These days, keeping your budget in line isn’t measured by the amount you spend, but by how much you save.
Before you blame your daily jaunt to Starbucks or weekly trip to the movies for breaking your budget, take a good hard look at how much you’re paying for less obvious but much more expensive money wasters like overdraft fees and auto insurance.
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Cut back on these seven items and you could save roughly $1,000 a year.
1) Bottled Water
Getting your recommended eight glasses of water a day by bottle instead of tap is a huge waste of cash, says Phil Lempert, founder of Supermarket Guru. That buck-a-bottle water you down on a regular basis can really add up. (Even more so now that cities like Chicago collect an additional tax of five cents per bottle.)
Potential Savings: Spend $37 to buy a 40-ounce Brita pitcher and filter ($13 at Bed, Bath and Beyond), plus a four-pack of replacement filters ($24), and you’ll be able to filter 200 gallons of water. Buy that much water in 24-packs of 16.9-ounce Aquafina bottles at Shop Rite instead, and you’d spend $283.50. Your total savings: $246.50.
2) Extended Warranties
Think twice before you shell out $10 a month for a two-year protection plan on your pricey new BlackBerry. New products tend to malfunction within the manufacturer’s initial warranty period, or well after any extended warranty has expired, says Michael Gartenberg, vice president of strategy and analysis for Interpret LLC, a market researcher. (Most extended warranties exclude accidental damage, too, so you’d still be out of luck if you drop that Blackberry and crack the screen.) To protect yourself, pay with the right credit card. Many credit cards — including most American Express and MasterCard cards — double the manufacturer’s warranty on purchases, adding up to another year of free protection.
Potential Savings: Someone buying a 40-inch Samsung flat panel high-def television at Best Buy for $800 has the option to add a four-year protection plan for another $150. Skip it, and pocket the cash instead. (The set already has a one-year manufacturer’s warranty.)
3) Gym Memberships
The cost of a gym membership can really rack up over the course of a year (an average of $775, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association). So make sure you’re tapping into all of the discounts available to you. Check with your employer, health insurer and other membership groups like your union or alma mater to see if they offer discounts on gym and fitness club memberships, says Bob Nelson, president of Nelson Motivation, a benefits consulting firm.
Potential Savings: On your own, you’d pay $54.99 per month, plus a $49 enrollment fee, for a national access plan at Bally’s Total Fitness. Through discounter GlobalFit.com, which offers special rates for members of partner companies, you’d pay $37.80 per month plus a $29 enrollment fee for the same Bally’s membership. Over a yearlong membership, that’s $226.28 saved.
4) Overdraft Fees
Overdraft fees can run as high as $35 apiece and banks have a host of sneaky tricks that can cause even the most diligent consumer to overdraw on an account. For example, they may approve debit purchases that would put you in the red, or re-order transactions so that the biggest purchases go through first — and deposits get processed last. To protect yourself, sign up for overdraft protection, which can cost as little as $5 to $10 a year (and is often free with high-level checking accounts), and can save you hundreds of dollars.
Potential Savings: Pay $5 annually for a connected line of credit at Citibank. It kicks in only when you overspend, helping you to avoid the $30 fee per overdraft. Mess up just four times within a year and you’ve saved $115.
5) Organic Produce
Sure, buying organic makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing, but it isn’t always the best choice for your wallet. Fruits and vegetables like kiwis, sweet corn and broccoli require very little pesticide to grow. Others — like avocados, onions and pineapples — have thick or peelable skins that reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals. “Any pesticide that remains is not getting through,” says Lempert. For a handy reminder as you shop, download the Environmental Working Group’s wallet-sized organic produce guide.
Potential Savings: Organic broccoli costs $2.99 per pound at online grocer FreshDirect, which also offers conventional broccoli for $1.49. A pound of navel oranges is $4 for the organic and $2 for conventional. Someone buying a pound of each item weekly could save $182 over the course of a year.
6) Auto Insurance
“[Auto insurers] often give discounts for consumers who don’t drive long distances,” says Sam Belden, a spokesman for Insurance.com. If your driving habits have changed in recent months — say, you’ve switched jobs or cut out pricey trips to the mall – call your insurer to ask if you now qualify for a better rate.
Potential Savings: A driver who cuts back to fewer than 7,500 miles a year could shave 5% to 15% off his premiums, depending on his insurer. Considering that the average driver shells out $817 a year on auto insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute, that saves $40.85 to $122.55.
7) Music Downloads
For the longest time, Apple iPod and iPhone owners were stuck downloading their music from iTunes, while consumers with other MP3 players couldn’t put the service’s content on their devices. But now, most online music purveyors (including Apple as of March) offer content in a DRM-free format — meaning you can listen to it on any MP3 player. That frees iTunes users to pursue cheaper music from sites like Wal-Mart and Amazon.com. Music fans with other MP3 players may benefit from Apple going DRM-free, too. The company plans to revamp its fees in April, charging 69 cents to $1.29 per song instead of the current flat fee of 99 cents. Bottom line: Check prices on several sites before you download.
Potential Savings: “Hot N Cold” by Katy Perry costs 99 cents at iTunes, but just 74 cents at Wal-Mart and 79 cents at Amazon.com. Someone buying a song a week could save $10.40 to $13 annually by shopping around.