You don’t have to be perfect to make progress on your money goals.
Every once in a while, things come up—like that time you spent more than you meant to showing your out-of-town buddy a great time, or when you dipped into your emergency fund to cover a car repair—and that’s okay. It’s why building wiggle room into your budget is important.
What’s not okay? Throwing away money on unnecessary fees, charges and missed opportunities.
Often it’s simply a matter of failing to plan ahead or to pay attention—sometimes it’s just succumbing to laziness (like when you don’t feel like walking three blocks to your bank’s ATM). Whatever the reason, the result is the equivalent of tossing fistfuls of bills out the window each month.
Here are six major money wasters to stop paying for now.
1. Bank Fees
What’s more annoying than paying to use your own money? Well, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you spend $4.52 at out-of-network ATMs.
And that’s not the only fee you’ll pay if you’re not careful. WalletHub found that some accounts carry up to 50 different charges, including overdraft (averaging $33.07) and maintenance fees ($5.86), that could add up to $800 a year.
The good news is getting nickeled-and-dimed out of this small fortune is entirely avoidable if you commit to better banking habits and shop around. “People think of checking and savings accounts as one size fits all,” says Jill Gonzalez, an analyst at WalletHub. “But you should understand your spending habits and look at what type of account is right for you.”
For example, WalletHub ranked Ally Bank among the country’s most affordable institutions, but an overdraft-prone customer with an Interest Checking account could easily spend $150 or more—and old schoolers who prefer brick and mortar won’t like this online-only bank.
2. Unused Gift Cards
Check your junk drawer, and you’ll likely find a gift card (or three) you haven’t used. Don’t worry, it’s not just you: TowerGroup and CardHub estimate more than $45 billion worth of cards are collecting dust.
If you have money to spend at retailers like Target or Amazon—or better yet from companies like Visa or Amex—make an effort to swipe your card for items you already planned on purchasing. On the other hand, if you got a gift card to a restaurant or store you don’t like, sell it to someone who will use it. You can sell it for cold, hard cash on CardHub, Gift Card Granny, or GiftCards.com. You won’t get the full amount—but it’s better than nothing.
3. Airline Surcharges
Travel fees are notorious money wasters, and they add up quickly. While select costs are mandatory, you can sidestep others by planning ahead.
Case in point: Delta and United charge $25 for telephone bookings. On American, it’s even more. George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, says you can still use the phone if you have a complicated reservation—just don’t complete your booking. “Call airlines and get dates or seats, then just hang up,” he suggests.
When the day of your flight rolls around, arrive prepared. That’s especially important if you’re flying a discount carrier like Frontier or Spirit that’s infamous for tacking on fees for everything from seat assignments to checking in. So BYO: blankets, food, and entertainment.
And pack smartly. Realistically, you won’t be able to carry on all the time, but there’s no excuse for showing up with oversized or overweight luggage, which can run you anywhere from $25 to $200 on domestic flights. If you really need to pack that much, think about shipping your stuff to your final destination. Checking a 51-pound bag on a Delta flight from Philly to L.A. would cost you $125, but mailing it via U.S. Postal Service retail ground shipping would be about $97.
4. Underutilized Subscriptions
Most of us don’t hit the gym as much as we wish—yet that doesn’t stop us from letting the monthly service charge debit our accounts. “Gym memberships can be a great deal if you actually work out three to four times a week, but in general they are a money drain,” says Shanda Sullivan, an Oklahoma-based Certified Financial Planner.
Non-gym rats can consider more cost-effective ways to stay fit, like signing up for individual classes, or running and biking outside in warmer months. The same goes for your other unused memberships and subscriptions, whether it’s magazines or streaming services. If you aren’t getting your money’s worth, call it quits.
5. Overage Charges
Smartphone plans with unlimited minutes and texts flow freely, but data plans are still a steady source of overage charges. According to a Cowen & Co. survey, more than a quarter of AT&T customers and 20 percent of Verizon users reported paying overage charges in the first half of 2015.
While fees vary, you can easily pay $10 to $15 for every gig you exceed your monthly allotment. If you do that consistently, you’re looking at an annual bill that’s hundreds more than you budgeted.
Stop the bleeding by fessing up to your real data usage, and finding a package that matches your needs. While you’ll pay more upfront, it’s sure to be less than what you pay in penalties. Otherwise, scale back by utilizing your WiFi settings and configuring your phone so every app doesn’t drain your data.
6. A Missed 401(k) Match
Talk about a missed connection! If your employer sponsors a 401(k) plan and offers a match, but you haven’t signed up for it, not only are you saying “no thanks” to free cash, but you’re also delaying the compound returns you could be earning from the market.
This solution couldn’t be simpler: Stop what you’re doing, sign up for your 401(k) plan and select your investments, then check the box to receive the match. And make sure you’re contributing enough to take advantage of the full amount.
January 27, 2016