America’s Most Wasteful Buying Habits

Apparently, we are in the middle of America Saves Week. That’s almost as exciting as National ID Theft Prevention Awareness Day, which took place sometime last month. But all kidding aside, we at MainStreet believe strongly in raising consumer awareness for ways to save, so if it takes a made-up holiday to do that, we’ll just have to put on our America Saves party hats and run with it.

In honor of this momentous week, BillShrink, a Web site that helps users cut their everyday costs, compiled their list of the five things for which Americans fork over way too much cash. Topping the list are ATM fees, which can cost as much as $4.50 for a single transaction. “Most people do try to plan ahead and withdraw cash at ATMs with low or no fees, but we are all likely to continue paying those extra few dollars here and there,” Peter Pham, the CEO of BillShrink, told MainStreet.

Rounding out the list were credit card late fees and overdraft fees, paying extra for car maintenance at a dealership, pseudo health products (like protein bars that are really pretty unhealthy) and cell phone plans.

While explaining the results, Pham noted that ultimately, “convenience is expensive.” People end up sucking it up and paying the extra ATM fee because it’s easier than wandering around looking for one that does not charge. “Similarly, people also end up overpaying on things like car repairs because taking your car to several garages for bids is a hassle,” Pham said.

Some other things that didn’t quite make the top five were gas (consumers claimed to pay more at one gas station only to see better deals at stations farther down the road) and spending more money for bottled water when you can just drink tap water with a filter.

For all of these things, the trick to saving money is just to be patient and use common sense. We suggest you also take advantage of the Internet and new technologies to cut costs. You can use Yelp reviews to find low-cost garages to fix your car and research cell phone plans online before committing to a year-long contract. There are even smart phone apps that will map out the nearest fee-free ATMs.

Though Americans continue to blow money unnecessarily, BillShrink did find one uplifting point. They surveyed 150,000 consumers and found that Americans have gotten better about paying their entire credit card balance. Fifty-eight percent of those polled said they paid off their bills last month compared to 46% a year ago.

Pham noted that the economy’s nose dive has helped raise awareness for better consumer practices. “This year you couldn’t turn on the evening news without seeing tips on the newest ways to save and budget,” he said. “People are getting smarter about keeping spending in check.”

So there you go, fake holidays and bad economies are the secret to getting Americans to spend responsibly. If only we knew that a few years ago…

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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