Expensive Mistakes You Don't Want to Make

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Every family I know is trying to whittle dollars from monthly expenses. But attempts to be thrifty can sometimes backfire, as many moms -- including this one -- will testify.

In more than a few recent e-mails, moms have confessed to diving headfirst into clipping coupons and chasing bargains all over town -- wasting fuel and time. Using coupons is a great way to cut costs, but not without a plan.

One mom reported that she tried to trim expenses by shrinking her dry-cleaning bill, but when she hand washed an expensive angora sweater, her sweater shrunk instead. She also washed the top to an outfit (the tag said hand wash or dry clean), but she sent the matching pants to the cleaners. Now the pieces don't match, and the outfit is ruined.

Another mom pled guilty to buying an exercise device she saw on television as an instant solution to the twenty pounds she's been trying to lose since the birth of her daughter six months ago. This way she wouldn't have to buy new spring-and-summer clothes -- or so she rationalized. But since she wasn't already committed to an exercise routine, the pricey piece of equipment has become an overpriced place to throw the new clothes she ended up buying anyway.

I, too, have made numerous expensive mistakes. In hopes of saving you some cash and anguish, I share a few lessons I've learned recently and during previous economic downturns.

Go on and call the plumber. Ignoring small water leaks (even a small drip like the one under the kitchen sink of our first house), can end up causing big damage to things like drywall, cabinets, and flooring. A leaky drainpipe, faucet cut-off valve, or dishwasher connection can eventually cost you hundreds -- even thousands -- of repair dollars.

Don't scrimp on foundational items. I learned that reducing the expense of new carpet by putting old or poor-quality carpet padding underneath is a bad idea that can greatly reduce the life of the carpet. Plus, if old padding is dirty, the soil and stains can seep up and spot the new carpet, as well as cause odor.

Do your research. Before purchasing an extended warranty on a used car, scour the Internet for information about the company and customer satisfaction comments. An extended or aftermarket warranty is only as good as the company behind it. Stick with well-known companies - and read the fine print.

Follow manufacturer's maintenance procedures. Not maintaining almost anything according to the manufacturer's instructions will void the warranty and can cost you big bucks. For example, our home air conditioning system has permanent filters, which the owner's manual says should be cleaned quarterly. This is one of those household jobs none of us "owned," so no one did it, causing the unit eventually to shut down. Spending 30 minutes to power-wash the filters would have been a lot less painful than writing a big check. We added the task to our Who's Responsible for What? list to make sure it's someone's job.

Return or exchange unwanted merchandise promptly. Three months ago my mom gave me a necklace for my birthday, and I procrastinated exchanging it. Last weekend I finally took it back to see if the store had the same necklace two inches longer. As the clerk explained the store's 30-day exchange policy and how I could pay a jeweler to lengthen the necklace, all I could think was: I should have known better.

Consider every purchase an investment. Impulsive decisions often turn into expensive lessons. Whenever you're thinking of acquiring something new, wait a few days and consider these questions before surrendering your hard-earned dollars:

Do I/we really need it?
Can I/we make do with what I/we have?
How often will I/we use it?
Is there information available to help me make a good decision?
Is the price right? Could I/we find one slightly used for less - maybe on eBay or at Play It Again Sports?

Have you made a costly mistake? Please share so the rest of us can benefit from what you've learned!

Kathy Peel's award-winning book, The Busy Mom's Guide to a Happy, Organized Home, includes solutions to hundreds of everyday dilemmas. You can download a free study guide at www.familymanager.com.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.