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T hose annoying "nickel and dime" charges that used to nip away at our pocket change are almost extinct. Rarely does anyone ask us to pay an extra 10 cents for a carryout beverage cup or five cents for a book of matches anymore.
     Today's "nickel and dime" charges prefer to devour the green stuff from our wallets. Describe these charges in terms of dollars, not cents. If you're not careful, they can have a damaging effect on your budget.
     Old-fashioned "nickel and dime" charges were fairly straightforward and tended to be for goods, items we could hold in our hands. Their more-expensive successors often are hidden and tend to be for intangibles such as service and convenience. To deal with them, or possibly avoid them, you need to know where to look for them.

Surprises lurk in entertainment expenses
There's no need, for example, to drive to the box office and wait in line to buy tickets for a football game or a night at the theater when you can order tickets by telephone and charge them to your credit union credit card. But just how much are you paying for convenience?
     When you purchase tickets by telephone, you usually pay a service charge. Don't assume, however, that a ticket seller merely adds a service charge to your total order. Often, service charges apply to the cost of each ticket. A $2.50 service charge may not sound unreasonable, but if you buy four theater tickets, you're paying $10 for the convenience of purchasing your tickets by telephone.
     One way to minimize service charges for tickets to entertainment and sporting events is to buy a season or series subscription. Sponsors usually offer ticket discounts to subscribers--and usually charge only a single, relatively small service charge for processing subscriptions. They also often offer subscribers ticket exchange privileges not available to single-ticket purchasers.
You already save big on financial service fees by being an active user of credit union products and services.

Caveat traveler
If you're shopping for a good deal on a hotel room or an airline ticket, be certain the prices you're quoted aren't just base rates. State and local sales taxes and occupancy taxes may increase a hotel bill by as much as 20%. Taxes, including departure taxes many airports levy, also can increase the price of a "bargain" airfare significantly. And you may pay a fee if you need to change your reservation.
     After a long trip or a hard day's work, it's great to be able to relax in the privacy of your hotel room. You don the fluffy robe the hotel provides, order a meal from room service, and call home to let everyone know you miss them. But if you're not careful, you may discover some extraordinary prices for a rather ordinary meal and telephone call.
     Items on your room service menu often carry higher price tags than the same items on the dining room menu. Furthermore, in addition to the cost of your meal, the hotel often adds a special service and/or delivery charge to your bill. If you think it's worth these extra expenses to dine in your robe, be certain to look closely at your bill before you add a tip. Many hotels also automatically add a mandatory "gratuity" of 10% to 20% to your bill.
     Before you use the telephone in your hotel room, find out exactly how much it will cost to make a call. Prices for both local and long-distance calls billed to your room can vary greatly, depending on the hotel and the long-distance carrier it uses. In fact, a hotel in Seattle imposes a $1.25 per-minute surcharge in addition to long-distance carrier charges. That may nearly double the price you'd normally pay to make a long-distance call from the privacy of your own room. The hotel doesn't, however, impose the surcharge on calling card or toll-free calls.
     Many hotels provide this information on a rate card near each room telephone. If you can't find a rate card, call the front desk and ask for rate information. Don't be surprised by a $10 charge for a five-minute call to a city only 300 miles from your hotel. You may decide to use a pay telephone in the lobby instead.
     Savvy travelers use calling cards their local telephone company or long-distance carrier issues to make calls when they're not at home or in the office. But they, too, need to be cautious. Some hotels add a charge to your bill for any long-distance call, even if it's billed to a calling card or credit card. Many even charge for calls to toll-free numbers.

Whether you're planning to check things at home from the telephone in your hotel room, or buying tickets for a performance by the Czech Symphony, it pays to check out whether your transaction involves hidden charges. Convenience is a wonderful option, but it's rarely free.

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