Despite most people’s efforts to avoid debt and not exceed their budget, it can be easy to overspend. Many common money wasters, however, lurk in the shadows, waiting to steal your money. So, let’s bring these money wasters into the light so that you banish them for good.
Don’t be discouraged if you check every box on this list. After all, the average American wastes approximately $18,000 per year. In any case, it’s an opportunity to take stock of your expenses and identify where you may be wasting money.
Table of Contents
1. Bank Fees
In the long run, even small fees, such as those for withdrawals from out-of-network ATMs or service charges for keeping a checking account, can add up. In fact, according to a Bankrate survey, non-interest checking accounts, excluding free checking accounts, had an average monthly fee of just over $5. What’s more, interest-bearing checking accounts had a fee of more than $16 for those who did not qualify for a waiver.
So, the answer here is pretty straightforward. Change banks.
It seems unlikely, but Bankrate reports that nearly half of checking accounts don’t charge monthly fees. And, unless you can avoid monthly fees with your current bank, you are likely paying more in fees than interest.
2. Late Fees
Late charges on credit cards typically range from $15 to $35. Ouch. Fees are also typically assessed for late payments on mortgages, utilities, and rent. Even returning Redbox movies a day late or not returning library books on time will result in pricey fees.
In addition to costing you money, being late with your payments can hurt your credit too. Most lenders, however, do not report a late payment until it has been 30 days. Furthermore, credit cards often impose penalty APRs for late payments, which can dramatically increase your interest rate.
Setting up autopay will help you pay the minimum balance by the due date if you have trouble getting payments out on time. Also, apps such as Mint can remind you when bills are due. Or, you can use your trusty calendar to notify you of upcoming payments.
One more thing. A late payment may also be waived or removed from your credit report if you accidentally paid it late. If you have made one careless error and have a good track record of being on time, most companies won’t penalize you.
3. Insurance You Don’t Need
“This is one that often goes overlooked because many often think the more insurance, the better,” says Leslie Tayne, a debt-relief attorney at Tayne Law Group. “But certain forms of insurance are just not necessary for most people and can lead you to spend unnecessarily.”
Tayne argues these insurance products are wasteful:
- Identity theft insurance is available if your credit card comes with fraud protection. This is true for most credit cards, such as the Citi® Double Cash Card.
- Children’s life insurance, since children rarely have assets to protect. A child life insurance policy often comes with a savings component called “cash value” that can be used for college or for a down payment on a new house. Still, the fees outweigh the rates of return, so as a parent, it is better to invest your money somewhere else. It’s more important to start a 529 savings plan or to create a fund to cover your child’s costs in case of an emergency.
- Rental car insurance is available if your traditional car insurance extends to rental cars.
- Collision insurance for older, low-value cars. Collision coverage might not be necessary, depending on your deductible and damage.
- Travel insurance is provided by your credit card if you book your travel on that card. You should contact your card issuer to see if your card covers trip cancellations and lost luggage, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
4. Ghost Subscriptions
There is no doubt that subscriptions are easy to obtain online. But they are equally easy to forget to cancel. In fact, Chase found in an April 2021 survey that nearly two-thirds of consumers forgot at least one recurring payment.
In addition to avoiding late fees, automatic payments can be convenient, such as those for utility bills. However, others can cost you a lot of money in the long run.
For example, a subscription to investment-information service Morningstar runs $34.95 monthly and $249 annually. Keeping that subscription should be a no-brainer if you are an inactive user.
However, for any unused subscription, you should cancel it ASAP. After all, you don’t want to get hit with a costly auto-renew.
To make this less of a hassle, sign up for a service like Truebill or Trim. These tools monitor your bank or credit card statement to see which subscriptions can be cut.
5. Credit Card Interest
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Americans pay an average of $1,000 per year in high-interest debt and credit card fees. The use of credit cards can be beneficial, like improving your credit score and earning discounts and cashback. In spite of this, carrying a balance can put a strain on your finances.
In other words, if you are in debt, focus on paying down your existing balance and put your cards on hold. If you do make a purchase, make sure that you’re able to pay off the balance. For example, only buy a pair of concert tickets for $150 if you can pay that off in full.
