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If you’re looking to cut back on spending, there are countless places to look for savings. Cutting back on small spending habits can add up to a lot more money in your pocket. Today I’m identifying the 25 biggest wastes of money to help you keep more money in your pocket.
Now, to be clear, what I consider a waste of money, you might not. And that’s okay! Everyone has different spending habits and prioritizes their spending in different ways. Rather than looking at this list like “oh, I need to cut that out,” look at this list and decide, “I don’t want to cut this out because it’s important to me, but these other five things I’m happy to stop spending money on.”
So if you’ve been asking yourself, “how do I stop wasting money,” you’re in the right place. Let’s get started!
Grocery Shopping / Food
When it comes to the biggest wastes of money, let’s start with grocery shopping and food. You spend a lot of your dollars here, and there are almost certainly ways to cut back.
1. Pre-Sliced / Pre-Packaged Foods
Ever go to the grocery store and see those pre-cut watermelons? I hate to tell you this, but they’re a rip-off.
When you’re shopping in the grocery store, look at the pre-packaged option and compare it to the fresh alternative. I bet you’ll be shocked when you look at the price difference.
This applies to fruit/vegetables but also other pre-packaged goods (like sandwiches, etc.). They are often a lot more expensive than if you prepared the items yourself.
Slicing up a watermelon isn’t that hard, so pre-packaged fruit and other items of the sort are one area in which I avoid spending money.
2. Name-Brand Products
Have you ever bought Tylenol? Of course, you have. The truth is that name-brand products are often much the same as their generic brand counterparts, but they cost a whole lot more.
Don’t believe me? According to AARP, name-brand drugs cost 18 times as much as generic drugs!
While name-brand drugs and medicine usually cost more, there are many other grocery items with generic alternatives.
Now I’m not suggesting giving up your favorite cereal for an off-brand alternative, but maybe there are certain products for which you’re willing to make this sacrifice.
3. Single-Use Products
Okay, so here’s a case of doing as I say, not as I do. I am guilty of buying lots of single-use products when I go to the grocery store. However, these types of products can be costly.
One such example is paper towels. I LOVE paper towels. They’re no muss, no fuss. But in case you have never paid attention, they’re very expensive. Buy a six-pack of “mega rolls,” and it can easily be $20. Instead, reusable dish towels are a much better option for both your wallet and the planet. I have yet to make this change, but I know I probably should.
However, paper towels aren’t the only offender. Countless other single-use products have cheaper (and greener) alternatives. Instead of buying bottled water, buy a filter. Instead of buying disposable razors, purchase one that is made to last.
One trip through the grocery store, and you’ll start to realize how many single-use products can be replaced with reusable alternatives.
4. Laundry Products
Do you use dryer sheets or fabric softener? If so, you should know these items are like lighting money on fire.
Not only are they expensive, but fabric softeners and dryer sheets leave a film of chemicals on your clothing, which builds up and wears out your clothes over time.
If you’re insistent on not having static on your clothes, use wool dryer balls. They are reusable, don’t have all the chemicals, and will save you a lot of money.
5. Delivery Services
We’re living in the era of DoorDash and Grubhub. But have you ever stopped and compared the price you’re paying for these services compared to what you’d pay in the restaurant?
When you buy food on DoorDash, for example, you’ll pay a delivery fee, a service fee, a tip to the driver, and more.
All in, it’s easy to spend an extra $10 per order on the fees alone (before tip). Do that once a week, and suddenly that’s an additional $40 per month just on fees.
While these services are convenient, just go pick up your takeout order yourself! It’ll cost a whole lot less and may even be faster than ordering your food online.
6. Meal Kits
Are you using a service like HelloFresh? While these services are convenient, they’re also expensive.
I understand trying these services to get some variety into your diet. But once you’ve found a recipe you like, just make it yourself!
Remember how I said pre-packaged foods are often more expensive? Same issue with meal kits. You’re paying for a service to pre-portion out the ingredients and deliver them directly to your door.
Instead, just go to the grocery store, buy what you need, and make the meal for a whole lot less than the delivery service.
Next, let’s talk about insurance. Now before you get too riled up, let me be clear that I think insurance is extremely, extremely important. Health insurance, homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, etc., are all important to have. But some kinds of insurance don’t make sense for everybody, yet tons of people get sucked into spending money on them.
Which types of insurances are wastes of money? Let’s find out!
7. Life Insurance
Life insurance: is it a waste of money? Sometimes. I believe life insurance is essential if you have someone who financially relies on you who would be otherwise stuck if you were gone.
So, if you have a spouse, kids, etc., chances are you may need life insurance.
However, there are two kinds of life insurance: term insurance and whole life insurance. Term insurance protects you for a certain number of years. This works well for those looking to protect kids up through college, for example.
However, whole-life insurance works differently. It provides coverage for the remainder of your life. But here’s the problem with whole-life insurance. It is sold as an investment product. However, dig into the details, and you’ll find that these policies are often riddled with fees. Rather than buying whole-life coverage, you’re usually much better off investing on your own the money saved by purchasing term insurance instead.
