By Mary Hunt
A big coordinated garage sale in my neighborhood recently gave me a surprising wakeup call. It's one thing to see a family's stuff spread out in the front yard, but quite another to see a whole neighborhood's castoffs at one time. All I could think of as I walked from one yard to the next was all the dumb decisions that led to this colossal display of stuff- purchased with dollars, now offered for pennies.
Imagine how much cash you'd have right now if you could get a do-over on all the thoughtless purchases you've made in your lifetime. Me? I'd be one wealthy woman!
I can't tell you what those little money wasters are in your life (the five pairs of black shoes in your closet? dozens of owl figurines for your collection?). All you have to do is take a walk through your house to see what you've been throwing away your money on. Me, I've learned that there are a lot of "conveniences" I don't really need. Once you put an end to them, it's like giving yourself a raise. Just think about it. If you can cut out the stupid stuff, you may have the money you need to start a serious savings program or to pay down your debts. Read and learn from my mistakes.
1. Extended Warranties
Generally, they're not worth the money. (The only thing I now have a warranty on is my laptop computer, and that's because I practically beat it to death.) If a new gadget or appliance is going to fail, research tells us it will do so during the manufacturer's warranty period or long after the extended warranty has expired. That makes extended warranties, which can cost anywhere from $5 to hundreds of dollars, a big profit center for retailers and a pretty useless expense for consumers.
Get Smart: If you're worried about a breakdown, take the money you'd spend on a warranty and stash it into a special savings account. If your item fails, you'll have the money to repair it. If not (which is more likely), in three or five years when everything's gone well, you'll have stashed away a nice little nest egg.
2. Gym Fees
The sales pitch is compelling and the promise of better health is hard to deny. But getting roped into a legal obligation to pay a big monthly fee for the next two or three years-whether you use the gym or not-makes no sense.
Get Smart: Find a gym or health club that requires no contract (you pay by the month if and when you desire). Or don't pay at all: There's a big wonderful world out there where you can walk, jog or run for free!
3. Fast-Food Runs
You know how ridiculous it is to spend $3 or $4 for coffee-over and over, day after day. But how about the other snacks and food purchases that can cause your bank account to evaporate? A morning egg sandwich here, an afternoon bag of chips there…before you know it, you've spent $20 or more a week.
Get Smart: Before you leave the house in the morning, figure out how much cash you'll need for the day, then take only that amount with you. Bring your own snacks and pack a brown-bag lunch to reduce costs even more.
4. Cell Phone Apps and Ringtones
OK, so it's cool to have ringtones, apps and games on your cell. And sure, $2 to $3 a pop or $10 a month may not seem like a lot of money for so much fun. But watch out. You can blow through a lot of cash in no time.
Get smart: Make a hard-and-fast rule that you do not pay for ringtones, apps or games-then find them for free. They're out there; you just have to search for the ones that work on your particular phone and with your service provider. Check out Phonezoo.com or Myxer.com. You can even make your own ringtones for free, using MP3s you already own.
5. Fees (Late, Over Limit or Worse):
Not paying attention to your bills is a big mistake these days, when banks are doing all they can to boost their profits. Getting credit card payment in late can mean a $39 whack on the wrist. Being sloppy with your bank account and bouncing a check can cost you around $27.
Get smart: Find your inner private detective. Go over every statement and question every entry. Don't know what it is? Find out! Get bold! If you're charged a fee for something silly like allowing your balance to drop a few bucks below the agreed-upon minimum or sending your payment a day late, call customer service. Explain that this is so not like you, as evidenced by your clean record. Then ask them to waive the fee or reverse the charge if it has already been assessed to your account.
6. Landline Extras
Have you looked at your home phone bill lately? I mean really carefully? You could be paying for features you never use: call forwarding, call waiting, who knows what else. Those add-ons could be costing you $15 a month or more.
Get smart: Can't find a recent bill? Pick up the phone and call customer service. If you use your mobile phones more often than your home landline, consider canceling the bells and whistles to get your home service down to the bare minimum.
7. Rental Car Insurance
Saying yes can add anywhere from $9 to $30 or more per day to the cost of the car. That's a waste if you carry insurance on your cars at home, or if you pay with a credit card that offers rental car insurance as a perk. Your existing auto policy may be all you need if it includes third-party liability, collision and comprehensive coverage for rentals (most do!).
Get smart: Before you even get to the car rental counter, call your insurance agent to make sure you're covered. Check your credit card's terms and conditions, too.
8. Computer Software
You got a great deal on that new computer, so why go broke loading it up with software? Before you spend a dime, take a look at all the freeware out there. You'll find programs written by enthusiasts and distributed with no strings attached: games, graphics, office suites, fonts, every kind of desktop tool and gadget imaginable.
Get smart: Check out FreewareHome.com, an index site that lists more than 5,500 programs that really are free. No request for money in the documentation, no nag screens asking for payment or donations, no time limits!
9. Unlimited Texting
Most cell phone plans include a certain number of texts with the basic service. Texting is fun, but it can get out of control in a big hurry. Upgrading to an unlimited plan can add $15 (about $180 per year per phone on your cell plan) just so you can engage in a lot of meaningless chatter. How dumb is that?
Get Smart: Forget the upgrades. Scale back to a limited number of text messages for you and the kids, too. A little selfdiscipline could be a good thing for everyone involved.
10. Bottled Water
You've got to hand it to the bottled water industry. They've managed to convince otherwise rational people to pay around 800 times more to purchase water in a bottle rather than get it from the tap. These days a 16-oz bottle of "spring" water goes for about a dollar, which works out to about $8 a gallon-twice the cost of milk, and roughly on par with soft drinks. Home delivery is less per gallon, but still around $40 a month, according to online averages. However, 16 8-oz glasses of tap water cost about a penny. Bottom line: You've heard it before, but now you have to do it. Lay off the bottled water!
Get Smart: The next time you feel thirsty, turn on the tap. Don't like the taste of your tap water? Invest in a filter pitcher or install an inexpensive faucet filter. You'll still come out ahead.
Unless you've got money to burn, paying 99¢ or more per tune can add up. But not to worry. There are plenty of ways to get free music downloads, all totally legal and easy to access.
Get Smart: Check out the free classical catalog at ClassicCat.net. Or take advantage of the free downloads section at Rhapsody.com. Want country? At CountryWeekly.com, click on "Free Music Downloads" under "Music." At Amazon.com, click on "Digital Downloads" from the lefthand menu, then "MP3 Downloads." On the left under "Browse MP3s," there's a Most Popular category. There you'll see an option for "Free Songs & Special Deals."
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