Spending

When Is the Cost of Convenience Worth It? We Do the Math

Molly Triffin

In today’s world, convenience is king. You can Blue Apron dinner ingredients, TaskRabbit Ikea furniture assembly and Shyp packages—all in mere minutes, with the click of a button. But it’ll cost you.

How much? Probably more than you think. Is it worth it? Well, that depends.

“Our society is moving in the direction of using apps to make nearly every task easier—many of which can legitimately save time and money,” says Certified Financial Planner Shannah Compton Game. “But people also run the risk of relying on them too much. It’s a balancing act.”

Now, we’re not suggesting you should never opt for delivery or hit up an out-of-network ATM in a pinch—or that doing either one will derail your savings goals. But if you’re going to make smart judgment calls, you’ve got to know what these short cuts might cost you in the long run.

So we’re laying it out for you.

1. Using out-of-network ATMs

Yeah, we know. You’ve probably heard this one before. But while shelling out an extra $4.52 every time you swipe your card in a machine that’s not from your bank may not sound like a big deal, it adds up. A weekly withdrawal habit will cost you $235 a year. And over five years, you’ll have wasted $1,175—the equivalent of a flight to Europe, romantic beach getaway or a few dozen restaurant meals.

If it’s a real pain to make that 15-minute detour to your bank, download an app like ATM Hunter, which tells you which affiliated machines are closest to you.

Still hard to find an ATM near you? “If you’re using out-of-network ATMs on a regular basis—more than twice a month—think about switching to a bank that has a wider network in your area,” Game suggests. Online banks, like Ally or Bank of Internet USA, might be an even better option. Since they don’t have the overhead of brick-and-mortar banks, some refund your ATM fees as part of their service.

2. Filling Up at a Gas Station Off the Highway

Always fueling up just off the ramp can really put a dent in your checking account. “I’ve seen gas priced at 30 cents more per gallon right on the highway, compared to other stations,” says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch, who makes it a point to fill up the evening before a long drive.

If you do find your tank running low while en route, try GasBuddy, an app that lets you search for nearby stations by price. “Driving just a mile off the highway might make a significant difference,” Woroch says.

3. Not Comparison Shopping

Whether you simply assume Amazon has the best prices or your local CVS is your automatic go-to, it’s time to reassess your one-stop-shopping strategy. “Online retailers use dynamic pricing, meaning the cost of items constantly fluctuate, depending on the time of day, demand and what competitors are offering,” Woroch says. “If you’re not comparing, you could be missing out on deals.”

Taking just a few minutes to investigate alternatives can seriously fatten your wallet. For example, a quick search showed an identical tube of Benefit mascara for $32.98 on Amazon, $24.00 on Sephora (plus $5.95 shipping) and a mere $14.49 with free shipping on Rakuten—meaning you’d save more than 50 percent.

And don’t forget to consider coupon codes. “With Coupon Sherpa, you can search by category to see prices across different competitors,” Woroch says. So even though those sandals are cheapest at Zappos, ShoeBuy might have a coupon code that would knock the price even lower.

When you’re in an actual store, take a few seconds to run the price of your purchase through ShopSavvy. “Enter the item name or use your phone to scan the barcode, and the app lets you know if it’s sold elsewhere for less,” Woroch says. “Show the results to customer service and ask them to price match.”

4. Getting Anything Delivered

Groceries, dry-cleaning, flowers, dinner—there’s a door-to-door service option for pretty much everything. But it comes at a cost, whether it’s an extra tip, inflated prices or an added fee.

So consider this: Is consistently skipping the short commute to a restaurant for takeout or a trip to the grocery store really enhancing your life?

“Ask yourself whether you’re defaulting to that option too readily,” Game says. She suggests printing out your next month’s credit card and bank statements, and categorizing every expense (food, entertainment, travel) so you can see how much you’re spending and whether it’s worth it.

5. Buying Extras on the Plane

Remember the good old days, when food and accessories—blankets, headphones, movies—came gratis with your plane ticket? “Now, more airlines are charging a la carte,” Woroch says. “By breaking down the total price into smaller, individual costs, they are able to offer consumers a rock-bottom ticket.” The catch? They’re counting on cashing in on all those overpriced extras (like $3 coke cans) passengers buy.

The good news is that a little old-fashioned preparation—like making a sandwich at home and downloading a few shows onto your tablet—can save you big time. Too rushed to plan ahead? “Then be sure to take those fees into account when booking,” Woroch says. “JetBlue might initially come up as more expensive than flights on Spirit and Frontier, but you get free TV and snacks.”

6. Cutting Corners at the Grocery Store

Maybe you buy pineapple chunks and carrot sticks to save the trouble of chopping them at home. Or you hit up the corner store instead of driving all the way to a supermarket. Or you always reach for name-brand goods—conveniently positioned at eye-level—compared to store-brand alternatives.

Here’s a reality check: “You’ll end up paying an average of four times more for pre-cut fruit and veggies than if you’d bought whole produce,” Woroch says. “[Instead], purchase fruit once a week, then slice it up all at once and pack it into individual containers in fridge.”

It’s also worth keeping an open mind about generic goods. “Often, the same manufacturer that makes the name brand will also make the store brand, so they’re virtually identical,” Woroch says. “Break down the price per unit using your phone calculator, and you’ll find that you save an average of 30 percent.”

7. Relying on Uber and Cabs

It’s no wonder rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are wildly successful. Who wouldn’t prefer to cruise around in the back seat of a Prius, instead of being crammed into a subway car?

“But the danger with many of these apps is that the account is automatically linked to your credit or debit card, so you don’t viscerally feel the impact on your budget,” Game says. “You can drain your bank account without even noticing it.” Case in point: Game recently asked a client to outline her spending for the past year, and to her shock, the client realized she’d spent well over $4,000 on Uber.

Set boundaries to combat mindless ridesharing, and avoid surge pricing periods (which can more than double fares). If you cap yourself at $100 a month and your average ride is $15, that means you can Uber no more than once or twice a week. Or you can stretch your dollars, and enjoy more rides, with the carpooling option, a cheaper alternative that pairs you with riders headed in the same direction.

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