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Top Ten Ways NOT to Throw Your Money Away in 2005

The following hidden charges and "blind" spending may secretly be sucking major wads of cash from your pocket. Now is the ideal time to unveil these ten secrets, look them in the eye, and then turn them on their heads so you can actually fatten your wallet in 2005 ... and achieve peace of mind that you are not being swindled out of your hand-earned money!

1. Don't Pay Double for Using the ATM
Despite recent ad campaigns from several banks touting no-charge ATMs, out-of-control ATM fees continue to rear their ugly heads. The most loathed is "double dipping" -- a very common practice in which two banks charge you for using the same ATM.

Here's how it works: you pay a surcharge when you use an ATM owned by a bank (Bank X) that you don't have an account with. Your bank (Bank Y), meanwhile, charges you what's called a "foreign" or "off-us" fee if you use another bank's ATM. So in the end, you're charged by Bank X and again by your bank, Bank Y, for the same transaction at the same machine!

According to's checking account pricing survey, banks earn more than $2.2 billion each year in ATM SURCHARGE revenue -- this doesn't even include the revenue from "off-us" fees and other ATM charges. So if you're tired of contributing your hard-earned dollars to this billion-dollar "industry," try these tips:

Watch out for "double-dipping"
at ATM machines.You'll be
charged twice for the same

  • Withdraw cash in larger amounts to reduce your number of ATM transactions

  • Look for "No-surcharge" logos on your ATM

  • Try an online bank (many offer surcharge-free ATMs)

  • Get cash back from a debit card when using it at supermarkets

  • Try to take out enough cash to last you until your next paycheck

  • Use a big bank with lots of ATMs like Bank of America or Washington Mutual (most banks won't charge customers to use their own ATMs, so the bigger the bank, the more ATMs and the less chance you'll have to use another bank's ATM)

  • offers a directory of surcharge-free ATMs that is worth checking out

If you are looking for a truly free ATM, it will be a challenge, though they are out there. According to Professor David Sorkin of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, today less than 5 percent of ATMs are truly surcharge-free.

2. Watch Your Medical Bills Closely for Errors
Bills from hospitals, physicians and other medical services are rife with errors, and they are usually not in your favor. Watching them closely is the only way to protect yourself from the erroneous charges.

According to one Washington Post article, the reasons for the many mistakes -- Pat Palmer, founder of Medical Billing Advocates of America, said she finds multiple errors in eight out of every 10 hospital bills -- are varied.

Prices for the same procedures are vastly different, even in the same communities. One procedure can yield multiple bills (one from the surgeon, one from the hospital, one from the radiologist, the anesthesiologist, and so on.)

Pricing codes are also cumbersome and easily mistakable.

Some 5 percent of 11,000 consumers said they spotted major medical errors on their bills, according to a Consumer Reports survey, and that doesn't include the minor mistakes. So how can you avoid getting taken by these costly errors?

Review your doctors' bills meticulously, and if you have any questions contact the billing department. Don't hang up until you are satisfied that the charges are accurate.

3. Use Coupons & Certificates, Especially for Larger Purchases
If you are in the market for home services such as having your air ducts cleaned, getting new siding, or major repairs to your car, coupons from reputable businesses who want to earn your long-term business are a surefire way to save big money. Check the following sources for such coupons:

  1. Local phonebook, which will likely have coupons for the services

  2. Online, as there are often special deals posted online that are not available elsewhere

  3. Home coupon mailer packets

However, for bigger expenses and repairs, be sure to get multiple estimates FIRST for price comparison. And don't announce you have a coupon until after you get a price estimate from the company offering the coupon. On occasion, a service provider may jack up their estimates significantly to make up for the "discount" on your coupon -- getting their estimate first, and other company's estimates for comparison, can help prevent this.

4. Get the Lowest Hotel Rate ... How to Make Sure of It
When you call to book your next hotel room, many people don't know that you can simply ask the agent for their LOWEST possible rate. You can even name your price to agents and see if they are willing to meet it, as many have the authority to lower prices to get you into their otherwise vacant hotel room. Of course, this will be less successful in regions where hotel rooms are in high demand.

If you're flexible on your dates of travel and aren't set on a certain hotel, try an online site like that allows you to put in a price range and hotel category. You are basically bidding for the best price. While this can give you low, low rates, you have less control over where you'll stay.

Other online sites like and are great for inputting your travel time and location and getting comparable prices. You'll be amazed at how much the prices will vary from site to site.

And, don't forget to take advantage of discounts from organizations you may belong to. Members of certain auto clubs, AARP, the military and many other groups are entitled to discounts at some hotel chains.

5. Buy High Quality to SAVE Money

Here's a very brief "smart consumer quiz":

  • You can buy one mop at $39.95 that cleans down to the microscopic level in your home for a deeper and healthier clean, are ergonomically designed to be easy on your back and get the job done quicker, and whose two included mop heads last 100 or more uses each, OR ...

  • You can buy four mops in a year at $11.99 each that do a dramatically inferior job of cleaning, are twice as hard on your back to use, and last only 15 or so uses before they are so full of germs that they are a serious health hazard

  • Which would you choose?

The bottom line is that cheaper sometimes does not mean better. There are times when spending a bit more for a high-quality product will really pay off in how well the product performs, how you feel when you use it or the peace of mind it offers.

It will also likely last much longer, which means you replace it less and ultimately SAVE money on a BETTER product. Don't fall into the "dollar store" trap ... you do get what you pay for, and over time you may pay a lot more and get a lot less.

6. Lower Your Credit Card Percentage Rate
This one may surprise many people: if you want to save a significant amount of money over time on credit card interest, you can simply call your credit card company and demand a lower interest rate.

