New York (MainStreet) - For all the financial resolutions we make at the beginning of the year, people get pretty casual on how to achieve them. Making plans for most resolutions is pretty easy. Want to lose weight? Go to the gym. Want to meet that special someone? Start by… actually, going to the gym probably wouldn’t hurt there either. Want to spend less money?
The first place to start is the money pits in your life. We all have them. These are the products or places we lose money to, sometimes every day, without getting anything meaningful back in return. They aren’t always obvious, but cutting out the money pits is a quick way to start saving money and a lot more pleasant than having to skip small luxuries like your daily coffee. Here are a few to stop tossing cash down in 2015.
Ladies, gentlemen, everyone out there, I’m talking to you: we must stop spending such ghastly amounts of money on razor blades.
Razor blades are astronomically expensive. A single pack of five replacement blades can cost $15 to $20 depending on where and what you buy, and let's not kid ourselves by pretending they ever feel worth the money. A couple days later that $5 blade starts to nick and cut, and there we are right back at the drug store plunking down another hard-earned Jackson for the right not to look like a caveman.
Ditch the Mach 3, and get yourself an electric instead. Decent models give great shaves and a low-end one will give guys a nice Bradley Cooper five o’clock shadow by 3 p.m. It’s win-win, and in the long run much cheaper than the alternative.
Modern logistics have given us many wonderful things, but none more so than easy access to great coffee. The fact that I can wander down the street and get fresh coffee beans flown in from Indonesia, Peru and South Africa all for what I earned on that last paragraph is nothing short of a miracle. Now enter the single-cup coffee maker.
Scott Kluth, CEO of Coupon Cabin, labeled Keurig coffee makers as a clear money pit.
“While the machines are relatively inexpensive and typically have great coupons for their purchase, the K-cups for each cup of coffee is a strong example of where someone could have a money pit," he said. "Because the machines are only compatible with K-Cups, the average consumer ends up paying a pretty price for the K-Cups, sometimes as high as $1 per cup.”
In fact, he said, it’s a reason why his site works hard to find deals on the cups: they’re really, really expensive, and users need a break. They can also get one by switching off the fancy machine and onto a great single cup drip machine. The coffee’s mostly likely better so much cheaper.
Pop quiz: when was the last time you replayed an old video game? For most of your collection, the answer probably hovers somewhere around “I still own that”? It’s not a trick. The reality is that video games focus around puzzle-solving in one form or another, and few puzzles are as satisfying the second time around. It's the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility on crack. Add in planed obsolescence, with the industry often making new consoles incompatible with old games, and you’ve got a recipe for a hallway closet filled with $60 purchases that never get picked up again.
Or you could rent.
While renting computer games generally doesn’t exist for many reasons, console rentals are a big business. Don’t miss the opportunity to save! Certainly some games are worth buying, whether for killer multiplayer or for that rare gem that will keep you coming back again and again. The rest? Pick them up from the local Red Box, and save a bundle.
Few products epitomize a consumer money sink as thoroughly as printer ink cartridges. This industry has been the target of high profile lawsuits, which revealed the degree to which manufacturers tried to trap consumers into high-cost, low-yield products for no reason other than to generate profit.
“Manufacturers keep costs for printers low these days to rope you in to the purchase, because they know they’ll keep spending money for replacement ink cartridges,” said consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch. “Printer ink represents one of the highest markups of all products, with the per-gallon cost amounting to more than gold, gasoline and champagne.”
Let's stress that again: printer ink is more expensive per gallon than gold, gasoline or champagne. Ditch any printer that requires brand name cartridges. It’s generally illegal anyway, and teching-out competition is a pretty big red flag that the company doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Switch to a printer that accepts third party and remanufactured cartridges, Woroch recommends, and check websites like InkjetWilly.com to find the best prices. Competition will be your friend.
Speaking of planned obsolescence, in an age of technological wonders, you know what product has somehow managed to actually get worse over time? It’s light bulbs. There are museums where some of Edison’s original light bulbs still burn steady over 100 years later, while the rest of us have to fetch a step ladder and 75-watt every month.
It’s almost as if there were some sort of profit motive for selling a weaker product…
Happily there’s a way out: LED and fluorescent bulbs can last for years on end, sometimes a quarter of a century. They’ll cost more up front, but in the long run these little beauties will save you a bunch while helping out the environment too. What more can you ask for from one product?
Cable television is becoming the new landline: when was the last time you really needed or missed it? With more and more shows migrating online, cable is increasingly relying on same-day broadcasts such as news and sporting events to survive. Even then, we can watch the game by heading down to the nearest sports bar without dropping $100 per month on 70 channels.
“Cable TV providers attract new customers with various promotions that keep the sign up and intro rates low,” Woroch said. “[But] after a few months, prices start slowly creeping up in hopes that the customers won’t notice. Most people assume they can’t lower the rate and pay whatever it is they are charged.”
Don’t get pushed around; push back. Check your bill regularly, she recommends, and call to find out about new deals and promotions every few months. Grab the free movie channels or discounts for bundling Internet service. If they’re just not playing ball, cut the cable subscription and get your Matt Bomer fix on Netflix.
Somewhere along the way, we decided as a society that dental hygiene just wasn’t the same unless it came with a motor. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree that any idea can be improved with the introduction of a bit more power. A toothbrush that can drill holes in the wall sounds like an outstanding Saturday afternoon project. It’s just not necessarily financially sound.
“While regular cleaning is important for the health of your mouth and keeping your smile looking bright, watch out for electric toothbrush costs,” Woroch said. “Though the initial equipment costs are modest, the replacement heads will take a bite out of your budget."
For example, Oral-B Floss Action Precision Rechargeable Toothbrush retails for $159.99 at Amazon (Prime members can get it for $99.99).
"Then you have to pay $19.47 for a three-head count replacement pack," Woroch said. "Keep in mind, no matter what type of toothbrush, you use it’s recommended to change it every three to four months."
Instead of paying out the nose to replace brush heads and buy new models (including the most recent that for some reason include Bluetooth), you could just brush regularly and floss the old-fashioned way. No batteries included.
--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website A Wandering Lawyer.