There’s a lot of quick ways that you can save a buck these days that everyone is talking about. There’s a lot written about automating savings accounts, automated bill paying, and all sorts of other hands-off stuff. This is all great, but then we forget the small stuff when concentrate on removing thought from everyday financial decisions. There’s some low-hanging fruit of common money mistakes that can cost a chunk of change but may be overlooked.
Here area a few things that take extra time but would cost you more if you didn’t spend the time avoiding these mistakes:
1. Parking tickets. I’ve gone years without getting a parking ticket. From what I hear, surviving 7 months in New Haven without getting one is nearly a miracle in itself. But there’s really no secret strategy to avoiding this. I’m always be sure to pay the parking meters, and I set alarms on my phone to alert me when the meter will expire. I don’t park in illegal zones and take a chance. Instead, I take the time to find a spot where I’m allowed to park.
2. Overdrafting my bank account. I can’t ever recall paying overdraft fees on my bank accounts. My main reason for this: I always know my balance. Okay, so I might not know it down to the dollar, but I’m careful to keep an eye on it by checking my online account every few days. When my checking account gets low, I know I need to be more cautious.
3. Failing to research prices. To me, it’s absurd to make any large purchases (>$100) without researching and comparing prices from various merchants. Many people will simply stroll in to Best Buy and make a purchase off the shelf. Wrong! There are lots of viable online competitors that offer better pricing, like Amazon.com.
4. Credit card fees. I don’t own a card with annual fees. I always pay on time to avoid late fees. I never carry a balance. Enough said.
5. Going over cell phone minutes (or paying for minutes I don’t use). Again, plain and simple: I monitor my cell phone minutes to make sure I don’t go over. I usually don’t talk a lot, so this isn’t much of a problem. But when it comes time to sign up for a new plan, I make sure to check my minute usage and select a plan accordingly. Most companies will now let you upgrade or downgrade your plan whenever you want, too.
6. Paying someone to do things I can easily do myself. This is a bit of an umbrella category, so I’ll let your imagination run a little. I don’t pay for laundry service. I fix flats, adjust brakes, and make other simple bike repairs on my own. Preparing taxes fits in this category, too.
7. Buying extended warranties. I’ve been there on this one, and, most of the time, they just aren’t necessary. I can only recall a few times where something has needed to be fixed during the warranty period AND it cost less than the warranty coverage itself. After all, what incentive would the manufacturer have to sell you this if they didn’t make money off of it. Unless what you’re buying is known to have problems and be unreliable (and, if this is true, why are you buying it), skip the warranty. You can warranty yourself using a savings account instead.
8. Buying too much food. I hate wasting food. It’s somewhat inevitable, but I do my best to minimize it by purchasing groceries in small quantities. Yes, this requires me to grocery shop once a week, but I like fresh produce, too, and this is the only way to have it without letting things spoil.
9. Oil changes every 3,000 miles (and other unnecessary car maintenance). I used to change my oil every 3k miles, and now I’ve realized that it’s totally unnecessary. In fact, many car manufacturers don’t even recommend it in the manual! On top of the oil change, most quick lube places will try to sell you on dozens of other things you don’t need. Now, I drive my car at least 5,000 miles between oil changes, and I simply top off the oil myself if it ever gets low.
10. Buying new when used will do. Before you buy anything, get on Craigslist and see if it’s available there first. This is a no-brainer for almost any kind of furniture (especially if you aren’t too picky how it looks). If you’re into biking or other hobbies, you’ll almost surely find listings on here too. Even if you don’t want something incredibly used, you can find a lot of things that are like-new. For smaller items, check eBay for discounts.
11. Buying when borrowing makes sense. There are a lot of things I’ve purchased that I could’ve borrowed from others instead. Some things, like a cordless drill or other tool, I might only need a couple times a year. There’s no point to owning if this is the case. Other items I might buy might only be used once ever, like a book or DVD. Libraries make a lot of sense for books I’ll only pick up once. Netflix, with a monthly cost around a single DVD, gives you access to many more movies for a fraction of the cost of owning them all.
This is just a quick list; there are really many more things both within and beyond these categories that I’ll discuss in future posts.
What other small mistakes do you avoid?