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A collection of financial improvements you can make right now — minimal sweat required.
Brewer, abolitionist, social reformer and English Member of Parliament Sir Thomas Buxton said, "Laziness grows on people; it begins in cobwebs and ends in iron chains." Poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge had an even darker take on the avoidance of work: "The love of indolence is universal, or next to it."
Indeed, laziness has been a scourge of humanity for millennia. In Christian mythology, sloth was one of the seven deadly sins, and the price was heavy. Transgressors were fed to the snake pits in Hell.
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Better yet, why not just fleece them? These days countless businesses make hay by taking advantage of our collective indolence — everything from not bothering to spend 15 minutes surfing the Web for a better rate on a savings account to not taking half as much time to mail a $50 rebate on a new laptop computer.
Forbes asked a slew of experts, in fields ranging from personal finance to health care, to estimate the not-so-hidden costs or our laziness, and to demonstrate what little you can do — because in many cases that's all it takes — to turn things around. Here are some highlights.
Not Choosing the Best Rate on Your Savings Account
Many Americans are content to keep their money in traditional brick-and-mortar banks. Put less charitably, they're too lazy to root around for a better interest rate offered by online institutions. According to Justin Pritchard, banking expert at About.com, the best annual percentage rate you'll get at a traditional bank is about 0.75%, while Internet banks such as EmigrantDirect and Doral Bank Direct can easily offer a 2.25% APY. May not sound like much, but it all adds up. On a $100,000 principal, compounded monthly for five years, the higher interest rate yields an additional $8,000. A quick search for a good rate at an FDIC-insured bank plus the few clicks to set up an account can take under 30 minutes. "People are creatures of habit," said Pritchard. "If their money is somewhere, and they're busy doing other things, they don't necessarily try to do better. But if people have a decent chunk of change, it's worth it."
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Not Opening a Retirement Fund (As Soon As Possible)
Twenty-somethings aren't necessarily in touch with their own mortality. Take a hint: Old age comes quick, and you'll need a serious retirement stash if you want to ride it out in any kind of style. Too bad for those who don't bother to set up a 401(k) account — one that can automatically draw a certain percentage from each pay check without you having to lift a finger. Consider: If a 40-year-old starts saving $5,000 annually at 6% interest per year (a conservative assumption based on historical returns for the stock market), he would have $291,000 at age 65; if that same person started saving that much 15 years earlier, at 25, he would have amassed $821,000, three times as much. How to set a up 401(k)? Simply call your company's human resources department — you'll be enrolled in a matter of minutes.
Not Sending in Rebate Offers
Department and electronics stores often advertise goods at post-rebate prices, assuming most customers will be too lazy to mail in the rebate, which could save them up to 10% on big-ticket items such as dishwashers, refrigerators and computers. At Staples, a $650 laptop from Hewlett-Packard carries a $50 rebate. Don't let them get away with this. Filling out and mailing the rebate takes all of 15 minutes. Says Tod Marks, senior project editor at Consumer Reports: "Anyone who walks away from rebates is giving money away."
Not Paying Attention to 0% Financing Deadlines
Ah, the Siren song of "no money down." Many stores offer 0% financing for a length of time, allowing customers to pay in installments without incurring interest charges. Great deal, right? Only if you remember (or bother) to pay in full by the end of the no-interest grace period. Fall short and the often very steep interest rate that kicks in applies not to the remainder of the debt, but the entire original purchase price. Example: Electronics retailer P.C. Richard & Son sells a $3,200 television with 0% financing for 18 months. Say you've paid $3,100 at the 18-month mark; one day later, you will owe an additional $800 — the $100 you hadn't paid yet, plus the $700 in interest (22% of the entire $3,200). Not getting burned is as simple as reading your statement and sending in the bill.
Waiting Until the Last Minute to Send Mail
Overnight mail isn't just for cubicle warriors — it's also for procrastinating sons and daughters who forgot about Father's Day. Drag your feet and you'll pay a premium for speed. Overnight delivery at a U.S. Post Office starts at $13.05 for items up to half a pound and within two "distance zones" (there are eight zones in all) — prices escalate quickly based on distance and weight. Say you're sending a four-pound care package four zones away; in that case, the shipping fee jumps to $33.75. Meanwhile, regular delivery, which takes two to eight days, starts at $4.95. Saving that money takes no extra time, just a little extra planning ahead.
Not Taking Advantage of Corporate Wellness Incentives
With health care costs rocketing through the roof, more corporations are willing to pay you to be healthy — or even just to try. According to Fiona Gathright, president of Wellness Corporate Solutions, a wellness consultancy, plenty of companies are happy to pay employees $50 to $150 per year to take a 30-minute health-risk assessment and biometric screening to determine health risk factors. (Talk about money for nothing.) Tack on a lunch-hour health seminar and you could pocket another few hundred clams. "[Encouraging participation in] wellness programs is common, and becoming more common," says Gathright. "Because companies are trying to control health care costs, they will encourage people to change their behavior."
Not Bothering to Negotiate a Better Deal
"It never hurts to ask" isn't just a bromide — it's a serious penny-pincher. According to a recent poll by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, roughly 80% of haggling Americans were able to win better deals on hotel rates, cellphone bills and clothing; more than 70% paid less for electronics and furniture. Landlords? They're ready to negotiate too, especially in this nasty real estate market. What are you waiting for?
Oversleeping (But Not for Reasons You May Think)
Lying in bed too long is laziness defined, but the price you pay is not as obvious. Sleeping the day away can lead to insomnia, and that can be costly to treat. "This can be fairly common when people don't have a regular schedule, if they're on vacation, or unemployed," says Dr. Michael J. Breus, WebMD's sleep expert. "They pull themselves out of an overall routine, and that leads to a form of sleeplessness." The insomnia borne of oversleep can lead to obstructive sleep apnea and hypertension; co-payments for related medications run $30 to $40 per month. Sleep aids like Tylenol PM run another $15 a month. And being up all night in the Internet age can lead to torching an extra few dollars on books at Amazon.com or downloads at Apple's iTunes store.
Who knows? When you get back to sleep, you may dream of snake pits.