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Pennies into Dollars

Ever take a look into your wallet and wonder where that $20 disappeared to? Balance your checkbook at the end of the month and find you need to make a bigger-than-expected adjustment because of debit card spending you forgot about? We've become the Convenience Nation....everything is at our fingertips, including the means to spend money thoughtlessly on things we don't need or don't feel like waiting for. I found a pretty good article on MSN Money titled "10 little expenses that add up fast" - it brings to the forefront how much cash we throw away a little at a time, not realizing how fast it becomes a budget-breaker. Here are a few of my favorites:

Kind of a no-brainer, but how often do we find the drive-thru calling our name? I am a personal fan of the Dunkin Donuts large hazelnut, milk and one sweet and low. But at $2 a pop, it quickly becomes a budget killer. I only work 4 days a week - but if I were to get just one a day, that's $32 a month - I spend less on groceries some weeks. On the flip side, a container of Folgers that makes about 200 8-oz cups of coffee will run me about $10 when it's not on sale. which works out to a NICKEL a cup. For the same size coffee I get at D&D (20 oz) that's still $0.12 per cup. Even if I get the expensive flavored creamer from the store I'm still saving over $15 a month by brewing at home. Plus I never have to worry about getting "greasy" coffee...you know what I mean!

Public service announcements aside, this is a woefully expensive habit. The national average cost for a pack is at $4.54 right now, so a pack-a-day smoker is shelling out over $200 a month. Quitting smoking isn't just a health benefit, it's a budget benefit in a huge way - and if you're serious about quitting your doctor can probably get you a prescription for the quit-aids (Nicorette, Chantix, smoking cessation programs) so that your insurance copay covers it. And you'll live a lot longer to enjoy your newfound stash of cash too.

Bottled water
Did you know that Evian spelled backwards is "naive"? I'm still convinced it's just some french dude's backyard hose water. Seriously, bottled water is the WORST convenience consumable ever. Most bottled waters are from municipal sources anyway, so other than being chemically "purified" a bit, they aren't much different than your local tap water anyway. And if, like me, you come from a city where the water is fluoridated, it's better for your kids' teeth to give them water from the faucet. The impact on your wallet? Bottled water is between $1.25 and $1.50 for 20 ounces - so just one a day will run you $37.50-$45 a month. But who gets just one? Actual spending is probably a lot closer to $60-75 a month. Even if you buy the pallets of Poland Spring at BJ's, it's still going to run you more than your tap water. If you're attached to a well or your house has old pipes, a Brita filter will clean up the water nicely and still be less expensive.

Weekday lunches out
Forget to pack yourself something for the office? Don't feel like yet ANOTHER ham sandwich and fruit cup? There's not many inexpensive options if you're breaking out the takeout menus at work. After tax (and tip if they deliver) your chinese food is going to run about $6-7 each time. Getting out of the cubicle instead? Plan on at least $10 for a sit-down lunch. Doing that just a couple of times a week will creep towards $80 a month. I make whole dinners for 4 that cost me less than 6 bucks - if sandwiches aren't cutting it anymore, make an extra portion or two of your dinner meal and pre-package for lunch later in the week. Stock up when the frozen dinner entrees are $2 each (yes it does happen). Or if you live close enough, go home for lunch and shop in your fridge. No matter what you choose, more of your money will land in your bank account at the end of the week.

Vending machine snacks
The 3 o'clock munchies....we've all had them. A few hours left in the workday but the body is calling for a little energy boost - and it's the M&Ms, Fritos, Smartfood, or Snickers from the machine in the hall that answers the call. I remember when a couple of quarters could get me a candy bar - but now they will run you between $0.75 and a dollar. Once a day, and it adds up to over $20 a month. My solution? Buy in bulk if you have a pet snack food and invest in 6-oz storage cups and ziploc bags. For a quarter of the cost, you can keep yourself in snackie goodness all month long.

Unused gym memberships
How long ago did you sign the auto-withdrawal form, and when is the last time you were there more than twice in a month? Regular gym users get their money's worth, but if you find yourself with an ever-growing list of reasons not to go, cancel it. Most gyms will offer "day" passes for about 10 bucks, so unless you are going at least once a week you will actually save money by NOT having a membership. Or take the truly frugal route - put on your sneakers and take a nice walk, run, or bike ride. If you want to build muscle, invest in some basic freeweights and find a corner of the basement to turn into a small home gym. It's not the fancy equipment that makes you fit (otherwise the Bowflex company would get a Nobel Prize) - it's the effort you put in. If Jack LaLane could do it without the help of Work Out World, so can you.

Little steps to save money add up fast - almost $300 a month with just these few tips. It might require a little more work on your part, but your own time and effort doesn't cost you a penny...and saves a LOT of dollars.

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