Not Sweating the Small Stuff
This category includes a whole grab bag of nickel-and-dime spending that, individually, doesn't amount to much, but which can add up over the long haul. Indeed, many credit counselors instruct their clients to write down every cent they spend for a week -- from Popsicles to newspapers. "They're stunned when they see how much money gets frittered away," says Williams.
Take that daily cappuccino habit. You don't have to give it up; after all, the point of saving money is to enhance the quality of your life, and being forced to abandon every small pleasure will have an opposite effect. But (there's always a "but") if you're going to maintain the habit, you should at least be conscious of what it is actually costing you so that you can make an informed decision. That way, you can determine whether that java is genuinely worth $15 a week, or close to $800 a year, or whether you'd rather put the money elsewhere.
Similarly, a $2 fee to get access to your own money at an ATM may not seem unreasonable -- $2 is not a huge sum -- but it's still $2 less in your pocket, and two bucks here and two bucks there add up to big bucks before long. Do the extra legwork to find a branch of your own bank from which to withdraw the cash. And if you're paying to have a bank account, you're a chump. Banking has become supercompetitive, so if your bank won't waive those fees, switch to one that will.
Likewise, paying attention to due dates and deadlines will save you the fines that snowball when you fail to pay a bill on time or you return a video past its due date. Just ask the governor of California. Since taking office last November, Arnold Schwarzenegger has saved taxpayers thousands of dollars on toilet paper alone by switching from two-ply to single-ply at the Capitol. "It's not anymore the two-ply," he told the New York Times. "Because you know what? We're trimming. We're living within our means." Hey, if the Terminator is willing to sacrifice comfort to save money, it behooves the rest of us to follow suit.
Lorraine Glennon is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, New York.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, September 2004.