Frugal Living 

How to Avoid These Easily Avoidable Fees

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There are a few sites I check on a daily basis and the Frugal subreddit on Reddit (among others) is one of them. A while back there was a great discussion thread about easily avoidable fees (and how to avoid them). It’s a great thread because it shows how there are so many fees out there that were likely instituted not to make money, but to make someone’s life easier. For example, a local bike shop charges customers $8 if you bring your bike in for tire repairs and you leave the wheels on the bike. In other words, if you need tire repairs, just bring in the tires.

Unlike banks, which use the fees to make money, many of those types of fees exist just to stop you from doing something annoying! Fortunately, regardless of the motivation, there are a lot of little nickel and dime fees that can be avoided if you do a little extra work:

Cable Modem Rental Fees

If you check your cable bill, chances are your cable provider is charging you a fee to use that cable modem (as well as any set top boxes). You can often save a lot of money by buying these devices rather than renting them for $3-5 a month. It can be a little tricky since cable companies love this revenue stream so do a little research online to see if this is possible. When I had Comcast, they had a deal where you could get a Motorola Surfboard (I think that’s the model) for free after rebate as part of the sign up promotion. You saved $50 a year by using that instead of renting.

Pay for Gasoline in Cash

Many gas stations are starting to offer a lower price per gallon of gasoline if you’re willing to pay in cash. They are willing to do this for two reasons – they save on the credit card fees that are typically several percent and they get you in the store. The likelihood that you buy something else, in addition to the gas, goes up if you actually enter the convenience store (you can’t buy a candy bar or chips if you don’t go into the store). As the buyer, calculate the actual savings compared to cash back to see if this makes sense. And don’t buy anything if you do enter the store.

Paying for Paper Statements or Bills

A lot of companies are trying to be greener when they request you switch to electronic statements, because it saves them money! It also cuts down on the waste of mailing but don’t be mistaken, the motivation is saving money. At first, companies were trying to entice people to switch with statement credits and the like. More recently, they’ve just decided to charge people a fee for their statement. $2 each month to mail a piece of paper or two? C’mon, that’s excessive. That said, you can easily avoid this by going electronic. I like the way Vanguard does it, they charge an annual fee if you don’t have above a certain balance and you get a mailed statement. Opt for electronic statements and the fee disappears, regardless of your balance.

Student Fees in High School

If your high school or junior high school is looking to charge your student a fee to participate in curricular, co-curricular, or extracurricular activities, it’s against the law in states like California. There are some things that the school can charge a student for, such as replacement of damaged books loaned to a student, food, and field trips but the list is fairly specific. If your student is being charged fees, check with your state’s laws on what is permissible. Remember, you are already paying for these types of services as part of your taxes but with state and local governments feeling crunched, they might try to slip something by.

Hotel Fees

Many hotels have started implementing monitors in the minibar to help them discover when a customer removes something. This sometimes results in a charge on your hotel bill for a can of soda or candy bar that you never ate. Be aware of these kinds of phantom charges for things you never consumed because they’re often small and can be hidden in the itemized bill. Also be on the lookout for any “safe fees” that a hotel may charge to have a safe in your room. If you didn’t specifically ask for it, it seems unfair for them to charge you for it.

Coin Counting Fees

Coinstar charges 9.8% when they count your change, your local bank may do it for free. If your local bank doesn’t offer free coin counting, your next best alternative is to have Coinstar count it and opt for a gift card instead of cash. Coins converted to a gift card are not assessed a fee. You can either use the gift card or try to sell it online or to your friends (at that point, you might be introducing more hassle that it’s worth).

Foreign Transaction Fees

When you use your credit card in a foreign country and the charge is made in the local currency, you’ll be charged a foreign transaction fee. The only way to avoid this is to use a credit card that doesn’t charge a fee, like Capital One (in fact, Visa and Mastercard assess a fee so those no transaction fee cards, like Capital One, actually pay the fee on your behalf). Otherwise, just be aware that your credit card company will tack on a few percent to process your charges!

These are just some of the more common ones I saw listed but the Reddit discussion, now two months old, has a few other ones that are a little less common (like hair washing fees, bike tire removal fees, etc.)

{ 13 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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13 Responses to “How to Avoid These Easily Avoidable Fees”

  1. camu says:

    Nice article. But at the gas station I actually save more money by paying by credit card: my Amex has a 5% cashback on gas, while usually the difference between cash and credit at the pump is about 3% 😉

  2. Texas Wahoo says:

    How does one find out what the cash price for gas is? I have never seen a gas station that posts multiple prices for the same grade of fuel.

    • Matt M says:

      I’ve seen both prices at a few places but at most places that offer it they only put the cash price on the sign.

      • Texas Wahoo says:

        I guess places around here don’t offer it, since I’ve always gotten the price on the sign and I always use a credit card.

        I’m guessing these places are generally not name brand gas stations (i.e., not Exxon, Shell, BP)? I imagine most of these brands would put something in their franchise agreements prohibiting price discrimination.

    • DMoney says:

      Yea, most prices you see ARE the cash prices. The prices they DON’T show are the credit/debit. It’s horrible.

      I don’t see how a company can charge you an unlisted price. It’s borderline false advertising. This has to be regulated soon.

    • KimLikes2Save says:

      I have. Most gas stations I’ve visited will have a sticker on the pump with one price for paying with cash and the other one paying with a credit card. I’ve found paying with cash is a cheaper discount than with a credit card.

  3. Martha says:

    How can you not pay for student fees? Has anyone had any luck getting out of those?

  4. Christina D says:

    You can count your own coins for no fee or use them to pay for things. 😉 Kids love getting coins as gifts.

  5. govenar says:

    Another hotel fee that I thought was ridiculous was something like $8 for a 1 minute phone call (not that this comes up much anymore since everyone has cell phones).

  6. Ellen says:

    Good article but do you think we can avoid ATM fees or ask the cash back because we use debet card and the bank always charge its every time take money from local bank in foreign country.

  7. Sun says:

    For gas, Kroger is offering $0.20 off per gallon of gas with Shell. We buy the Shell gas cards, earn 2x points, and then use them to buy gas. That’s about a $3 savings on 15 gallons @ $4. That is a better than 5% plus I purchased the shell card with my Sallie 2% cash back card.

    For hotel, we use an AmEx SPG. If you use points, you can often avoid having to pay local taxes. For example, we booked a suite at the San Diego US Grant for 12,000 points. Otherwise, the room would have cost $199/nt plus any local taxes. With points, you pay points and avoiding the extra cost. This leaves you with more money to support the local economy.

  8. DeepInTheHeart says:

    Many resort hotels will charge a ‘resort fee’. This is upwards of $20-$50 a day, and is a convenience fee for access to the gym, pool, spa, golf, etc. If you don’t plan to use any of those facilities, they have to remove that fee.

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