The tough economic times that hit the U.S. in 2007 through 2009 were a wake-up call for many people, causing the public’s view of saving to shift. If you’d like to make regular saving a part of your life, read on to find out how to conquer the first step: finding that extra money.
You can begin by paying attention to these top money wasting activities.
1. Convenience Stores
Many people don’t think about the mark-up they pay for convenience store items. Here’s a hint: it’s huge. This is because these stores don’t purchase food in the large quantities that a grocery store does and also because they make you pay more for the convenience they provide. So, unless it’s an emergency situation, avoid shopping at convenience stores. The premium you pay for convenience is not worth the assumed convenience you get. For example, a Coke at a convenience store might cost you a dollar, while you can go to the grocery store and buy a 12 pack for $4. If you tend to pull over for a drink, buy a 12-pack and keep it in your car. If you visit convenience stores often, the annual savings of cutting out these visits can be tremendous.
2. Cell Phone Plans
Take the time to check your monthly cell phone bill – you may be paying more than you need to. If you are using fewer minutes than your monthly plan allows, switch to a lower-rate plan. If you are using more minutes than your monthly allotment, then upgrade to a higher minute plan. Before making any changes to your plan, sit down with a list of your cell phone company’s offerings and compare and determine which plan provides the most value based on your needs. Most cell phone companies charge 40 to 50 cents per additional minute, so going over your allowed minutes by 100 minutes one month will cost you $40 to $50 in that month alone. With many minute plan upgrades costing $10 to $20 a month, they’ll easily pay for themselves.
You should also scan through your cell phone plan for added features like text messaging and mobile internet. If you aren’t really using these features, get rid of them – they’re costing you money each month!
3. Soft Drinks
This one is a sneaky money waster. Not only does ordering beverages along with a restaurant meal boost your total expenses, but soft drinks also have one of the highest markups of any restaurant item, and thus provide lower value for your money. Consider a typical family of four that eats out twice a week at fast casual restaurants (typical for a middle class family even today). Assuming an average price of $1.50 for a fountain soft drink, that totals $12 a week, $48 a month, $624 a year. Just cutting out this one item from your meal could mean significant savings that could go into something much more productive, such as a retirement savings plan. If you invest $624 at the market average of 9% a year every year, you would have almost $32,000 at the end of 20 years. So dine out, but opt for water!
4. Unnecessary Bank Fees
Many people unknowingly pay a lot to their banks in the form of fees. If you don’t know what fees your accounts are subject to, spend a few minutes finding out. Some banks charge ATM fees for using another bank’s ATM, for example. These can be as high as $5! This amounts to a 25% one-time fee for a $20 withdrawal. The key with this type of fee is simply knowing about it. You would be better off using a credit card to make the purchase.
Go back and examine the rules governing your checking and savings accounts. Many people have accounts with a fixed number of withdrawals and deposits per month. You would be better off with an account maintenance fee of $10 a month than getting hit with two or three different fees a month.
Also consider consolidating bank accounts, as often one account with a larger minimum can eliminate numerous fees that might otherwise exist.
If you’re the type of person who likes to occasionally pick up your favorite magazine from the local grocery store or newsstand, consider getting an annual subscription. Even if you don’t want the magazine every month, a couple of issues at the newsstand are enough to cover the entire annual subscription. For example, a 26-issue subscription to Forbes Magazine will cost you less than $25, while one issue at the newsstand costs $5.
6. Annual Credit Card Fees
Unless you have a poor credit history, there is no reason to pay annual credit card fees. A host of Visa, MasterCard and Discover cards have no annual fee, yet many people pay up to $100 a year for the privilege of holding a credit card. Unless you’re an ultra-wealthy, exclusive holders of an elite-level credit card with exclusive perks, most people should not be paying annual credit card fees.
And speaking of credit cards, make sure you make a payment on time every month, even if it’s the minimum. Many credit cards charge $39 monthly late fee charges, charges which accrue interest along with your existing balance.
Spend a couple hours and go over the above categories along with any other regular habits you may have accumulated over the years. The time will be well spent as it could mean hundreds of dollars of recurring annual savings.