Not everything we do to save money really saves us money. For instance, as all savvy shoppers know, if you clip coupons when grocery shopping, sometimes you're still better off buying a cheaper brand elsewhere on the shelf. If you buy something cheap that breaks soon after, and you have to replace it with something more expensive, you clearly haven't saved any money. You could also spend the rest of your days debating with friends about whether $50 memberships to discount bulk stores are really saving you any money in the long run.
Of course, sometimes things work out fine. You buy something cheap, and you still have it 20 years later. You not only have one of those memberships but the receipts to prove your savings. Still, if you're about to attempt something you think will save money, especially if we're talking big money, it's always a good idea to consider whether your strategy truly makes sense. Otherwise, you may wind up spending far more. Here are a few examples of what we mean.
1. Skipping annual physicals and not going to a doctor when you're sick.
How it can cost you: This one is a classic money (and health) mistake. You may have an easily treatable problem that goes undiagnosed and eventually becomes not so treatable. And it isn't just appointments with your general practitioner. Regular eye exams and dental checkups also exist for a reason.
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"Over the past few years, we've seen an increase of 16 percent in the number of [emergency room] visits nationwide due to dental problems," says Mitch Rothschild, CEO of Vitals, a website that helps consumers find doctors, review them and make appointments.
Skipping the dentist, adds Rothschild, "leads to a tenfold increase in costs for the consumer." Numbers – granted, from the year 2000 – bear him out. According to a Pediatrics Dentistry report from that year, the cost for ER treatment for dental visits averaged $6,498 per person. Meanwhile, the average cost of preventative treatment was $660 per person.
2. Leasing a car.
How it can cost you: Nothing at all wrong with leasing, but David Kiley, editor-in-chief of AOL Autos and auto industry editor for The Huffington Post, warns that lease payments that are really low often have low mileage limits of 10,000 or 12,000. "That may suit some," he says, "but not if your life or job changes in the three years you are making lease payments. Then you're looking at 10 cents or more per mile over your limit, and you feel like you are driving a taxi on the meter."
3. Not putting much money, or any money, away for retirement.
How it can cost you: You don't need a lecture on how important it is to save for retirement. But the tax-free contribution limit for retirement plans for 2013 is $17,500, and if your employer has offered to match your contributions – often, companies will match 50 percent of your contributions up to the first 6 percent of your salary – and you leave that money on the table, you're giving up the chance to receive thousands of dollars every year. So while you are hanging onto your money right now, you're definitely losing out in the long run.
4. Not writing out a will or doing it yourself.
How it can cost you: Maybe it's laziness as much as money, or maybe it is money, given that it can easily cost a grand to hire an attorney to draft a simple will. And it's true that your decision to forgo a will won't cost you personally a dime, but you could end up leaving a lot less to your family and friends.
"If you don't have a will, you die in intestate. This means everything goes into probate," says Bill Hayes, managing director at Kenilworth Asset Management, a financial advisory firm in Kenilworth, Ill. If your eyes are glazing over at the words "intestate" and "probate," Hayes adds helpfully, "[Your family] will spend a lot of time in court and potentially money on legal fees."
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Why? Because the court needs to understand what your intent is, and jotting a few thoughts down on a Word document generally won't cut it, especially if you have a lot of family and assets. One of the most infamous examples was when Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger decided to write his own will – understandable that a man with his experience would think it an easy task.
Danielle Mayoras, a Detroit-based estate planner and author of "Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!" says Burger "didn't have simple provisions in his own will, such as his executors could sell real estate. He didn't give his family the power to sell real estate to pay taxes, so they had to get it approved by the court first."
When everything was said and done, because he hadn't hired an estate attorney to draft his will, Burger's family had to pay an extra $450,000 that they wouldn't have had to otherwise.
5. Buying health insurance with the lowest premium.
How it can cost you: Obviously, your budget is what it is, and better to have not-so-great health insurance than no health insurance. But Dan Maynard, president of Connecture, a Brookfield, Wis.-based company that provides sales-automation technology for the health insurance industry, says according to the data his company has collected, people who comparison-shop between plans and "purchase the one with the lowest premium end up paying more annually 96 percent of the time."
In other words, the premium may be cheap, but the co-pays and the portion of the costs you're responsible for are not.
6. Going with a cheaper mover.
How it can cost you: Kiley, the editor-in-chief of AOL Autos, isn't a moving expert, but he has some moving experience to share. In 2004, he moved from Ann Arbor, Mich., to New Jersey with an established operator, Allied, and says it cost him a staggering $6,500. Understandably, when he ended up moving back to Michigan, he wanted something cheaper. He found a website where he was able to bid for movers' business, and he did get a cheaper price at first. But it didn't work out that way.
"When you go with an operator like Mayflower or Allied, you get an experienced person who comes to your house and evaluates your stuff for an estimate," says Kiley, who is now a disciple of using an established, well-known moving company. "Going with a bidding system often means that the mover you choose will ask you to estimate. This is a problem because it's hard to estimate how many boxes will come out of an eight-room or larger house."
Kiley estimated incorrectly, and his mover showed up with a truck that was too small. Then when the mover went to the weigh station, Kiley was told what the actual bill would be, and it was far higher than the original quote.
"If you want to dispute it, you are confronted with the reality that they have all your stuff on their truck. Moreover, you probably have a real-estate closing hanging in the schedule," says Kiley, who ended up paying his movers more than $13,000. He says one of the movers also stole an audio speaker that was screwed to the exterior of the house.
There are undoubtedly plenty of horror stories from customers who have used big movers, but Kiley's story is nonetheless instructive. Going cheap, at least without doing your homework first, can often be the most expensive mistake you make.