6. Energy Vampires
A device that consumes energy even after it has been turned off is called an energy vampire, explains Duke Energy. Your home is full of them, including phone chargers, cable boxes, and coffee makers. It’s estimated that 20% of your monthly electricity bill is accounted for by these phantom energy suckers.
Typical energy vampires include “bricks” and “wall warts”:
- Devices that have a large plug, such as cellphone chargers, are called wall warts. Even when not in use, it consumes energy.
- The brick is a small black box found on laptop computers, televisions, and some cable TV equipment cords. These bricks continuously consume energy if left plugged in.
How can you control energy vampires? Well, for starters, you can unplug devices that you don’t use often. Plugging wall warts and bricks into power strips and turning them off when not in use is another suggestion.
7. Not Adjusting Your Thermostat
Obviously, you want your home to be set at a comfortable temperature. However, do you really need the house to be 72 degrees when you’re away for the whole day?
The U.S. Department of Energy says you can save up to 10 percent a year by simply adjusting your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day. The house can be heated (or cooled) to the temperature you prefer before you get home with a programmable thermostat. To avoid ghost readings – unnecessarily high or low temperatures – locate the thermostat properly. Ideally, the thermostat should be installed on an interior wall away from direct sunlight, drafts, and windows.
8. Plumbing Issues
Leaking faucets and toilets can keep you awake at night as well as cost you money. Take the example of a bathroom faucet that drips at the rate of 10 drops every minute. The U.S. Geological Survey’s drip calculator calculates that three leaking faucets would drip 43,200 gallons of water per day at that rate. Despite the fact that water is relatively cheap, that’s still a lot of water. In most cases, 1,042 gallons would cost approximately $1.50.
Running toilets, however, can be a real water guzzler.
In the average household, leaky toilets waste about 200 gallons of water per day, or approximately 6,000 gallons per month, or $108 a year. Repairing a leaky toilet costs, on average, $18.55 per toilet, with a range of $17.36 to $19.75. On the flip side, labor and materials result in a total of $223.63 per toilet, ranging from $202.77 to $244.49.
9. Food Waste
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40% of food produced in the United States is never consumed. Sometimes, that happens. We all have bad apples that need to be tossed. However, you can reduce food waste by doing the following courtesy of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
- Buy only what you need. Prepare your meals in advance. And, ensure you stick to your grocery list and avoid impulse purchases.
- Pick ugly fruit and vegetables. Often, fruits and vegetables with odd shapes or bruises are thrown away since they don’t meet arbitrary aesthetic standards. However, they still taste the same.
- Store food wisely. Your cupboard or fridge should be organized so that older products are at the front and new ones at the back. Make sure open food is stored in airtight containers in the fridge and that packets are closed to prevent insects from getting into them.
- Love your leftovers. You can freeze leftovers or use them in another meal if you don’t eat everything you make.
- Start small. Share large dishes at restaurants or take smaller portions at home.
10. Unclaimed 401(k) Matches
You can add significant value to your nest egg by contributing to a 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored retirement plan, notes FINRA. For example, if you earn $40,000 and contribute $1200 to your 401(k), you are 30 years old, earn $40,000, and contribute 3 percent of your salary to your 401(k). If you make the same salary and contribute the same amount each year until 65, let’s assume you make the same contribution. In 35 years, your 401(k) will have earned you $42,000.
Consider what would happen if your employer offered you a match. Typically, the match is dollar-for-dollar up to 3 percent of the employee’s salary. Even if your investment value does not increase, you will have set aside $84,000 by the time you retire, which is a doubled savings amount. Take a look at it this way: you can contribute 100 percent more at no cost.
Sadly, a 2015 study found that one in four employees don’t invest enough in 401(k)s to earn a full employer match. Employees who failed to earn the match ended up wasting $1,336 of their own money.
Missing out on this money will leave you with no financial security in the future. Talk to your company’s human resources or accounting to find out what the employer match is, and then increase your automated investments in your 401(k) to get at least the full match.
