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Can’t build savings? Try ‘insulating’ your finances

By Jennifer Rose Hale

Every winter, there are reminders to do an energy audit of your home. An inefficient appliance here, some outdated insulation there can create a daily drain on your energy bill that adds up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. That may not be the only place you are leaking money though.

Consider doing a similar audit of your budget. Is your money well-insulated from unnecessary fees and expenses? Here are seven items that could be costing you savings.

  1. Is your thermostat on a timer? Replacing an out-of-date thermostat is a relatively inexpensive and easy upgrade. The payback is that you no longer need to pay to heat or cool the house for all those hours you are away during the day. You can still set the timer with a cushion to get the house to the desired temperature by the time you get home.
  2. Are you frequently paying overdraft fees? At around $30 per occurrence, overdraft fees are outrageously expensive, and the only sure cure is to opt out of overdraft protection. Even if you think you keep meticulously precise records, unexpected overdrafts can occur if there is an unexpected fee in your account, or if a merchant puts a larger hold on your card than what you actually spend, which can happen in situations ranging from pumping gas to making a hotel reservation.
  3. Are your tires properly inflated? Want to do something about the high cost of gas? The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that keeping your tires at the correct pressure can knock the equivalent of 10 cents per gallon off your fuel costs. This is especially important to check during the winter, when cold weather can cause the air in your tires to contract so it is below the desired pressure.
  4. Are you getting free checking? Banks have steadily introduced new fees in recent years, but free checking accounts still exist if you know where to look. Online checking accounts may be your best bet for finding free checking these days.
  5. Is your telecommunications plan right for your needs? Usage habits for cable, computers and telephones have changed radically over the past decade, and the way these services are packaged has also changed. Make sure you are not paying for services you no longer use, and check to see that you are buying the ones you do use in the most cost-effective way.
  6. Do you regularly pay ATM fees? If so, this can be like paying a 5 or 10 percent tax every time you access your money. A big factor in choosing a bank should be making sure it has ATMs in places convenient to your regular travels.
  7. Are your savings account interest rates competitive? Yes, all savings account rates are low these days, but some are much worse than others. Don’t exacerbate a low-rate environment by choosing a bank whose savings account rates are near the bottom of the pile.

A common complaint is that people don’t feel there is enough room in their budgets for worthwhile retirement savings. However, if you tighten up your budget to insulate against unnecessary spending, the amount you save could give your retirement savings a much-needed boost.

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