savings

7 Ways You May Be Wasting Money

You can easily cut these unnecessary expenses so you can keep more cash.

Our list of "Ways You Waste Your Money" is one of the most popular features on Kiplinger.com, and we've just updated it for 2014 with seven more money-wasters. The list has struck a chord with readers because it doesn't shame consumers for bad habits -- but, instead, helps identify sneaky leaks that add up to big bucks. Check out below the newest unnecessary expenses we're calling to your attention, then see our slide show for the complete list of common ways people waste money.

Not adjusting the thermostat. Don’t waste money heating or cooling an empty house or apartment. When you leave for the day, lower – or raise, depending on the season – your thermostat by several degrees. You can save 5% to 15% (about $180 a year) by adjusting your thermostat 10 degrees to 15 degrees for eight hours, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A programmable thermostat makes setting your home’s temperature easy.

Tossing food based on the expiration date. There’s a good chance you’re throwing away hundreds or even thousands of dollars’ worth of food each year before it has gone bad if you’re using sell-by and expiration dates as gauges for whether food is still edible. These dates are just manufacturers’ best guess of when food is at peak quality and are not related to safety, according to Emily M. Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. Because of confusion over food date labeling, a family of four spends between $1,365 and $2,275 per year, on average, on food that is wasted.

Consumers can usually expect food to be safe for another five to seven days past the sell-by date printed on the package. The best test to tell if something is still good is to smell it or take a small bite. To learn more, see Confusing Packages Lead to Wasted Food, Money.

Paying checking account fees. YYes, it is getting harder to find a free checking account with no strings attached. But there still are banks that offer accounts without fees or minimum-balance requirements – and some even pay interest. We like the Capital One 360 account and the online-only Ally Bank Interest Checking account these days. See Where to Get Free Checking for more details.

Community banks and credit unions, in particular, are more likely to offer free checking. You can search for a community bank near you at the Independent Community Bankers of America site and look for credit unions at www.culookup.com or www.asmarterchoice.org. And sometimes free checking is a perk with brokerage accounts.

Always opting for the senior discount. Many businesses offer discounts for older adults. But often these special rates aren’t that special and seniors would be better off taking advantage of other deals available to consumers of any age. For example, the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and Circle Line Cruises in New York City all offer special rates for seniors. But seniors will pay even less to visit all of those attractions by purchasing a New York CityPASS for $109 (versus $131 if purchased separately with senior rates). For more, see Why Senior Travel Discounts Aren’t Always the Best Deal.

Buying at the wrong times. Most things are marked down at certain times each year. So planning your purchases to get big-ticket items when they're at their lowest price can save you hundreds of dollars. For example, apparel is dramatically marked down at the end of each season and during sales events over long holiday weekends, such as Labor Day and Memorial Day. Furniture is discounted as much as 60% during clearance sales in January and July before new styles are released in the following months. Prices on TVs and computers are slashed on Black Friday -- and the list goes on.To know when to get the best deal on variety of products, see the best buys of fall, winter, spring and summer.

Timing travel-related purchases right also can help you save big. Fares for domestic flights are at their lowest, on average, 54 days in advance, according to a study by CheapAir.com. For flights to Europe, you’ll get the lowest fares by booking 319 days in advance (see When to Book Flights to Get the Lowest Fares). And to get the best rate on a hotel room, you typically need to book a stay 14 to 21 days in advance (see How to Get the Best Deal on a Hotel).

Shopping at the wrong store. Sure, it’s convenient to do all of your shopping at one place. But if you buy your food, medicine, toiletries and paper products at the same store, you’re probably spending more than you have to on many items in your shopping cart.

For example, you’ll get the best deal on cleaning supplies, personal grooming items, greeting cards, gift wrap and bags at dollar stores. You can get a gallon of regular milk for 50 cents to 60 cents less at the supermarket than at a warehouse club, and higher-end grocers, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, tend to have the lowest prices on organic, almond, soy and other specialty milks. You’ll save nearly 70% per unit on batteries if you buy them in bulk at a warehouse club, such as BJ's Wholesale Club, Costco or Sam's Club, rather than the drugstore. See Best Buys at Warehouse Clubs, Grocers and Big-Box Stores, What Not to Buy at Drugstores and What to Buy at Dollar Stores.

Paying foreign transaction fees. If you’re traveling abroad, the fees you pay when using credit cards and getting foreign currency can add up quickly. However, there are several ways to trim costs. For example, credit cards tend to offer better currency exchange rates than exchange bureaus. And be sure you use a card that doesn’t levy a foreign transaction fee, which can cost 1% to 3% of every purchase you make on vacation.

If you need cash, wait until you arrive at your destination to get foreign currency. Then go to a local ATM -- it is the cheapest way to get currency, often at a wholesale rate. For more ways to avoid or limit conversion fees, see Save Money on Your Money When Traveling Abroad.

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