11. Mutual Fund Fees
An expense ratio, or percentage, represents your overall investment in a mutual fund, explains NextAdvisor. For actively managed funds, they typically range from .5% to 1.5%, and for passively managed funds, they typically range from .2% to .4%. Generally speaking, any fee greater than 1% should be avoided.
A mutual fund with a 1% expense ratio, for instance, will cost you $10 for $1,000 invested. Despite its small size, it adds up over time.
In general, experts recommend fees under .2%, and anything over 1% can eat into your long-term investment earnings. Fees that are over 1.5%, and certainly over 2%, are not worth the hassle. The low fees of passively managed funds are one of the reasons experts recommend them, as many have fees under .2%.
12. Not Using Available Discount Code or Coupon
“One of the biggest ways people waste money is by paying full price instead of looking for discounts or ways to lower the price of an item before purchasing,” said Rebecca Gramuglia, consumer expert at TopCashback. “By skipping this step, you may be spending more money than needed, and that extra money could have gone towards another purchase or your savings fund.”
13. Extended Warranties
Almost everything from televisions to appliances to vehicles comes with an extended warranty. Despite the fact that you may think you are being financially responsible by purchasing an extended warranty, the truth is that extended warranties are usually not worth the money.
In general, extended warranties exclude the most common problems in their fine print. In addition to extended warranties, manufacturers also provide free coverage as part of their warranty plans. As a result, the FTC warns that many extended warranties aren’t worthwhile.
A better option? If your possessions break, you would be better off saving for the cost of repairs or replacements instead of buying an extended warranty.
14. Gas Hogs
Be honest. Does your vehicle really need premium gas? It’s unlikely unless your car’s maker tells you otherwise. Most major gasoline brands have additives to keep your engine sparkling, so the occasional tank of premium won’t do the trick. Typically, turbochargers and high-compression engines are common reasons why certain cars need premium gas.
Other ways to save fuel and money:
- Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Make sure your tires are properly inflated to improve your gas mileage by up to 3 percent.
- Take it easy on the gas and brakes. According to the Department of Energy, gas mileage rapidly declines when you drive over 50 mph, costing you approximately $0.23 extra per gallon.
- Get your engine tuned. It has been reported that fixing a serious problem, such as a broken oxygen sensor, can increase your mileage by as much as 40 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
15. Unclaimed Tax Deductions
According to IRS data, about 20% of taxpayers qualify for earned income tax credits but fail to claim them.
Not only this, but other tax credits go unclaimed as well. In addition to choosing the wrong filing status, taxpayers make all kinds of tax mistakes, such as itemizing their deductions or claiming the standard deduction.
You can use online tax programs to help you catch deductions and credits that you should be eligible for. In complex tax situations, such as when itemizing for the first time or starting a business, hiring a tax professional may help you maximize your tax savings.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need this?
To live on a budget, save money, and achieve your goals, you must distinguish between a want and a need.
A “need” is a necessity. In budgeting, necessities include rent, mortgage, utilities, food, and transportation.
The term ‘Want’ more accurately describes something that you would like to splurge on. More specifically, it’s something you save up for and anticipate buying.
Is there a way I can save money by buying this somewhere else?
Be persistent in your search for a better price. Take out your smartphone, tablet, or laptop and compare prices.
Be sure to take into account rebate/cashback programs and store loyalty rewards. I personally get money back through cashback programs every time I shop. In addition, I still earn rewards from the store and use them for savings in the future. Using your resources together will save you the most money.
For seasonal products, be sure to research. You can save hundreds of dollars by searching “Best time to buy” on Google.
Do I have the money to cover this?
Despite common sense, some people are unaware of their account balance. After all, you cannot buy it if you lack the money. And, if you don’t have the funds to cover the purchase, you probably don’t have enough to pay off your credit card balance if you charge it.
In short, don’t make purchases unless it’s in your budget. If you don’t save the money until you do.
Is there anything else I could do with this money?
What monthly bills do you have to pay, such as utilities, rent, mortgage, and insurance? Be sure to include the latest bills in your budget as well. Your bank statement may just contain something you forgot you committed to every month.
Are you fully funded for an emergency? Are you debt-free?
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