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Most of the initial stages on the road to wealth involve making sure that you’re moving forward, not slipping backward.
Unfortunately, many of us are too consumed by day-to-day life to focus on the countless instances of small-scale back-sliding: completely unnecessary waste, extra money we could have if we just reached for it, fees we could avoid if we just made a little effort. The stupid easy stuff, in other words.
What follows is a list of 10 common financial leaks — by no means an exhaustive list, but a good starting point — and strategies for plugging them.
1. Your savings barely earns interest. The average money market fund pays next to nothing — 0.12% as of March 2013 — yet savers still leave loads of money in them. With a little shopping around, you’ll see that many institutions pay close to 1%, which can earn $100 a year on every $10,000 in savings.
2. You don’t admit your money mistakes. This one has broad application, but let’s focus on a really common one: You haven’t been to the gym in months, but you don’t cancel your membership because doing so would mean acknowledging that you made a mistake — and that you won’t get back the money you already wasted. Continuing that unused membership can cost $500 to $1,000 a year.
3. You waste your flexible spending dollars. A third of FSA account holders let their hard-earned dollars go unspent each year — at a cost of $120 a year on average. To use up funds by the Dec. 31 or March 15 deadline (check with your firm), buy a spare pair of glasses or stock up on staples like bandages. You’ll need a prescription to get reimbursed for most OTC meds, which your doctor can fax to the pharmacy.
4. You leave your heat and AC running for no reason. Using a programmable thermostat to adjust your home’s temperature — it can lower the heat at night and when you’re at work, for example — could shave 5% to 15% off your heating and cooling bills. What’s more, about half of households with a programmable thermostat fail to use that feature.
5. You pay your bank to hold your money. Americans spend $7 billion on bank fees each year. But many banks will waive their monthly checking account fee if you set up direct deposit from your employer.
6. You pay your fund manager for making too many trades. Mutual funds that replace their holdings the most frequently have only a 31% chance of outperforming the market, says Russel Kinnel, director of mutual fund research at Morningstar: “You’re better off steering clear.”
The brokerage and other costs that managers ring up by moving in and out of stocks on a regular basis don’t show up in the expense ratio. So check your fund’s turnover rate at Morningstar.com or in the prospectus. If the entire fund turns over 1 1/2 times (150%) or more a year, it’s too much.
7. You pay your fund company too much for doing almost nothing. Running a passively managed broad index fund requires relatively little human input, so the “expense ratio” you pay on such funds should be tiny. Yet, the difference in cost between the lowest- and highest-priced index funds can be nearly one percentage point — or close to $1,000 a year for every $100,000 you invest.
8. You spend more on your car than it’s worth.Once your car is 10 years old, the cost of repairing it after an accident is very likely more than the car is worth, says Philip Reed of Edmunds.com. Dropping collision coverage for your wheels and covering just injury and property damage could save up to 40%.
9. You pay too much for auto insurance. Drivers who have stayed with the same insurer for more than eight years could save 19% by switching, according to a recent study. Yet, 75% of policyholders automatically renew without getting a new quote.
10. You don’t bundle your insurance policies. Insuring your home and auto with a single company can save up to 25% per year, says Alec Gutierrez of Kelly Blue Book. That’s $300 a year for a typical home and auto policy.