The ATM: How to Save Money When You’re Trying to Save Money

Money may not grow on trees, but does come on the roll.

Money may not grow on trees, but does come on the roll.


Growing up, I thought banks were meant to hold onto the checks that you received from your aunts and grandmothers on your birthday. As I got a little older, I started to understand that the banks used your money to make loans to other people. And to thank you for using your money, they paid you a little bit each month – something called interest, currently ranging from .25 to 1.5%. (Back in the day, it was more like 2 to 4%, but since the banks made loans to people that could never pay them back, we’re getting less and less.)

The whole point was that the nice people at the bank were there to help you save money. I think that’s why ATM fees infuriate me. And what really gets my blood boiling are the “double” withdrawal fees – not only does the stranger bank (the one who is not your own) charge you a fee to take money out of their ATM, but then you get charged by your own bank too! It means that if you want to take out $100, you’ll end up spending between $2 and $4 per withdrawal. In other words, you’re paying 2 to 4% of your own money TO USE YOUR OWN MONEY! And if you’re keeping track of the math, that’s a whole lot more than the little interest they’re paying you to hold onto your money.

My solution for avoiding these fees when I am not near one of my bank’s ATMs is to go to the closest grocery store – D’Agostino’s, Food Emporium, Gristede’s, or any other place that provides cash back – and buy something. No fees are charged when you take advantage of the “cash back” option. (But don’t confuse cash advance with cash back; cash advances will cost you an extremely high fee of 15 to 19% on the amount advanced!) Buying something may not seem like the most frugal choice, but I‘ve made the rule that in such cases I buy necessities only – like toilet paper or toothpaste – so that the purchase is something I need to buy, or will need to buy in the near future. Toilet paper is my favorite since it only costs $1 to $1.50 – definitely less than the ATM charges. And I have to admit that sometimes I do categorize M&Ms as a necessity.

Another way to save at ATMs is to save the environment. According to Elizabeth Rogers, author of The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time, receipts from 8 billion ATM transactions every year create one of the biggest sources of litter on the planet. Rogers says, “If everyone left their receipts in the machine, it would save a roll of paper more than 2 million feet long – enough to circle the equator 15 times.” While it’s true that sometimes we need the receipts to manage our accounts, taxes, etc., you may also take a moment to remember one of the golden rules your parents taught you: If you’re just going to throw it out anyway, it’s best not to take it at all.

Every little bit helps, so please be green when you’re getting your green!

One Comment

  1. Santino says:

    Good idea.
    also staying on top of credit cards payments saves a bunch. Every year I average about 200 bucks in late fees.
    FYI Citibank has a iPhone app.

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