Confession: I hate to pay for parking. Unless it’s as hot as Iraq or raining cats and dogs, I will do whatever it takes to find a legal space on the street, preferably free. And I’m good at it. It mainly takes faith, patience and experience. Recently, I found a spot on Chicago’s North Avenue next to the famous Second City comedy club on a Saturday night, saving the $17 the building’s garage demanded -- and the half-hour wait to climb the ramp after the show. I’ve done these kinds of things for years.
In the spirit of trading personal convenience for cold cash that remains in your wallet, here are nine other everyday expenses you don’t need:
Banking fees of all sorts
Banking fees are generally small -- a couple dollars here, a couple dollars there -- but they can add up to hundreds throughout the year if you’re not careful. Don’t pay money just to manage your money. You can take easy steps to avoid these fees:
• Overdraft fees. Sign up for low-balance alerts via e-mail, and link your checking account to your savings account to move money as necessary to avoid $35 fees for insufficient funds.
• Checks and postage. Pay your bills electronically instead. You’ll also avoid any late fees and black marks on your record if the postal service loses your payment.
• ATM fees. Know where your own bank’s ATMs are located, even in other states, so you can save $3 every time you get cash out of the wall. Or consider switching to a bank that offers free ATM usage regardless of which bank’s ATM you tap.
• Coin-counting commissions. Save the 5% it can cost you to cash in your nickels and quarters at the supermarket. Coin counting is gratis at hundreds of TD Bank branches in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Florida, whether or not you have an account. (Just pray the machine, called Penny Arcade, isn’t down for service. That seems to happen a lot.)
Basic investing advice
There are plenty of wise reasons to engage a financial planner or adviser -- but there are also pointless ones. If all you want is help choosing mutual funds, especially if your choices are basic index funds inside a retirement plan, it’s silly to fork over as much as 1.5% of your savings each year for someone to run a common software program to do this for you. You can arrange your money among different investments yourself or build a simple portfolio with little effort. Then rebalance every quarter or six months to restore your weightings.
By all means, get an excellent estate planner or an accountant when it’s time to think about taxes and bequests. But you don’t need help for everything.
Help applying for financial aid
Commercial sites like FAFSA.com will help you complete and submit the important application for student aid for $79.99. But at the U.S. Department of Education’s site, www.fafsa.ed.gov, you can fill out the application for free -- with all sorts of guidance on how to assemble the proper personal information. (For more advice, see our Paying for College special report.)
Pet-sitting is big business these days, with brand names, franchises, uniforms, logos, and even lobbyists and consultants. But if your little guys are healthy, you can save the $50-a-day boarding fee while you’re on vacation by asking a responsible neighbor, friend or family member to feed, walk (if needed) and hang out for a bit with your cats and dogs -- provided you volunteer to do the same when they’re away. Make sure your helper knows who your vet is, and, obviously, don’t be so informal if your animals have health problems that mean you should board them with the doctor. (See Keep Pet Costs on a Tight Leash for other pet-friendly saving tips.)
Insurance on rental cars
The rental-car clerk will offer you a collision-damage waiver (sometimes called a loss-damage waiver), which can cost $10 to $20 per day. The CDW shields you if the rental car is damaged or stolen. But as long as the rental is for personal use and you have collision coverage in your own auto-insurance policy, you’re covered without the CDW (with the same deductibles that apply to your own car).
Your credit-card benefits supplement your auto coverage. Most cards will pick up your deductible, and premium cards offer beefier coverage. (Keep in mind that credit-card protection doesn't include liability. And if you've dropped comprehensive or collision coverage on your auto policy, the rental car will be covered by your credit card if it is stolen or damaged in an accident. Check out What You Need to Know About Renting a Car for more information.)
Don't fall for sites that offer "free" credit reports, which often end up enrolling you in expensive credit-monitoring programs that you usually don't need. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com. It's a good idea to stagger your reports -- getting a free one from each bureau every four months -- to keep an eye on the status of your credit and spot potential ID theft throughout the year.
The other day I bought the snazziest new Samsung smart phone from T-Mobile at the fair price of $249. The sales rep couldn’t let me go, however, without asking me to pay $125 more for insurance against me dropping the unit or otherwise ruining it. The cheaper electronics get, the less these warranties make sense. Same’s true with appliances. Now, if I could insure the suits I take to the dry cleaners -- or the luggage the airlines throw around -- we might have something to talk about.
Shipping for online shopping
At www.FreeShipping.org, you can find coupons and codes to secure free (or deeply discounted) mailing or delivery from hundreds of retailers. Some of these are constant offers as long as you make a minimum order. Others are occasional deals with a limited life. And if there’s no cost for mailing, you can’t get hit with that mysterious charge for “handling,” right?
There are times you’ll pay anything for a cold bottle of premium H2O. If you’re driving through the desert, riding your bicycle on a hot day or dealing with grimy yellow stuff in your pipes, price is no object. Once while on vacation in Florida, a construction crew accidentally cut the water lines to our residence. Off to Wal-Mart it was -- or we would’ve been unable to cook, wash or even make coffee for 12 hours. But why pay for bottled water all the time? Is it actually safer? Bottled-water makers aren’t required to test their water or make their test results public. And few brands reveal important details about the source of their water and what it contains. Heck, about 25% of bottled water actually comes from the same municipal sources that deliver water to your home.