. It's also something that needs regular maintenance, just like your own body. But many of us like to save that money and do only the basics. We'll take it in for an oil change, run it through the car wash and that's about it.

 

Of course, then the time comes to get your next oil change, and the mechanic has to inform you that your tires are worn on one side because you didn't rotate them. Or you discover that little knocking sound you ignored now signals a major repair. When it comes to cars, the old adage "a stitch in time saves nine" couldn't be more true. Take care of your car, and it will take care of you.

 

Buying food in bulk and then throwing half of it away.

I'm guilty of this one from time to time because bargains are so hard to pass up. When you see a whole bunch of bananas on sale for less than half price, you grab them. But then you watch them turn black because you bought too many. I have lost count of the food items I have bought over my lifetime that I never got a chance to consume.

 

Ironically, when I was a poor student, it didn't happen. I would shop from day to day, buying fresh produce and cooking it that night. It would last two or three meals, and then I'd start again. The fridge was bare.

 

These days, I have so much stuff in the fridge I don't know what's in there, and I think that's a big problem. We load up on cheap bulk items and then have no way of using it all. So while buying in bulk is good for lots of things, be careful when buying perishables. It's not a bargain if you throw it away.

 

Well, that's my top 10 list, based on a lot of my own personal experiences. Do you have any stories of being penny-wise, pound-foolish? Chime in.

 

More on Wise Bread and MSN Money:

1Comment
Jan 23, 2012 1:57PM
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And with compound interest being what it is, every day you put it off is thousands of dollars wasted.
LOL! With compound interest being what it is - right now about 0.25% on average - every day you put it off is actually more like dozens of cents wasted, not thousands of dollars you moron!
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