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9 Things You’re Probably Paying Too Much For

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Between gas, groceries, rent, and other bills, it may not take long for your paycheck to vanish from your bank account. Even if this feels like an unfortunate part of growing up, it doesn’t have to be that way. From being mindful of little purchases to rethinking your large expenses, there are plenty of ways to save money without drastically changing your lifestyle. For starters, here are nine places you can easily cut costs.

1. MEDICATIONS

Generic drugs are required to meet the same FDA standards as name brands, but they can cost up to 40 percent less. Instead of wasting money on fancy packaging and a recognizable name, opt for the generic brand instead when buying medicine over the counter. It’s also worth looking to see if you could be getting your prescription drugs for much cheaper. Next time you visit the doctor, make sure to bring a copy of your formulary—a list of drugs preferred by your health insurance plan—for them to reference before writing your prescription. You should be able to find this list by visiting your health insurance company’s website.

2. HAIRCUTS

You may be willing to shell out some extra dough to ensure your locks are in good hands. American men spend an average of $28 on haircuts while women pay about $44. These prices get even steeper in big cities—in New York the average women’s haircut costs around $73, and you can easily spend over $100 (plus tip!). But there are easy ways to cut back these costs without sacrificing the quality of your ’do. If you visit the barber or hairdresser every two weeks to keep your short hair in shape, consider cutting your visits down to once a month. If you spend $28 on your haircuts, this would bring your yearly cost down from $672 to $336 (and that’s not including what you’d be saving on tips). You can also scope out sites like Groupon and Living Social for cheap haircut deals from normally expensive, high-quality salons.

3. BANK FEES

Just having a bank account may be costing you more money than you realize. Bank of America, for example, charges members a “maintenance fee” of $12 a month for having a regular checking account. To potentially have this fee waived, read your account's fine print closely: If you meet a certain number of requirements (like maintaining a minimum daily balance or having a certain number of bills paid automatically from the account each month), this fee could disappear. 

4. GIFT CARDS

If you’re paying the full price for gift cards, then you’re paying too much. Instead of purchasing cards from the stores themselves, browse sites like CardCash, where gift cards can be purchased for less than face value. Shoppers can find cards from brands like iTunes, Xbox Live, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks. And even if you have no one to gift them to, you can always stock up and reap the savings yourself.

5. ELECTRICITY

You likely know that turning the lights off when you leave a room and switching to more efficient products saves you energy, but other tips may not be so obvious. One significant source of energy waste comes from “phantom usage,” which is when plugs sap small amounts of electricity from your sockets even when they’re not in use. The energy taken by one plug isn’t enough to make a big difference, but if you add up all the devices you leave plugged in 24/7 you’ll begin to see an impact. According to Energy.gov, these so-called “energy vampires” can add 10 percent or more to your monthly utility bill. Cut your energy costs by unplugging your charger cables, television, game consoles, toaster, etc. when they’re not being used. 

6. BOOKS

It takes immense willpower to walk out of your favorite bookstore without an armful of new reading material. New books are nice to own, but with many hard-covers costing near $30, every title you add to your home library rakes a small chunk out of your bank account. Instead of paying the full price for a story you plan to read once, you can pick up the same exact book for free at your local library. And if you’re a member of the e-reader camp (which can end up costing you just as much) many libraries also offer free e-book downloads as well. Amazon Prime also has an option to share e-books with other Kindle owners (but this only applies to a select few titles). 

7. CELL PHONE BILLS

Just like you can’t avoid living with a cell phone, you can’t avoid those pesky cell phone bills that come each month. If you feel like you’re paying too much for your services, consider looking into switching carriers, contracts, or even phones. One simple way to save is by ditching your multi-year contract. Opt for an installment plan instead that allows you to pay for your handset through monthly, no-interest payments over a couple of years. According to Consumer Reports, making the switch could save you up to $360 a year after you’ve paid your phone off.

8. CAR INSURANCE

It’s hard to turn on a TV, pass a billboard, or browse the Internet without being reminded of all the ways you can save on your car insurance. While repetitive, those advertisements have a good point: An easy way to cut your current car insurance bill is to shop around. Even if you find a great deal but don’t feel like switching providers, you can always show those figures to your insurer in hopes of negotiating your price down.

9. ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE

Antivirus software is not something you should try to get by without, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay the full price for it. There are plenty of options out there that offer significant protection for no cost at all. You can check out PCWorld's list of top free antivirus options to see which program would work best for your computer.

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These Are the Top 25 U.S. Cities With the Lowest Cost of Living
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Coastal cities like New York and San Francisco bustle with excitement, but residents pay plenty of hard-earned cash to enjoy perks like Central Park and world-class museums—and to pay their sky-high rents. If you’d rather have a full bank account than a hipster ZIP code, consider setting down roots in America’s most affordable region: the Midwest.

Niche, a data analysis company, has ranked the 25 cities with the lowest cost of living across the United States—and the top 10 are all located in America’s heartland. Their selections were based on factors including access to affordable housing, food and fuel costs, and median tax rates, all of which were gleaned from U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Indiana was the most-represented state in the list’s top 10 section, with Fort Wayne, Evansville, and South Bend nabbing the first three spots. The remaining cities were mid-sized metropolitan areas in Kansas, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois, all of which offer urban conveniences at a fraction of the cost of their coastal counterparts. After that, other cities in the mix included municipalities in Texas, Michigan, Alabama, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

Check out Niche's top 25 list below, and visit their website to view their methodology.

1. Fort Wayne, Indiana
2. Evansville, Indiana
3. South Bend, Indiana
4. Topeka, Kansas
5. Toledo, Ohio
6. Wichita, Kansas
7. Akron, Ohio
8. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
9. Davenport, Iowa
10. Springfield, Illinois
11. Rochester, Minnesota
12. Dayton, Ohio
13. Springfield, Missouri
14. Wichita Falls, Texas
15. Kansas City, Kansas
16. Odessa, Texas
17. Cleveland, Ohio
18. Indianapolis, Indiana
19. Abilene, Texas
20. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
21. Montgomery, Alabama
22. Lansing, Michigan
23. Des Moines, Iowa
24. Brownsville, Texas
25. Warren, Michigan

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Weird
Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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