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7 Money Leaks — and How to Plug Them

These stealthy cash drainers could be costing you big bucks

     

En español | Yes, you can save a lot by cutting out the little pleasures in life. Nonessentials like caffe lattes and premium channels can really add up. But life is too short for mediocre coffee! The good news is that not all money wasters bring you joy. Here are seven painless ways to stop throwing away hundreds of dollars a year.

Landline phones 

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You could save: $560 a year

Most U.S. households now rely on mobile phones only. But fewer than one-quarter of homes with people 65 and older have made the switch. If you want to keep your landline, don't overpay. Until recently, my mother-in-law paid $84.54 a month for plain old telephone service. By replacing her copper-wire connection with phone service delivered through the same cable as her TV and internet, I trimmed her telecom bill by $565.32 a year. Bonus: The static in her phone is gone.

Greeting cards

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You could save: $100 a year

With cards getting ever costlier, finance and consumer writer Anthony Giorgianni buys boxes of blank greeting cards and personalizes them for each occasion. It's easy to find beautiful cards, sold in quantities of 24 or more, at prices that work out to well under 50 cents per card. Send them out instead of birthday and holiday cards often priced at more than $4 a piece.

Credit card late fees

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You could save: $28 or more

The top penalty for missing a payment is now $28 for a first-timer, rising to as much as $39 for subsequent late payments. But you might not have to pay. Ted Rossman, an industry analyst at creditcards.com, says 84 percent of people who ask for a break on late fees get it.


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Food waste

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You could save: More than $600 a year

The average American tosses out almost a pound of food per day. (One survey found American households waste $640 every year.) My favorite tool for reducing waste — and my food bill — is the freezer. Leftovers and iffy produce turned into soups and casseroles, for example, last just a few days in the fridge but can be stashed for months in the freezer. For more info, consult the cold food storage chart at foodsafety.gov.

Bank fees

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You could save: More than $144 a year

Monthly fees, ATM charges and overdraft penalties can eat up your cash. But Greg McBride at bankrate.com says you shouldn't have to pay for a checking account: More than 40 percent of banks and 80 percent of credit unions offer free checking with no balance requirement, averting maintenance fees that regularly total $144 per year. Avoid ATM withdrawal fees, which can top $4 a pop, by using any cash-back option when making purchases with a debit card, Rossman says. Dodge overdraft fees, which can easily hit $30, by declining overdraft protection service; instead, track spending to avoid going over your balance.

Full-price toiletries and cosmetics

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You could save: 40 percent or more

Rather than shopping at drugstores or specialty stores, hit discounters like TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Since they added beauty departments a few years ago, discount stores have been my go-to source for brand-name moisturizer, face wash, cosmetics, hair spray and shampoo. My savings easily exceed 40 percent.

Amazon Prime

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You could save: $120 a year

If you signed up for Prime just for the fast free shipping (and not for the streaming video and music), you might be better off dropping out and saving the $119 annual fee. Any Amazon customer can get free shipping by spending $25 or more on qualifying items per order. Or you can shop at walmart.com, which just rolled out free next-day delivery on eligible orders of at least $35. But if you love Prime, you can save big by signing up for the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card, which offers a generous 5 percent back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases.

Lisa Lee Freeman, cohost of the Hot Shopping Tips podcast, was founder and editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports and an investigative reporter for The Dr. Oz Show.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on November 20, 2019. It has been updated with the AARP Top Tips video.

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