That is a step in the right direction, but that still doesn't guarantee that you are getting the lowest rate around. Here's how to be sure you do:

  • Call various credit companies and see what rates they are offering. Even if your credit rating is not great, chances are very high you can find a better rate. Collecting interest on your purchases is easy money for the banks, so trust us, they WANT your business.

  • Then, contact your existing credit card banks and tell them what the competing banks are offering you. Often they are very willing to lower their rates to equal or even slightly better rates to retain your business.

  • You can also roll your balances over to credit cards offering special low introductory rates until you pay off your balance (but be careful to read the fine print and watch for rate increases after the introductory period has expired!)

7. Don't Pay for Memberships, Clubs or Services You Don't Use
Did you splurge on a premium video rental service that allows you to rent all the videos you want only to find that you've used it twice all year? Are you a member of other monthly clubs (wine of the month, doorknob of the month, etc.) whose products are going unused? Do you subscribe to magazines that go unread? In short, are you paying routine fees for things you are not using?

Here's the first step everyone should take right now: Do a simple 15-minute assessment of all your monthly expenses.

Be honest ... do you really use that gym membership? If not, you're better off ditching the monthly dues and making a significantly smaller one-time investment in a piece of gym equipment, or heading outside for free healthy walks instead!

Most people give their bank statements a cursory glance at best, but take the time to scrutinize the past month or two of your most recent banking statements, including checking and credit cards. What routine fees (and other expenses) can be eliminated? How much will you save over the course of the year by doing so?

A classic example is the gym membership that's never used. According to one study of 8,000 gym members with monthly membership contracts, 80 percent of people went to the gym less than five times a month, which worked out to $17 a visit. The gym offered one time gym uses for $10 per day, so the members ended up losing about $700 each for their contracts.

Another prime example? Gift cards that are never used. Most do have expiration dates. It is estimated that of the $40 billion spent on gift cards in 2003, $2 billion of it will never be spent. So be careful not to let your gift cards get swallowed in junk drawers.

8. Kick, or at Least Reduce, Those Bad Habits
Whether it is smoking, drinking soda pop, eating junk food, drinking alcohol, or any other habits that are hazardous to your health, you don't really need another reason to reduce or kick them. Your health should be good enough.

Nonetheless, here is another reason: these habits are robbing you blind.

A recent study found that smoking, for instance, will end up costing the average person about $40 a pack when medical costs, life insurance, taxes and other factors are figured in! The cost of a hamburger and fries is, when all costs are figured in as well, likely about the same.

How about a morning mocha from a premium coffee shop over the course of just a single year? A large mocha at an average of $5, five days a week, four weeks a month, 12 months a year ... comes out to $1,200 a year. That's enough for that vacation you thought you couldn't afford!

Cutting down your premium coffee habit to two a week brings the tab down to $480 a year. Still a pretty penny, but a savings of $720.

If soda pop, fast food, or candy bars are your vice, take five minutes to do the math on what you may be spending per year ... and what you can save by cutting down. How much is that daily 16 ounce Big Gulp of Coke costing you over the course of a year? What could you otherwise be doing with those funds to truly treat yourself well ... how many professional massages or nice dinners out?

Quitting or reducing your bad habits, whatever they may be, will likely improve your health, your energy and even extend your life while saving you money. Is there a better time than right now to try?

9. Be Smart About Cell Phone Minutes
About 150 million Americans have cell phones and are chatting up some 53 billon minutes. How many of yours are billed over the standard rate because you went over your monthly minutes?

Paying a premium per-minute price for cell phone usage will add up fast. The solution?

Don't use it if you don't need to. It's easy to get caught up in what some call the "wireless lifestyle," but this lifestyle can be costly. In other words, don't call your sister across the country to tell her you are at the grocery store. Don't send your friend a cell phone picture of some girl at the gym during peak hours. Save the frivolous phone calls for off-peak hours, which with most plans are now free.

The other solution is to be honest about how many minutes you really need and scale up to the next cell phone plan level. Many people convince themselves they will use less minutes than they do, but if, over the course of two or more months, you find you are not delivering on these promises to yourself, scale up to the next plan level.

Gone over your cell phone
minutes? That extra talk
time can add up

Most of all, be sure to compare, compare, compare cell phone plans and switch to plans like Sprint's that don't charge for excess minutes based on each minute but rather, and much more economically, step you up into the next segment automatically.

Many carriers like Sprint also offer "in-network" plans that allow friends and families in the same network to talk for free.

10. Get Impartial, Expert Advice Before Making a Purchase
In short, avoid getting taken advantage of. The first rule of thumb is to never just listen to a manufacturer's claims for their own products -- of course they're going to tell you their products are great.

Seek out, instead, impartial expert advice from trusted sources like

Here on we accept no advertising or third party influence from any source. We instead evaluate products and services that can help you become safer and healthier, and recommend and offer only the highest quality without their "influences." This is more rare than you may think; even giant retailers are heavily influenced by "deals" with the manufacturers, so you can't be sure you are getting the best products or services versus those that offered such retailers the best margins or the like.

When it comes to products related to safety, security and wellness, watch the free SixWise newsletter, as we will be making ongoing recommendations for worthwhile products that can really improve your life, your health and your well-being ... and all while saving you money and time in 2005.

In general, find sources similar to in other product and service categories as well -- those that are not influenced by advertising, sponsorships, etc. but are dedicated to offering you only the best. Those with business models similar to ours may not dazzle you with flashy ads and hyper-marketing, but you can be assured you are getting the most for the money you spend.


ATM Fees

Avoiding ATM Surcharges

Washington Post, "Killer Billing Errors"

How to Get a Lower Interest Rate on a Credit Card

More Than You Bargained For

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