Some expenses are necessary and others, not so much. Every dollar we waste is well, a dollar wasted! These are the top 10 money wasters.
You’re Allowed Some Fun
Life wouldn’t be much fun if we only spent money on the essentials. When you spend discretionary money, you want to get something out of it, a fun evening, a new book, or something new for your home.
You don’t want to spend your hard earned money on stuff you don’t need that doesn’t add any value to your life. Those things are money wasters, and we sometimes buy them mindlessly. Knowing what the big money wasters are can help you avoid them.
You have to buy food of course but how much food are you wasting? It’s a lot, as much as 40% of the food in the U.S is thrown away which means $165 billion in the trash each year.
A lot of us buy “aspirational” food. Food we buy with good intentions, usually to eat more healthily, but don’t get around to cooking or eating before it goes bad. Or before we think it’s gone bad.
Food is one of our biggest money wasters, but luckily, it’s also one of the easiest to fix.
Make a meal plan each week and plan your meals around multi-use items. If you buy a bag of celery, don’t just use it for chicken soup and then leave it in the crisper to turn yellow and rubbery. Add it to salads and eat it for a snack dipped in hummus or spread with peanut butter.
Based on your meal plan, make a list of the items you need and stick to it. If you have trouble doing this, there are many options to select your groceries online and either have them delivered or pick them up from the store. Fresh Direct, Pea Pod, and Walmart offer these options.
Going to the grocery store multiple times a week is another reason food is such a big money waster. How often do you pop in “just to pick up one thing” and come out with a few bags worth of groceries? I don’t think I have ever only bought one item on a trip to the grocery.
You made your list, bought everything on it, and now you’re done. If you run out of something or need something else, you’ll just have to make do without it until the following week.
Have one night a week where you use up the fresh food you have that is about to go bad. Soups, stews, and omelets are forgiving ways to use up food that is not quite at its peak.
Don’t throw away food based on the date on its container or carton. Those are not expiry dates; they’re best by dates. The yogurt that is stamped with today’s date isn’t going to go off overnight; you can still eat it without getting sick.
Use your senses to judge whether or not a food is safe to eat. If it smells bad, throw it away. Is it covered in mold, throw it away. Is it a piece of cheese with a tiny spot of mold on it? Cut it away; there’s nothing wrong with the whole piece.
How you store your food can extend its life. Store opened dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, and ricotta upside down (make sure the lid is tight, so it doesn’t leak). Doing so reduces the amount of air that gets into the container which slows down the growth of the bacteria that causes these things to spoil.
Leafy greens seem to go slimy in the blink of an eye, but if you rinse them with water and wrap them in paper towels, they’ll last longer because the towels absorb excess water that makes the greens go limp and slimy.
If you don’t have room to grow your own herbs, you have to buy them from the grocery where they’re typically sold in far larger quantities than what a single person or couple can use before they go bad. To preserve your fresh herbs, chop them small and put them in an empty ice cube tray. Pour olive oil over the herbs and freeze. This is especially nice in the winter when fresh herbs are harder to find.
Don’t toss leftovers. Some people seem to have a real aversion to them, but as long as they haven’t been sitting in the fridge for days on end, they’re perfectly safe to eat, and some things even taste better as leftovers like tomato sauce and many soups and stews.
If you don’t like eating the same thing two days in a row, freeze the leftovers and eat them at a later date.
Whether they’re bank fees, ATM fees, or late payment fees, we waste a lot of money on fees, $329 on average each year. Paying fees is such a big money waster, we wrote a whole article to tell you how to avoid it.
Switching from an old school brick and mortar bank to an online bank like Chime will go a long way to reducing the amount of money you waste in fees.
Cable is expensive. The cable portion of my bill (I had a landline which I didn’t use, internet and cable bundled because it was cheaper to buy them all together) was about $113 per month! Completely outrageous considering like most people, I only watch a handful of the channels my cable company offers.
But whether you watch one channel or two hundred, you’re paying the same amount. There are just too many good, inexpensive alternatives to cable to continue to pay such an outrageous amount each month.
Having Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and pretty much every other streaming service combined would be cheaper than what I was paying for cable.
For a long time, cable companies had sports fans right where they wanted them. Having cable was the only way to watch live sporting events at home. But no more, if you’re a sports fan, you’ll love Fubo. They cover a ton of major sports and sporting events for a lot less than you’re probably paying for cable.
Cut the cord already. If you’re not sure you’ll like it, try it for a few months. If you really do miss having cable, you can order it again and maybe get a better deal as a new or returning customer.
Interest is probably the most expensive money waster on this list, especially if you have credit card debt. The average rate of interest on credit cards is about 15%, but it can certainly go higher.
If you have credit card debt, paying it off should be your priority. If your credit score is good enough, apply for a balance transfer card. This will allow you to pay off just the principal without incurring additional interest.
Again, if your credit score is good enough, you may be able to get a loan from a company like Lending Club. You’ll still have debt, but it will be at a much lower rate of interest than what you were paying on your credit card.
If all else fails, call up your credit card companies and ask them to lower your interest rate. They won’t always agree, but if they do, it can save you a lot of money.
If you have student loan debt, consider refinancing with LendKey. You can refinance for a lower interest rate than you have on your current loan.
