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Plug Your Surprising Money Leaks

NEW YORK -- You brown-bag it at work, shop your closet instead of buying new duds, and use tap water instead of continuing to buy expensive bottled water. But you still see your checking account balance dropping each month. What gives?

No matter how hard you try to save, there are still sneaky money traps that are easy to fall into and, on "The Early Show," Woman'sDay magazine Special Projects Director Jaimee Zanzinger looked at several surprising money leaks you may be falling prey to right now, and how you can plug them up and keep that cash rather than wasting the money!:

Not availing yourself of many of the benefits your company offers

You could literally be throwing money away by not taking advantage of your company's flexible spending program, which lets you use pre-tax money for everything from doctor's visits to prescriptions. Shockingly, a recent study found that even though 85 percent of large companies of 500 or more employees offer flexible spending accounts for healthcare, only 23 percent of employees take advantage of them. Think about it: If you put just $1,000 into the account for the year, you could save up to 25 percent in taxes, translating into an extra $250 per year in your pocket.

Not turning down the heat on your washing machine water

Washing your clothes -- even your whites -- in cold water can save up to 90 percent of the energy needed to heat the water. So if you, like the average American family, do 400 loads of laundry per year, you could save from $30 to $40 each year on your energy bill. And luckily, there are lots of great cold-water detergents available now to help keep your whites white. If you skip the dryer, which may cost you about 30 cents per hour to run, and hang-dry your clothing instead, you could save an additional $120 per year. Or, you could just run the dryer for 15 fewer minutes and save $34 a year. All of this adds up to a savings on laundry alone from about $75 to $160 per year.

Using more electricity than you have to

Even if you're not using them, all those electronics you have plugged in -- your TV, your computer, your Wii, your iPod dock -- are sapping energy, and you're paying for it. If you plug all of those electronics into power strips and take two minutes before bed every night to turn them off, you can save from $100 to $200 per year, or about 8 percent of your household electricity costs, depending how many devices you have.

Missing tax deductions

Undocumented Charity. Whether you're donating clothes you've outgrown, an old piece of furniture, or cash, always remember to get a receipt and file it away for tax time, because you can deduct the fair market value of everything you donate. To keep track of your donations, you can sign up for a free service at that helps you calculate how much your donated items are worth, then feeds them into your TurboTax forms. Goodwill also offers its own Value Guide at And make sure to check out for a full list of write-offs that can really add up -- there are lots of surprising ways to get tax deductions, like buying an energy-efficient car, or driving to volunteer.

Bank overdraft protection fees

If you opt into your bank's overdraft protection, which usually charges a $10- to-$35 flat fee every time your account is overdrawn, you're giving your bank money you don't even have. What a waste! It's smarter to keep a close eye on your account and sign up for free alerts via text message or e-mail when your funds drop below a predetermined level. You can also usually opt to link your savings and checking accounts, so that if one is overdrawn, the money can come out of the other.

Spending too much on alcohol when out to eat

When you're out to dinner, you'll pay extra for that glass of wine or cocktail, because alcohol is one of the most highly-marked-up items at restaurants. For example, Crain's New York Business magazine recently reported that one New York restaurant unbelievably marks up wine 575 percent. So if you're looking to cut down your dinner tab, look for a BYOB restaurant, or have the glass of wine at home before you go. Another tip: Skip the bottled water and order tap. Bottled water can be marked up 800 percent.

Cell phones

Cell phone providers make a mint on overtime charges, which can be up to 45 cents per minute and, depending on your plan, it's usually up to you to know when you're going over your limit. It's a good idea to check your account online halfway through the month. If you're close to your limit, many providers let you call and buy extra minutes for the month for a one-time charge of $5 or $10.


Printer ink can be incredibly expensive. One study by the American Consumer Institute found that refill cartridges can end up costing more than 500 percent of the cost of the printer itself over the life of the machine. So when you're shopping for a new printer, make sure to look at the cost of the refill cartridges and factor it into your purchase. If you're not in the market for a new machine, you can recycle your old cartridges at stores like Office Depot and Staples and get $2 in store credit for every cartridge you turn in. That's like getting free money.


You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: Make coffee at home, and you'll save money. Say you buy a $4 drink at Starbucks twice a week -- you'll save $64 in just eight weeks.

Not taking public transportation

Taking public transportation can save you money on gas and parking. One of the experts we interviewed, Jeanette Pavini, household savings expert at, reported that she saved more than $450 a month that way!

For more on this, from Woman's Day, click here.