In recent years, fees have assumed virtually every imaginable shape: service fees, convenience fees, usage fees, activation fees, cancellation fees, recycling fees, denial fees and on and on. These irksome charges often seem to be thinly-veiled ways for companies to rake in more revenue -- without them doing anything extra in return -- and collectively they can erode your savings.
While many fees must be paid to obtain something meaningful -- a college education or phone service, for example -- many can be avoided or reduced. And every fee you avoid translates directly into money saved.
Get in the game
Dealing with any problem calls for the proper tools and a determined attitude. Fees are no different. Here are some strategies for taking them on:
Get conscious. Make a point to discover the whos, whats, whys and whens behind all the fees in your life. Learn who's charging you for what, and how often and how much. Fees have a way of getting imposed on us sneakily, so when you're investigating a new service like home security system or dry cleaning, ask if there are any associated fees.
Remember that fees are frequently associated with convenience. When you use the closest ATM or call directory assistance on your cell phone, realize you'll likely pay a fee for the privilege. Thoroughly read all your bills to find out what fees you're being charged and why. What you're unknowingly paying for might surprise you.
Eradicate. Eliminate those fees you find wherever possible. If your auto insurance company charges you a monthly service fee of $3 for sending you a paper bill, and you can avoid the fee by switching to automatic withdrawals, do it.
If your trash removal company charges you a couple of dollars a month fee to use the garbage can it provides, consider buying and using your own trash can to avoid the fee -- those things tend to last for a while. You might even call the companies that are charging you fees, such as your credit card issuers, and ask if they'll waive the questionable fees on your account. With a little persuasion, they just might.
Be proactive. Anticipate and be prepared for fees in advance. Often you'll be charged fees for using a credit or debit card to pay for something, such as cab fare or our income taxes. Avoid this by ensuring you have cash to pay the cab driver before you go out or using online bill pay (provided it's free) to pay your taxes.
Commit. Make the effort necessary to avoid fees. You're probably familiar with the fees you're charged for online ticket purchases. This fee can be $4 or more per person, which can quickly lead to a ridiculous charge. Eliminate these fees by obtaining your tickets either through the venue box office, by phone or in person. Yes, it might mean driving to the facility to buy tickets, but in the end, the cost of the time and gas you put into that could still be worth it.
Share. Use a share-the-fee approach whenever possible. If you need to recycle some major electronics, which will cost you a flat fee of $15, offer to take your family or friends' recycling with yours to the dump site for a portion of the fee. Most often, they'll take you up on it.
Get creative. Look for new ways to circumvent fees (legally, of course). If you're stuck flying on an airline that charges for your luggage, and you're traveling with someone, put all your liquids and gels in one suitcase and check it. Keep the other suitcase free of those products and carry it on. You'll save one fee per round trip, which again equals more money in your savings account.
Worth the effort
Oftentimes, the trade-off for avoiding or reducing fees is a bit more effort or legwork on your part. You may decide you'd rather pay the fees than drive to a concert hall or schlep your neighbor's tree clippings to the dump. And that's your prerogative.
But if you're willing to do what it takes, you will reap financial rewards. Not only will you have more money in your pocket, but you'll also have the satisfaction of knowing you got the upper hand on someone who wanted your money. Sometimes the little things like that are the most satisfying.