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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

What Is That Mysterious Charge?

I think one of the tricks to using money wisely is to be conscious of where my money goes – how I spend, save and invest it. To be conscious, I need to slow down. This is one of my financial goals for 2011 – and I have "found" money in places I didn't expect it. For example, looking over credit card statements I have found reoccurring charges for services we no longer want (such as online video games no one is still playing, online newspaper subscriptions to newspapers no one is reading, etc.). By canceling these subscriptions, I've saved quite a bit of money! Even $3.99 a month adds up to almost $48 a year, and even more if it continues year after year.

As much as I've tried to slow down with my money, it's hard to change habits. My paycheck is direct deposited. In a recent blog post, A New Financial World, I talk about how technology can help you save time and manage finances more easily. Direct deposit is a good example of how technology has simplified our lives; no more driving to the bank Friday after work and waiting in line to make a deposit.

But, using technology requires learning new good habits ... I have a bad habit of looking at a bill or earnings statement quickly, and saying to myself "this looks about right." The other day I finally (after obviously months of moving too quickly with finances) took a close look at my paycheck earnings statement. (In my defense, I do want to say that I have to log onto a website with a password, and click through several pages before I can see my statement – not a quick task.) Well, it turns out that I have been charged for a parking permit – which I don't have – for several months! What a waste of money! I feel stupid for not noticing this; I obviously still need to work on being conscious of my money.

Here's one more example of why it's important to read our financial papers carefully. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is warning people to watch out for "phone cramming" – the illegal practice of mysterious, unauthorized fees added to people's monthly phone bills. Crammers often try to go undetected by submitting $1.99 or $2.99 charges to tens of thousands of consumers. A recent survey showed that 95% of consumers affected by one cramming company were not aware of the charges. That's a lot of money going down the drain! For more information about phone cramming, read the FCC Cramming Tip Sheet.

What tips do you have to help raise people's consciousness about their money use? Have you ever found expenses on your bills that you didn't want? I'd like to hear about your experiences.

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