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    Attack of the Money Wasters

    It's payback time for these money monsters in your life.

    Todd Hertz

    I don't normally consider myself an alarmist. (Well, except for that time when I woke up to find my roommate was gone and I hastily assumed he'd been abducted. Turns out he was in the shower.) So don't assume that I'm just overreacting when I announce that I've discovered evil forces are out to get college students.

    Well, OK, they aren't really "evil forces." They're more like inanimate objects. And what is at risk is college students' money. And perhaps the phrase "out to get" is a bit of an exaggeration.

    Actually, what I've noticed is that there are some common things college students tend to blow their money on. But I think it's much more dramatic to imagine these things consciously conspiring to get your money. It's like the nefarious plot of an old sci-fi horror movie. Perhaps it'd be called The Attack of the Mutant Money Wasters!

    Anyway, the good news is that like all evil forces (werewolves, robots, standardized tests), these wallet attackers can be defeated. To assist you in the battle, I've compiled a list of some common Money Wasters that are lurking around your campus.

    Enemy #1: Cheap Stuff You Don't Need

    This enemy is tricky because it comes in many forms. But it has two identifying traits: 1) It's on sale and 2) you don't need it. I mean, even if you find a top-of-the-line nuclear spinach slicer for only $12, do you have to have it? How often do you really need to slice nuclear spinach? And if you don't need it, that $12 really isn't much of a deal.

    My first encounter with this tricky Money Waster was in the form of previously-viewed DVDs. They're a good deal for movie junkies like me. Before I knew it, I was buying any movie on the shelf. Every time I walked into the video store I'd hear Revenge of the Nuclear Spinach IV calling, "Todd, you may only watch me once, but I am such a good deal!" I was powerless against this Money Waster.

    But I found a way to defeat this foe. Now, when I think I can't live without The Werewolf Robot Vs. The Standardized Test for only $9, I take a mental note. If after two days I still want it, I go back. Rarely do I return.

    Enemy #2: Wasted Stuff

    The tactic of that first Money Waster is to get you to buy stuff you won't use. This one's strategy is the opposite: tricking you into not using what you've bought. At first, this seems to be an easy enemy to defeat. You think, Waste not, want not. Got it.

    But that's exactly what pirates used to think (with some arrrghs and mateys thrown in there). Then, this Money Waster snuck up on them. Sure, they watched their expenses (they saved a lot by not paying full price—or, OK, by not paying at all), but they didn't realize how many different ways you can waste money. They'd eat out but not take leftovers home. They'd get a great deal on their ruffled shirts, but wouldn't pay attention to the washing instructions—and have to buy new ones because of early wear and tear. They'd throw out their bottles of almost-empty laundry soap and toothpaste when they could've gotten more out if they'd just turned the bottles upside down or squeezed out the last bits. But pirates weren't patient, resourceful or careful. They were too busy stabbing each other and singing fun "Yo Ho Ho" choruses.

    Unfortunately, my college years had very few outbreaks of "Yo Ho Ho" choruses. Still, I got trapped many times by this Money Waster. I'd buy a big jar of mayo because it was a better deal than the small jar. But one spoonful and a semester later, it'd go bad and all that "saved" money was wasted. I'd also waste gas (a problem pirates didn't have to worry about) by making several trips in a week when I could have made one. Making the most out of every purchase, gallon of gas and drip of milk can save you precious cents—or even gold bouillon, matey.

    Enemy #3: Fees and Charges

    Of all the Money Wasters, this one would be considered the ninja. It's sneaky. One minute, you're watching Revenge of the Nuclear Spinach IV and the next minute—boom!—it's three days later and the DVD is still sitting on your TV. That noise in the distance is the sound of a lurking late fee mocking you. You fell right into its trap.

    Not paying phone bills on time, bouncing checks, and forgetting to return DVDs or library books all lead to losing money that otherwise would be happily nestled in your pocket. Get the last laugh on this ninja Money Waster by being very careful about deadlines, due dates and details like your checking account balance.

    Enemy #4: Eating Out

    Ever see those old movie theater commercials with the dancing hot dogs and popcorn buckets? Well, that's what I think of when I consider how this Money Waster sucks you in. (Actually, I think of that hotdog dance routine a lot.)

    Here's how it happens: You're sitting in your dorm room at midnight studying hard (I italicized that in case your mom is reading) when a friend says, "Want some pizza?" Sure, you know that the only money you have left is for your Uncle Bobby's badly needed liver surgery, but then the dancing starts. Images of pepperoni and breadsticks dance alluringly through your head. Before you know it, you've eaten out again for the sixth time that day.

    Eating out once in a while with friends is fine. But if you're eating out more than a couple of times a week, your money bucket has a hole in it (dear Liza, dear Liza). One crafty way to beat this monster is to set an amount per month or semester you'd like to spend at your favorite restaurant. Then get a restaurant gift card for that amount. Once the card is empty, you're done.

    Enemy #5: Phone Bills

    Not long ago, some seedy and underhanded cell phone companies gathered to find a way to get their grubby hands on more of our money. Sure, they already could get our cash for other things (sorry, Uncle Bobby!) if we went over our monthly minutes. But they wanted more.

    And that's how text messaging was created. Now, just one extra "r u going l8er?" and this greedy Money Waster wins the battle.

    Fight off this vicious attack by being vigilant about how many minutes and text messages you've used. Talk during free minute times. If you are using the campus phones, keep phone calls short. Use IM and e-mail instead.

    Enemy #6: Coffee

    I know putting coffee next to the word enemy probably means I've now been scratched off many a Christmas card list. But let me explain. Not all coffee is out to suck your wallet dry. There's a quick test to determine whether your coffee is a Money Waster: 1) Do you buy it per cup? 2) Does it cost more per cup than the price of a full meal at a nice restaurant?

    Yeah, grabbing a cup on the go is convenient. And trendy coffee houses are great places to hang out or study. But the price (of even just one cup a day) starts to add up.

    How can you combat this attack? First, you can brew your own. (You could even have your roommate wear an apron and ask you trivia questions to make it feel more authentic.) Second, give yourself a budget—allow yourself only so many cups a week and stick to it. (The gift card trick works for coffee too.)

    Enemy #7: Vending Machines

    If I could have a nickel for every nickel I've wasted on candy bars, bags of chips and cans of soda, then, well, I'd have all those nickels back. And I'd need bigger pockets. But the point is, all that change adds up.

    The defense against this Money Waster is to plan ahead. A 24-can case of soda is much cheaper than 24 cans from the machine. Buy big bags of chips or granola bars to have on hand. This way you will have plenty of spending money—and snacks—so you can buy an opening night ticket when Revenge of the Nuclear Spinach V comes out.