Stella Louise is the editor of Blog & Save, the Savings.com personal finance blog.
I recently received my electric bill and was astonished at how much it was. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t going to break my budget — but apparently my electricity usage was a third more than the previous month. Well, yeah, it is summer — but mid-August to mid-September were especially cool in Southern California, so I wasn’t running my fans all day, every day as usual. Plus, I was out of town for five days during the billing period. There wasn’t any way I could have possibly consumed that much power.
So I called the power company’s billing department and explained how mystified I was over my latest bill. The customer service representative suggested I go outside and read my meter. When I gave him the reading, he did a quick calculation and told me that the meter reading on my bill was indeed wrong and that he’d send out a revised bill immediately.
The moral of this little story is that we all should be diligent to watch out for and plug “money leaks” as much as possible.
In my situation, the misread electric meter would probably have been corrected in the next month’s bill. But what if that hadn’t been the cause? Doesn’t it make sense to catch and correct whatever might have been increasing my electric bill by 33% each month? Over the course of a year, that could have cost me almost $200!
Another example of money leaks include that dripping faucet. Put a pitcher underneath it and see how quickly it fills up. That’s not only wasting money, but water as well! The Consumerist posted a story several months ago about a woman whose water bill increased from $80 to $1,600. It may have been due to a glitch in the billing system, a faulty meter, a leak in her water line or even the consequence of the water company billing based on historic readings for an extended period of time and just getting around to doing a physical meter read. Point is, while a 200% increase should definitely trigger some questioning, you should still be aware of smaller increases as well.
Jacking up the furnace to keep warm in the winter when you haven’t properly sealed up window cracks and other drafty places in your home is also a money leak. Remember the wise words of good ol’ Dad and turn off lights when you leave the room, don’t leave water running when you’re brushing your teeth and for goodness sakes, shut the door behind you! You don’t want to heat (or cool) the whole neighborhood!
Or how about this: You’re doing your grocery shopping — comparing prices, scoping out staples on sale, matching coupons to items. You get to the checkout and your cellphone rings. The cashier rings you up, you pay and leave–only to get home and discover that the celery that was supposed to be on sale for 99 cents rang up at $2.19 and the buy one, get one free jars of spaghetti sauce also rang up at full price. Sure, it’s only a few extra dollars–but if you’d been watching carefully as the cashier rang up your order instead of chatting with your BFF, you’d have those few extra dollars in your pocket rather than in the grocery store’s till.
Pricing discrepancies happen all too frequently, so it pays to be aware when you are at the checkout and to alert the cashier when you spot an error. Sure, the people behind you might roll their eyes. But recently I was overcharged for a pair of shorts that were supposed to be on sale (they were mis-tagged and I got the sale price when I questioned the cashier), and once, I had to have a drugstore cashier return and then re-ring a purchase because the price in their computer was a dollar more than the price marked on the shelf. (Yeah, I’m that cheap!)
Other examples of money leaks include over-stockpiling perishable items, never returning that dress that hangs in your closet with the tags still on because you can’t find the receipt, late fees and penalties due to not staying on top of things, or just plain old mindless spending. While I try to be careful with my financial resources, I am still guilty of bad purchasing decisions and other money leaks. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time…
Oh, yeah — right…
What money leaks are you trying to plug in your life?
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