Everyday Cheapskate: Like finding money you didn’t know you had

You know the feeling when you reach into the pocket of a coat or pants you haven’t worn for a while and pull out a $20 bill? What would it feel like if you pulled out hundreds of dollars? And what if you found money like that month after month?

It’s not magic; it can be done. Pin holes in your financial life can turn into massive money-gushers. Patching these holes is the key to improving your income.

The problem is that it’s easy to ignore the tiny cracks. We’re busy! There’s the mortgage or rent, car payment, credit cards, insurance, college savings, carpools, vacation plans, retirement accounts, work benefits, kids, dog, guinea pig. So, the little stuff happens without our noticing.

We think:

— What’s the harm in picking up dinner from the drive-thru again? Our lives are so busy, and we have to eat.

— Why go to the trouble of scoping out the sales before I hit the supermarket? My time is valuable. I’ll dash in, buy what looks good, and the kids will eat.

— Why pay more than the minimum payment this month? It won’t make that much difference in the long run, and besides, I need to start Christmas shopping.

— Forget generics; they’re inferior to the brand name in every way, and for sure not at all reliable.

Those kinds of small, seemingly innocuous everyday financial decisions that pop up regularly can end up costing thousands of dollars a year.

Consider the following:

It now costs at least $40 to feed a family of five at any fast food drive-thru. The food will be marginal in both taste and nutrition. You could prepare a much tastier and more nutritious meal at home for $20. Easy. Do the math. If you get fast food twice a week, you’re letting $2,080 leak out of your life (52 x $40 = $2,080) every year.

If you are diligent to buy your supermarket food items only when they are on sale (don’t worry, everything goes on sale in a typical supermarket in a 12-week rotation), you’ll cut your grocery tab by at least 50%! The difference between full price and sale price is stunning when everything in your cart is on sale.

It will take you 10 years and cost you an additional $10,000 in interest alone on a $10,000 credit card balance if you pay only the minimum amount required.

See how easy it is for slow leaks to turn into big money blowouts? Just imagine those little leaks draining money from your bank day after day, month after month.

Insisting on brand loyalty is another common money leak. Sure, we all have our brand favorites, but opting to pay double for things that don’t really matter adds up to one big waste of money.

You can plug this money leak by opting for the store or generic brand whenever it makes absolutely no difference. Flour, sugar, salt, spices, milk, eggs, meat — all of these items must adhere to the same federal standards regardless of brand. Pain relievers like Advil and Aleve all have generic alternatives that share identical ingredients for half the price. Read the labels to compare. And when a cheaper alternative does not make the grade, return it for an exchange or refund.

Generic or store-brand clones are at least 25% cheaper than their name-brand equivalents. But don’t assume anything. Always check and compare.

When it comes to your finances, those seemingly undetectable cracks in your checking account, credit card debt, food tab and other household expenses can seriously sideline your dreams.

I’m honored that you’ve chosen to let me help you patch them up.

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”

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