Do you ever look at your bank account balance and wonder where all your money went? You might not be earning as much as you would like, but you make a fairly decent income and live a relatively modest lifestyle. It seems as if you should be doing a lot better than your balance reflects. So what gives?
Chances are you’re wasting far more money than you realize. In fact, if you waste only $10 per day over a 30-year career, that’s well over $100k you’ve flushed down the drain, not even accounting for what those dollars could have done if wisely invested.
So whether you’re looking to add to your rainy-day fund, working on building your nest egg, or you simply want the confidence of having more money left over at the end of the month, it’s time to look carefully at the little ways you’re wasting money.
1. Retail Therapy
Some people love to shop, and there’s nothing wrong with that unless it becomes a problem. The phenomenon jokingly referred to as “retail therapy” is no laughing matter when it becomes a strain on your finances. Research(1) has shown that 40% of people use shopping as a way to calm down and 74% have “stress-shopped” at some point in the past, so it’s clearly a common crutch.
If shopping has become a recreational activity or your go-to way to unwind, you may want to reconsider how you’re spending your time and money. Go window shopping instead, set a strict limit on what you will actually spend, and if you ever go overboard, don’t hesitate returning unwanted items before it’s too late.
2. Dining Out
Whether you like sitting down at a nice restaurant, grabbing a quick lunch out, or ordering takeout for dinner, spending money on eating out can be a hard habit to break. Either for convenience or entertainment, even people who enjoy cooking frequently dine out. In fact, the average American middle to upper-middle-class household spends more than 5%(2) of their annual income on dining out.
If eating out is eating into your savings, it’s time to think about how you can cut back. Brew your own coffee, pack your lunch, and meal prep dinner in batches for the week. When you limit eating out to a couple of times per month or special occasions, you’ll be able to appreciate and savor the experience even more.
3. Subscriptions and Memberships
Many subscriptions and memberships seem like a good idea and a good bargain until you realize you’ve wasted hundreds or thousands of dollars on something you rarely, if ever, even use. Gym memberships, multiple streaming services, software programs, and trendy subscription boxes are costing consumers big in recurring unchecked auto-charges.
Take a good look at your bank and credit card statements for recurring subscription charges you might have forgotten. Cancel what you no longer value or consider sharing an account with friends or family if possible.
4. Inflated Monthly Bills
Your gas, electric, water, internet, cable, and cell phone bills may seem like relatively fixed expenses, but you might find that the amount you are paying is inflated and there’s often a lot of room to cut costs.
You can reduce your utility bills by turning off the lights when you leave the room, turning down the thermostat, taking shorter showers, washing laundry in cold water, using LED bulbs, and buying energy-efficient appliances. Cutting cable has become easier than ever, as everything you would want to watch can be viewed on lower-cost streaming services. You may also be able to lower your cell phone bill by shopping around for a better deal or even using a no-contract or prepaid option.
5. Costly Commutes
Though transportation is a basic need, it can also be a major cost, rife with wasteful spending. According to a recent AAA study, the rising cost of automobile ownership(3) has reached an all-time high. Taking into consideration fuel prices, maintenance and repair, replacement tires, insurance rates, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation, and finance charges, your biggest money pit could be sitting right in your driveway.
You can cut costs significantly by driving a reliable pre-owned vehicle with good fuel economy, looking into ways to lower your insurance rates, carpooling, taking public transportation, or asking the boss if you can work from home. Some people are even finding that using ride-sharing services, such as Uber or Lyft, can be cheaper than actually owning a car.
6. Buying When You Can Borrow
Just because you need something, doesn’t mean you have to buy it. We’ve become so accustomed to purchasing things when an occasional need arises that borrowing doesn’t even cross our minds.
Does the recipe you’re trying require a kitchen gadget you don’t own? Ask a friend if you can borrow theirs. Need a ladder once a year to change a lightbulb? Ask your neighbor to borrow one. When was the last time you checked out a book from the library instead of buying it on Amazon? Did you know you can check out tools from Home Depot? You can even borrow designer clothes or handbags from companies like Rent the Runway when you want to look like a million bucks on a budget.
7. Boundless Entertainment
Everyone deserves to have a good time, but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank on entertainment expenses. These days, you can easily spend $100 just going to the movies on tickets, popcorn, and a drink. In the past decade, concert ticket prices have increased(4) by 55%, with the cheap seats on major tours topping $100. Vacation costs are soaring too.
So before you shell out the big bucks, look into more budget-friendly ways to enjoy yourself. It’s entirely possible to plan a great date night, family staycation, or fun-filled weekend without going broke. Look for discounts and special deals, free cultural events and local festivals, and invite friends over to play cards instead of going out.
8. Brand Loyalty
While you should avoid wasting money on items that are low quality, often the only superior thing about a brand-name product is the marketing. Truthfully, some things are identical, made by the same manufacturer, only with a different tag or box.
From medicine, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies to food staples such as rice, you will often find that generic brands are just as good but cost far less. Look for smart ways to save by buying lower-priced or no-name brands without sacrificing quality or taste.
9. Unchecked Debt
When it comes to wasting money, unchecked debt is typically one of the biggest culprits. If you are carrying an average daily balance of a few thousand dollars on credit card debt with a typical APR, interest alone can cost you hundreds of dollars per year.
The first order of business and the most effective way to save money on debt is to pay it off as quickly as possible. When it comes to higher-balance credit cards, your home mortgage, car financing, or student loans, look for ways to negotiate lower rates while keeping the potential cost pitfalls of refinancing and extended payment terms in mind.
If you want to avoid wasting money, the most important first step to take is to track your spending. Once you know where your money is going, you can think carefully about smart ways to cut costs and create a reasonable budget that you can follow with confidence. Before you know it, you’ll be able to easily save more for your rainy-day fund, nest egg, or that special splurge goal you have in mind.
Kevin Stoddard is a LPL Financial Advisor with Stoddard Financial in Quincy, Massachusetts. Stoddard helps clients throughout New England to identify, plan, and execute strategies designed for securing their desired financial future. With their Financial Wellness @ Work program, they engage, educate, and empower employees by helping them to understand and appreciate the value of their benefits package.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
This material was prepared by Crystal Marketing Solutions, LLC, and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate and is intended merely for educational purposes, not as advice.