Bank statements don't make for scintillating reading, but if you take a close look, you could find a few unpleasant surprises. Such was the case when one family glanced at one of its statements and discovered that its bank was simultaneously charging it for banking with online bill pay and banking without it. How the family could be doing both -- and paying for it -- was perplexing. But there the charges were, $9.95 and $5.95 respectively, leaking dollars out of the checking account.
What small leaks have sprung up in your financial life? What charges -- erroneous or simply unnecessary -- can you eliminate? The leaks may be small, in the form of fees, or larger ones, like monthly expenses for services you just don't use. Large or small, getting rid of these drains on your finances can leave more money for retirement savings, your emergency fund, or just plain fun.
Here's a list of just some of the charges that could be dribbling money away from your important financial goals:
- Banking fees. If you're being charged for banking, it's time to evaluate your choice of financial institutions. After the family discovered the fees it was being charged, it switched to a different bank, which allows it to bank online for free. Likewise, you may want to approach your existing bank to see whether you qualify for an account upgrade that will offer you free checks or other perks -- and save you money in the process.
- Programs through your employer. Your employer may sponsor programs that you're no longer using, such as a prepaid legal program or pet insurance. Take a look at the deductions from your paycheck, and make sure that if they're optional (i.e., not required by the IRS), they're all for services you still want.
- Netflix. If you love your Netflix subscription, make a concerted effort to use it enough to make the fees seem worth it. Take a look at your subscription and ask yourself: Do I use this regularly or should I cancel it? Should I go down a tier in service and fees?
- Web-hosting fees. Are you paying a web-hosting fee for a site that has fallen by the wayside? Use it or lose it.
- Cable charges. Give your cable bill a look; perhaps you're paying for some premium channels that you never use. Going down just one level in your cable service can save you big bucks over the course of a year.
- Gym membership. If you use the gym regularly, a membership makes sense. But for many of us, signing on the dotted line was the most exercise we've gotten out of the whole experience. Take a look at your contract to determine when you can opt out. That $40 a month that's automatically debited to Gold's Gym can help pad your emergency fund.
- Credit protection programs. Take a look at the protection your credit card company already affords you before you say yes to additional coverage. You may well find you are sufficiently protected, without the upgrade and additional charges.
- Credit monitoring services. According to federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the credit bureaus. If you space out your requests (for example, requesting Experian's report on Jan. 1, Trans Union's four months later in May, and your Equifax credit report in September), you can monitor your own credit for free.
- Anything you could get at the library for free. Memberships to periodicals such as Consumer Reports may be unnecessary drains on your bank account if you're at all inclined to use the library. A local reference librarian recently showed off all of the databases one could access off the library website, including full text reviews from Consumer Reports for all but the most current three issues. Never underestimate the power of the library!
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This article, written by Elizabeth Brokamp, was originally published in January 2007. It has been updated by Dayana Yochim, who doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. Netflix is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.