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Ways to Waste Your Money

Coupons for the Sake of Couponing

ThinkstockIt's tempting to go hog-wild clipping coupons. But remember that coupons only save you money if you use them for items you were going to buy anyway. If you buy something you didn't need, you didn't save money -- you bought something extra. Most coupons are for brand-name items, so be sure to compare prices with the generic brand. Learn how to save money on groceries without coupons.



Paying ATM Fees

Expect to throw away nearly $4 every time you use an ATM that isn't in your bank's network. That's because you'll pay an ATM surcharge, and your own bank will hit you with a non-network fee. Consider switching to a bank, such as Ally Bank, that doesn't charge ATM fees and reimburses you for fees other banks charge. Another way to avoid fees if there's not an ATM in your bank's network nearby is to get cash back when you make a purchase at the grocery store or drugstore.

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Not Pulling the Plug on Electronics

iStockphotoU.S. households waste $100 a year, on average, to power devices while they are off or on standby mode, according to Energy Star. Electronics that have a clock or operate by remote are typical culprits. The obvious way to pull the plug on your energy vampires is to do just that -- pull the plug. Or buy a device to do it for you, such as a Smart Strip Power Strip ($25.75 at www.smarthomeusa.com), which will stop drawing electricity when the gadgets are turned off and pay for itself within a few months.

Paying for Things You Don't Use

Do you watch all those cable channels? Do you need those extra features on your phone? Are you getting your money's worth out of your gym membership? Are you taking full advantage of your Netflix, TiVo and magazine subscriptions? Take a look at what your family actually uses, then trim accordingly. You can get help tracking your expenses to identify where you're regularly spending on things you don't use with our Household Budget Worksheet or these 7 budgeting sites.

Not Reading the Fine Print

iStockphotoThought you were being smart by transferring the balance on a high-rate credit card to a low-rate one? Did you read the fine print? Some credit-card companies now charge up to 5% for balance transfers. Also watch out for free checking accounts that aren't so free anymore. Some banks now charge fees unless you meet certain criteria, such as maintaining a minimum balance. Your bank might also charge you as much as $10 a month to download information into Quicken, the personal finance program, or tack on a fee every time you use a teller for deposits or withdrawals. Cell-phone contracts also are full of fine print about fees for various services and early termination of a contract.

For more pesky charges you might not be aware of if you don't read the fine print, see How to Wipe Out 33 Pesky Fees.

Mismanaging Your FSA

For some people, that means failing to sign up for their workplace flexible spending account. Contributions to an FSA come out of your paycheck before taxes -- so you don't have to pay taxes on that portion of your income. Then you can use the money tax-free to pay for such things as health care deductibles, co-payments, dental work and child care. You can set aside up to $2,500 in a health care FSA and up to $5,000 in a dependent-care FSA to cover child-care costs for kids under age 13.

Other people contribute to an FSA but fail to use all the funds in their account. FSA funds can't be carried over from year to year. As a result, employees leave an average of $86 behind in their use-it-or-lose-it FSA each year, according to WageWorks, an employee-benefits provider. See these 7 Smart Uses For Your Flex-Account Money so you don't leave any funds behind.

Paying Full Retail Price

iStockphotoConsidering that most consumer goods go on sale at various times of the year, there's little reason to pay the full retail price for something. 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. 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.

Plus, you can always use sites such as CouponCabin.com and Coupons.com to find coupon codes to score a discount at the checkout when you shop online. You can buy discounted gift cards for your favorite retailers at Gift Card Granny to get instant savings (a $100 gift card for just $90, for example). And you can try your hand at haggling to get a lower price. See Secrets to Successful Haggling for tips.

Sticking With the Same Service Provider

Hey, we're all for loyalty to trusted service providers, such as your bank, insurer, credit-card company, mutual fund, phone plan or cable plan. But over time, as prices and your circumstances change, the status quo may not be the best deal anymore. Smart consumers are always on the lookout for bargains.

See our tips for reshopping your auto insurance, determining whether your checking account is still right for you, saving money by switching cell-phone plans and getting a better deal on cable TV.

Buying New Instead of Used

iStockphotoMany pre-owned items can cost up to 50% to 75% less than the price you'd pay if you purchased them new. Often you can find "used" goods that have hardly even been used. And with some items -- such as tablets and smart phones -- retailers or manufacturers refurbish and repackage them so they're practically new again. Of course, there are some things you're better off buying new, including mattresses, linens, shoes and safety equipment, such as car seats and bike helmets. But here are 11 things that you should consider buying used because you often can find them in good or almost-new condition at a fraction of the price you would pay to buy them new.

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Buying When You Can Borrow

Be honest: How many times have you bought something you've used only once or twice? In an age of social networking, collaborative consumption is the next big thing. At SnapGoods.com, you invite contacts to join your network of borrowers, then post an ad to share or borrow just about anything, from a circular saw to a photo scanner to a Vespa scooter. It's a great way to audition a product before buying, if you must. (It's available in about 100 cities.) You can also trade baby, kids' and teen items, and books and DVDs for all ages, at Swap.com.

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