When was the last time you took a close look at your expenses? If it’s been a while, the first month of the year is a good time to figure out where you’re overspending and take steps to prevent it.
This isn’t about giving up restaurants or skipping vacations. Instead, it’s about plugging those “money leaks”—small, often hidden costs that slowly drain your checking account without you even noticing. Over months and years, these small leaks can add up to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Warren Ward, a financial planner in Columbus, Ind., says that once his clients overcome their initial inertia and begin to look closely at fees and other payments they make, they start looking for additional ways to reduce those costs. “It’s a virtuous cycle,” he says. “The more they save, the more they like doing it.”
Here are six common money leaks you should look out for—with tips on how to patch them up:
Paying too much for car insurance. Once your car is about 10 years old, the cost of collision coverage can be more than the vehicle is worth, says Margarita Dilone, an independent insurance agent with Crystal Insurance in Washington, D.C.
Dilone says that consumers should check their car insurance policy to see whether their premium and deductible for collision coverage equal or exceed the car’s value.
She recently advised a client not to buy collision coverage for his Honda Civic. Even though the car wasn’t yet 10 years old, it had mechanical problems, rusted paint, and a blue book value of about $3,000, Dilone says. If your car truly is a clunker, you can skip that coverage and cut your insurance bill by as much as 75 percent, she says.
Buying insurance policies separately. If you bundle insurance policies, you’ll probably save money.
You’ll get discounts for each insurance policy that you buy bundled, says Anna Bryant, a State Farm spokeswoman. An auto insurance policy premium, for example, could be discounted by 5 percent to 20 percent in most states if you also have another policy with State Farm, such as a renters or homeowners policy.
Bryant also says you could get a discount of 20 percent to 35 percent on a homeowners insurance policy premium in most states if you also have a State Farm auto policy.
A separate study by InsuranceQuotes, says that U.S. consumers can save, on average, 16.1 percent—or $322—per year on their premiums by bundling auto insurance and home insurance.
Overlooking checking account fees. Some banks charge service fees ranging from $5 to $30 per month for checking accounts. That’s a fee customers sometimes overlook when opening an account.
Many banks will waive these fees, however, if you meet certain requirements, such as setting up a direct-deposit account, opening a second account, or completing a certain number of transactions each month.
A Bank of America Core Checking Account, for example, levies a $14 monthly fee. But the bank will waive it if you keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or more in the account.
Check with your bank to see whether you’re paying a checking account fee, says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. If you are, find out whether there are ways to have it waived—or whether the bank has a different no-fee checking account that meets your needs and can help you save money.
“If neither pans out, switch to another bank,” he says.
Using a thermostat you can’t program. Energy costs in the U.S. consume 5 to 22 percent of the average family’s total after-tax income, according to WalletHub.com. But buying a programmable thermostat, which can cost less than $200, can cut costs significantly.
Turning the temperature down 7 to 10 degrees for 8 hours each day (such as at night) from its normal setting can help you save money—up to 10 percent, or about $200 per year for the typical American family, according to energy.gov.
Buying too many name-brand products. You can save money by purchasing store brands, which can cost 20 percent less than national brands, according to Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. The amount you save will vary depending on what you buy and where you shop, he says.
Some store brands, such as those from Costco and Sam’s Club, can save you even more. The caveat: You may need to buy warehouse-sized packages to reap the biggest savings, so be prepared to stock up.
Paying too much for your cell-phone plan. A typical American household with four wireless phones pays about $118 per month for a plan, according to the CTIA, the wireless industry association.
However, many of these consumers can slash their bill by simply switching to a plan on the same carrier with a smaller data allotment, though you may have to pay a fee to make the switch, says the CTIA.
Conversely, if you’re frequently going over your data limit, upping your data plan could also help you save money by avoiding monthly overage charges. Keep in mind that streaming audio and movies, for instance, are big data hogs.