Everyday Cheapskate: Be savvy if getting in shape is your resolution
DEAR MARY: It's time for New Year's resolutions, and once again my husband's goal is to get in shape. He wants to sign us both up for gym memberships, even though I'm sure this is just a phase that will fade. In the meantime, what should we consider when joining a gym? I don't want to get stuck with high fees and an unbreakable contract. — Robin, Georgia
DEAR ROBIN: Good for both of you! Before you sign anything, check with your employer or health plan. Some offer discounted memberships for selected gyms. Most clubs offer one or more free workouts or trial memberships for a month or so.
Be sure to visit the gym at different times during your trial period to try the equipment and to see when it's crowded. It sounds like you're a good shopper, so you know how important it is to compare prices and contracts. Ask what your options are for ending the contract early if you aren't happy. Many gyms offer month-to-month memberships. Do your homework, choose a gym, and then stick with it no matter what.
DEAR MARY: Every year, my mom starts a Christmas club account and contributes to it each month. She swears by it and says that it makes her holiday shopping much easier because she doesn't have to charge anything on her credit card account. I think it would be wiser for her to put that money in a savings account, let it earn some interest and then use some of it to buy the gifts. Who's right? — Sandy, Arizona
DEAR SANDY: You're both right. I love the concept of a Christmas Club because of that automatic feature.
Face it, we just don't miss money we don't see! Banks and credit unions that still offer Christmas Club accounts have no minimums or fees. And while they pay interest, it's not much.
She could easily create her own "Christmas Account," as you suggest. Suggest that she research interest rates for online banks. Look for banks where she can boost her interest rate, not incur fees and easily link a savings account with her current checking account.
DEAR MARY: I opened a credit card with 0 percent interest for 12 months to pay for new kitchen cabinets. I mistakenly thought that the 12-month period ended in October. When I received my October bill, I saw they added $2,000 to the balance for interest because I had exceeded the 12 months. I called and told them I made a mistake and that I would pay off the balance immediately.
They said they could not reverse the added interest. Is there anything I can do about this? — Robin, email
DEAR ROBIN: There is nothing you can do about this. They were hoping against hope that you would fail to keep up your end of the bargain. You did, and they got to charge you interest back to day one. You lose; they win.
Be thankful that this is a lesson you won't have to learn twice.