5. You’re Brand Loyal
There are some generic products that really don’t measure up to their name-brand counterparts; dishwashing liquid is a good example. No matter how much you squirt into a sink full of dirty dishes, you get no suds. Not to mention, you’ve used up half a bottle of the stuff to no effect.
But a lot of generics or own brands are just as good as the name brands and in some cases, superior and a lot less expensive.
Generic drugs are a great example, both over the counter and prescription. Recently on Walgreen.com, a 100 count 500mg bottle of Tylenol cost $10.49 while the same size and strength bottle of the generic substitute was just $6.99.
There is no difference in the active ingredients between generic and name-brand drugs as mandated by the FDA. You’re only paying for the name if you’re buying a brand rather than a generic.
6. You Only Buy New
Whether it’s furniture, clothes, books, appliances, or anything else, if you need a new one, you head to the nearest mall or big box store. But there is are so many places where you can buy all these things and lots of other things second hand.
Second hand can mean used but not always and even used items if they’re good enough to be sold, are often only slightly used.
The next time you need something, see if you can find it used because it will be vastly cheaper than buying it brand new. Check out thrift stores (especially good for clothes and small appliances), yard sales (great for kids clothes and toys), and your local Craig’s List, Nextdoor, and Facebook groups (great for furniture, exercise equipment, and large appliances).
When you give something a second life, you’re also helping to do your part for the environment. Every time you buy something used, you keep it out of a landfill.
There is no question that buying things on sale can save you money. But if the pleasure center of your brain lights up when you spot the word “Sale,” and you immediately pull out your wallet whether you need what is on sale or not, you are not saving money; you’re wasting it.
Stores are tricky when it comes to sales, and there is a lot of research dedicated to making people spend more money when they’re shopping.
BOGO, buy one get one, offers are a common example. Well, why would you pass up the chance to get something for free? Not all BOGOs offer a free one though, lots of times, it’s buy one get one for X% off.
X for X is another tactic you’ll see a lot. Buy 10 yogurts for $10. But you don’t need 10 yogurts, you need five. But you think if you buy less than 10, you’ll pay more than $1 for each one. That’s not always true though. Check the little label on the shelf under whatever it is you’re buying or the details on the sale tag. Often you can buy ever how many yogurts you want, whether you want one or twenty, for $1 each.
If you buy something you don’t need because it was reduced from $10 to $5, you didn’t save $5; you spent $5.
8. A New Hobby
Most of us have probably been guilty of this one. You’re all excited about a new hobby, you’re going to take up paddle boarding or golf, or cake decorating. So you buy aaalllll the stuff you’ll need to enjoy your new hobby. And admittedly, this is one of the most fun parts of starting a new hobby, shopping for and buying all the accouterments!
But sometimes the hobby just doesn’t stick. Maybe you didn’t have enough time to participate, maybe you didn’t really enjoy it, or maybe you weren’t very good at it. Whatever the reason, you’ve wasted money on all this stuff, and you have to store it now too.
There is nothing wrong with taking up a new hobby, and it can even save you money if it replaces things like going shopping, out to dinner, or to the movies when you’re bored. But don’t jump in with both feet.
Rent or borrow the equipment required for the hobby and try it out. That way if you don’t like it, you haven’t spent any money or a ton of money. If it’s too late, at least sell all that stuff you’re not using.
9. Buyer’s Remorse
This one can go hand in hand with Sales but not always. Think back to everything you bought over the last 30 days that wasn’t a necessity like food or gas. Can you list it all? I bet you can’t. Of the things you can list, do you regret buying any of them?
A lot of us are impulse buyers. We see something, and we want it, so we buy it. No more thought goes into it than that. Why do you want it? Can you afford it? Do you need it? You don’t ask yourself those questions.
But you’re going to start because buyer’s remorse caused by impulse buying is a huge money waster. Before you buy something ask yourself those three questions, why do I want this, can I afford it, do I need it?
10. You’re Disorganized
You bought a bike and a helmet intent on using them to get some exercise and maybe even cut down on your commuting costs. But life got in the way, and you never got around to riding much. But things are going to be different. You’re going to start riding your bike to work next week.
Only you can’t find your helmet. You know you bought one, but you have so much stuff in your house, attic, garage, shed, and storage unit, you can’t find it. So you have to buy a new one. That first helmet will turn up one day, but in the meantime, you’ve already spent money on a new one.
You toss your mail onto the kitchen counter after work every day and you’ve meant to go through it but haven’t gotten around to it. But on your last trip to the mailbox, you spot an envelope with a big red, “Final Notice” stamped on it.
It’s from the power company; your electric bill is three months overdue. You’ve been hit with all sorts of fees and late charges, and now they want a deposit and the bill paid in full, or the power is going to be shut off.
And the really galling thing is, you had the money to pay the bills (although it’s going to be tough to come up with the additional money for all the fees and the deposit)! You just forgot to pay the bills because they got buried under the avalanche of envelopes on the counter.
Being disorganized can cost you money.
Waste Not, Want Not
When you’re guilty of these top 10 money wasters, you have less money for important things like paying off debt, saving for retirement, or treating yourself to something special like a night out once in a while.
And you’re not getting any pleasure or value out of all that wasted money, the money you’ve worked hard for. So many of these things are just habits; we don’t give them much thought, so we don’t realize just how much money we’re wasting.
But now you know, and that’s the first step to getting your wasteful spending under control.