Cars 
16
comments

Money Leaks: Warming Up Your Car

Snowy BeetleAs winter approaches North America, temperatures are falling. Just a few weeks ago, we had our first few snowflakes and freezing temperatures; though that went by without much incident. When the temperatures drop, one money leak begins to creep its ugly head – warming up your car.

Warming up your car refers to turning on the engine and letting it run idle to “warm” it up. The idea with letting it warm up is that it’s like you stretching. You let the engine idle a little before making it do any real work. It sounds great in theory but it’s completely unnecessary. Your car doesn’t need this and you’re just wasting fuel.

This is the latest edition of our new series called Money Leaks.

There’s another type of “warming up your car” that people refer to and that has to do with the inside of your car. Sometimes you like to let the engine run so it can get hot and begin delivering hot air into the cabin. Again, that sounds great except it’s costing you money. Much like how your mom probably told you to put on a sweater when you were cold, rather than turn up the thermostat, it’s better for you to avoid this when possible. (Also, the engine gets warmer when you’re driving… so just get going)

If you live in a place where ice can develop, some of these rules go out the window because you need heat to melt the ice before you can safely proceed. If you live in one of those areas, you probably already know this. If you don’t live in an area like this, quit idling your car and throwing money out the window. :)

(Photo: spakattacks)


 Personal Finance 
7
comments

Money Leaks: Speeding Tickets

Police LightsThere’s only one way to avoid a speeding ticket – driving within the speed limit.

Sometimes it’s all too easy to speed. You start following the flow of traffic and the next thing you know, you’re ten miles over. As there are more and more traffic cameras automatically catching speeders, the likelihood that you get dinged for it goes up.

So how can you avoid it? There are several ways, some of which are more useful than the advice of “slow down.”


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 Personal Finance 
6
comments

Money Leaks: Cell Phone Overtime Charges

Cell phonesCell phones and cell phone service are already pricey but nothing compares to how much extra you’ll pay if you go over your plan’s minutes. A typical 450 minute plan from Verizon will cost you $39.99 before any taxes and fees. Use a single minute over 450 and expect to pay 45 cents a minute. A 250 text message plan will cost you $5 with each extra message at ten cents a pop.

Those rates are typical and going over can be very costly. (let’s not even talk about data… in today’s age of smart phones, going over on data can be killer)

This is the latest edition of our new series called Money Leaks.

The easiest way to avoid this is to keep track of how many minutes you’ve used in a particular month. While there are plenty of applications out there, the easiest way is to use whatever your provider gives you. For example, Verizon and T-Mobile will tell you the number of minutes you’ve used if you dial #MIN. Sprint customers have to dial *4 and go through prompts. Everyone can log onto their provider’s website to check your balance.

If you see that you’re using more minutes than you expected, increase your plan. The 450 minute plan costs $39.99 and the 900 minute plan costs $59.99, the difference is about 45 minutes of call time. Or call during off peak times.

What are you tips for avoiding overages?

(markjsebastian)


 Insurance 
4
comments

Money Leaks: Not Using Your Medical Benefits

A lot has been made about health care in the United States, especially given the recent passage of “health care reform.” Proponents of health care reform argue that it wasn’t enough, enemies of the bill say that it puts an undue burden on businesses and is government interference in our personal lives. No matter how you approach it, health care is a big issue because, bottom line, we all want to be healthy, right?

Well, as it turns out, it’s very easy for you to not use all of your medical benefits. I don’t mean flexible spending accounts, which are the most obvious benefit that could be squandered either by not participating or letting a balance expire. I mean the regular routine checkups you are eligible for but don’t take advantage of.

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 Career 
1
comments

Money Leaks: Inaccurate Tax Withholding

Whenever you get paid, a portion of it is withheld by your employer for tax purposes. It’s sent to the Treasury Department each month and it goes towards your annual tax bill. We’re a pay as you go system, so you’re required to pay taxes on your income as you earn it. This is accomplished by this withholding and quarterly estimated payments, if they apply to you.

The amount that is withheld is based on your W-4, a short form in which you briefly explain your family situation. Based on your tax filing status, number of dependents, and a few other criteria, your employer withholds a set amount. If you get a large refund check each year, you’re withholding too much. If you pay a large amount, including a penalty, then you’re withholding too little. Both are bad.

This is the latest edition of our new series called Money Leaks.

Overwithholding

Overwithholding is where your employer is withholding too much and so you get a large refund check in April (or May). Overwithholding is bad because that’s your money that can be used to pay for your needs, pay down your debts, or be saved into an interest bearing account. Isn’t it better to have your own money than pay taxes you don’t really owe?

Underwithholding

This is a rarer case but sometimes you could be underpaying your tax liabilities and that’s bad because the IRS will assess penalties. There are safe harbor payment amounts that can protect you against penalties, but you still owe the extra taxes (something you may not have accounted for). Underwithholding is clearly the worse of the two.

How to Fix

Many places will tell you to work with calculators to find out what you need to put on your form. I suggest you use those calculators but also talk to your HR department. They do this every single day and explain your situation, they should be able to help you out. If you are stuck with an uninformed HR department, then rely on the calculators more and submit a new W-4.


 Frugal Living 
13
comments

Money Leaks: Buying Brand Name Instead of Generic

Grocery CartsThe easiest way to save a little money while getting almost the exact same thing is to buy a generic version of a brand name product. Whether it’s cereal or prescription drugs, the generic version is almost always cheaper and usually a close enough product that you wouldn’t be able to tell in a blind test. In the case of prescription drugs, the active ingredient is identical by law.

So why do we buy brand name goods? Sometimes we don’t think about it. Sometimes we just like it better. Those are mental hurdles we need to overcome before buying generic will be the first thought in your mind.

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 Cars 
13
comments

Money Leaks: Buying Premium Gasoline

Imperial Gas PumpI have a friend who absolutely loves his car. It’s not a fancy car, it’s just new to him and he treats it like his baby. He takes very good care of it, gets it washed once a week (more if he gets it dirty), and is generally a very caring owner. He also fills up with premium gasoline because, well, he thinks the gas is “better.” The only problem is that, just like his once a week car washes, he’s leaking money like crazy. While it’s debatable whether or not you really need to wash your car once a week, it’s almost certainly a leak if you go to a car wash, putting premium gasoline into a car that doesn’t need one is completely unnecessary. It’s as bad as putting regular unleaded into a car that demand premium.

Is premium gasoline better? “Yes.” Yes is in quotes because it’s better at handling compression. The higher octane means it can be compressed more before exploding. Cars that require premium gasoline will compress the gasoline to much higher PSI before igniting it. If you put regular unleaded into a premium gasoline engine, it’ll misfire. The fuel will ignite before the engine is ready and that’s the reason you’ll hear “knocking.”

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 Investing 
2
comments

Money Leaks: Mutual Fund Fees

I’ve always said that when it comes to investing, there’s only one thing you can control – your costs. You can’t control whether your mutual fund or your stocks will go up or down, but you can control how much you pay for each transaction. By doing a little bit of homework up front, you can make sure that more of your money works for you and less goes into the pocket of the broker holding onto your cash and shares.

Fortunately for all of us, brokers and mutual fund companies are compelled to disclose these fees and expenses in a very up front way. By doing a little bit of homework, you can easily compare different funds on the basis of cost to help you make a decision on where to invest.

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