Ten ways to save money on the 'gotta haves'

A Kiplinger.com article by Joan Goldwasser suggests 10 things that we overpay for on a daily or weekly basis. They include afternoon snacks, bottled water, coffee shop coffee, CDs, movie tickets, fresh flowers, pre-cut fruits and veggies, credit card late fees, ATM fees and fax and mail services.

Goldwasser says that, for an afternoon snack, we should switch out the protein bars for fresh fruit. Even if you don't buy them singly, a protein bar, which is healthier than its chocolate alternative, has the same amount of sugar in it as a candy bar and costs a lot more. She's right, of course but, speaking for myself, when I want something sweet, a bunch of grapes isn't really going to do it for me. You have to acquire the mindset that a) you really want to save that money and b) you really, really want to eat healthier.

The next point is bottled water. I'm with Goldwasser on this one. If you buy a bottled water with your lunch, you're probably paying $2 a day. Instead, why not invest in a water filtering pitcher like Brita and a good water bottle to take with you. After the first couple of weeks, you'll have paid for the pitcher and will be able to stuff $10 a week into the piggy bank. Carrying a refillable water bottle with you is much easier on the environment, too.

The article states that a daily cup of coffee from your favorite coffee shop can cost you as much as $1.65 a day. It suggests investing in a pound of gourmet coffee from the supermarket and becoming your own barista. I can buy a large can of my favorite coffee shop coffee either from them or at the grocery store for about $15. When I tell people I do that, they complain that when they tried, they couldn't get their home-brewed coffee to taste the same as the coffee shop's. Here's my simple formula, which I arrived at through trial and error. Use the little v-shaped scoop that came with your coffee maker. For every two cups of coffee, use one level scoop of coffee. Works great for me.

I never buy fresh flowers from a florist unless it's for a special occasion. Four days ago, I bought a bouquet of 10 cut tulip buds, with plant food packet, from a grocery store for $5.99. They opened up beautifully and still look great.

Pre-cut fruits and veggies sure are convenient, especially if you're short on time, but, let's face it, they're not exactly a necessity. I like to buy head lettuce and make my own salad, anyway. That way, I know what I'm getting. Despite the best before date, you can't always tell how fresh lettuce really is through a bag. You could just be paying for some pieces of wilted lettuce along with the fresh.

Goldwasser says that, if you use an out-of-network ATM once a week for a year, you'll end up having spent about $180 in extra fees. I hate those fees, so much so that I very rarely use an ATM that isn't connected with my bank. Instead, I go to the nearest ATM associated with my bank, get cash back at the grocery store or use my debit card. My bank doesn't charge for the use of their debit card.

One last thought. Too often, money that's saved in one place, gets spent somewhere else before it even sees the inside of a savings account and we never see the benefits. If we want to see the fruits of being frugal, we need to actively track the savings and make sure that they go into the piggy bank for the proverbial rainy day.

Marlene Alexander is a freelance writer and dollar store diva. She writes tips and ideas on home decorating using only items from the dollar store.

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