When was the last time you took a close look at your expenses? It's always a good time to figure out whether you’re wasting money on things you don’t really need or may be overlooking.
This isn’t about giving up restaurants or skipping vacations. Instead, it’s about plugging those “money leaks” -- small, often hidden costs that slowly drain your checking account without you even noticing. Over months and years, these small leaks can add up to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Consumer Reports offers six common money leaks you should look out for, with tips on how to patch them up:
Paying too much for car insurance
Once your car is 10 years old, the cost of collision coverage can be more than the vehicle is worth, says Margarita Dilone, an independent insurance agent with Crystal Insurance in Washington.
So check your car insurance policy to see whether your premiums and deductible for collision coverage equal or exceed the value of your vehicle, Dilone says. If your car truly is a clunker, it might be time to skip that coverage, which can cut your insurance bill as much as 75 percent, she adds.
Not bundling all your insurance
If you buy insurance policies for your car and your home separately, you could be paying more than necessary. But if you bundle, you’ll probably save money.
According to Angela Testa, a State Farm representative, for each insurance policy that you buy bundled, discounts generally range from 10 to 20 percent, depending on where you live. According to data compiled by InsuranceQuotes, U.S. consumers can save, on average, 16.1 percent -- or $322 -- per year on their premiums by bundling auto insurance and home insurance.
Overlooking checking account fees
Some financial institutions charge service fees typically ranging from $5 to $15 per month for checking accounts. That’s a fee some customers overlook when opening an account.
Many banks will waive these fees, however, if you meet certain requirements, such as setting up a direct-deposit account, opening a second account, or completing a certain number of transactions each month.
A Bank of America Core Checking Account levies a $12 monthly fee but will waive it if you make a direct deposit of $250 or more, maintain a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or more, or are a student younger than 24.
Check with your bank to see whether you’re paying a checking account fee. If you are, find out whether there are ways to have it waived—or whether the bank has a different no-fee checking account that meets your needs and can help you save money.
“If neither pans out, switch to another bank that does,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
Not using a programmable thermostat
In the U.S., energy costs consume between 5 and 22 percent of the average family’s total after-tax income, according to WalletHub.com. But buying a programmable thermostat (which can cost less than $200) can cut costs significantly.
Turning the temperature down 7 to 10 degrees for 8 hours each day (such as at night) from its normal setting can help you save money -- up to 10 percent, or about $180 per year, according to Energy.gov.
Buying too many name-brand products
You can save money by purchasing store brands, which usually cost 25 percent less than national brands, according to a Consumer Reports survey.
Some store brands, such as from Costco and Sam’s Club, can save you even more. The caveat: You may need to buy warehouse-sized packages to reap the biggest savings, so be prepared to stock up.
Paying too much for your cellphone plan
One in five Americans on a family smartphone plan pays more than $200 per month for service, a recent Pew Research Center survey found. However, many of these consumers can slash their bill by simply switching to a plan on the same carrier with a smaller data allotment, though you may have to pay a fee to make the switch.
To see whether this makes sense, monitor how much data you’re using each month. If it’s less than what you’re paying for, switch to a plan with a smaller package.
Conversely, if you’re frequently going over your data limit, upping your data plan could also help you save money and avoid monthly overage charges. You can also pinpoint how you are draining your data, then cut back. Streaming audio and movies, for instance, are big data hogs.