To summarize, here are the rules of life insurance:
- If you need to provide coverage for someone who depends on you (spouse, kids, etc.), buy life insurance. If you don’t, don’t buy life insurance. That means that most young adults don’t need life insurance.
- If you’re going to buy life insurance, buy term insurance, not whole-life coverage.
8. Cell Phone Insurance
Cell phones have been around for a long time now. How often have you needed to call on your cell phone insurance in your history of owning a cell phone?
If you’re like me, the answer is not very often. I was paying for some kind of phone insurance every month up until a couple of years ago. I finally stopped to ask myself when I’d needed the insurance in the past, and the answer was not in over a decade.
If you can afford to replace or repair your phone and don’t have a history of damaging your phone, cut out the cell phone insurance. It’s $10 a month down the tubes.
9. Identity Theft Insurance
Many homeowner’s policies offer identity theft insurance as an add-on to your policy. Very rarely, however, do folks need to draw on these policies.
Instead of paying expensive insurance, your best bet is to take common-sense actions like checking your credit report annually at annualcreditreport.com or using a service like Credit Karma to keep tabs on things throughout the year.
10. Rental Car Insurance
You know how every time you rent a car, they try to sell you on the insurance? Well, in many cases, you don’t need this insurance. Why? Because often, your primary insurance covers you when you’re operating a rental car.
In addition to this insurance, many credit cards (particularly travel credit cards) offer additional insurance when driving a rental car.
Of course, this isn’t always the case (such as when you’re renting a car for business use), so you’ll want to check with your insurance carrier and credit card company to see what’s required.
That said, if you don’t need rental car insurance, this can be a significant saving every time you rent a car!
Alright, so you’ve got your insurance situation worked out. Next, I want to cover the most common wastes of money when it comes to banking.
11. Debit Cards
Yes, I believe debit cards are one of the biggest wastes of money. Let’s say you spend $2,000 per month on purchases like groceries, insurance, etc.
If you choose to put these purchases on a debit card, you’re throwing away money. What do I mean? I mean that if you put purchases on credit cards instead, you’ll earn cashback on all of this spending.
Assume you earn 1.5% back on your credit card purchases (which is a very conservative estimate if you use credit cards wisely). Spending $2,000 a month means you’d earn $30 per month in cashback. Over a year, that’s $360! Think of using a credit card as getting a discount on everything you buy.
Admittedly, among personal finance experts, credit cards are controversial. Let me be ultra-clear. If you cannot commit to paying your credit cards in full every month, do not use them. You will never earn enough rewards to offset credit card interest. It just won’t happen.
But if you can commit to paying your bill in full every month, you’ll save yourself a fortune putting purchases on credit cards and earning the rewards.
12. Bank Fees
Next, when it comes to banking, I believe bank fees are the biggest waste of money ever. You get absolutely no value for them, and you line the pockets of a big bank instead.
While there are countless bank fees to avoid, let’s cover some of the worst offenders.
- Credit Card Interest
- Simply put, pay your bills in full every month. No exceptions. Zip. Nada. None.
- ATM Fees
- Avoid withdrawing cash anywhere other than an ATM that is part of your bank’s fee-free network. Also, when you use plastic for most purchases, you shouldn’t need to head to the ATM very often.
- Overdraft Fees
- Account Maintenance Fees
- Foreign Transaction Fees
- If you travel internationally, do not pay foreign transaction fees. Get yourself a credit card to use for all purchases internationally that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Otherwise, you’re just wasting money.
- It’s worth noting that a credit card is your best bet internationally for making sure you get the best possible exchange rate. Alternatively, if you need some cash, take it out of an ATM upon arrival. Never use one of those airport currency exchanges or get the money exchanged before you go. You’ll get fleeced.
Next, let’s cover some other discretionary purchases you’re probably wasting money on.
Are clothes a waste of money? Not necessarily, but they are an easy part of your budget on which to overspend.
When it comes to purchasing clothing, decisions are personal. As a rule of thumb, I recommend focusing on deciding what’s a need vs. a want. For example, if you’ve got some old shirts that are faded and have holes in them, it’s probably time to replace them.
However, if you just want some new clothes for the summer, that’s not a necessary expense.
It’s not necessarily a waste of money but choose your purchases wisely when it comes to clothing.
14. App Purchases
Have you ever looked at what you’re spending on app purchases? Some apps are essential, but buying in-game currency for Candy Crush? Sorry, that’s a waste of money.
If you regularly spend money on apps or have recurring subscriptions, check them out and decide if they’re necessary or just a waste of money.
In my opinion, in-app purchases are one of the biggest wastes of money.
Next up, let’s talk about wasting money on utilities.
15. Heating / Air Conditioning Bills
First, so many people spend extra money on heating and cooling simply because they don’t change their thermostat with the temperature changes. In the winter, turn down the heat, and in the summer, set the thermostat higher, so the AC runs less often.
You can save a ton just by adjusting your thermostat. If you want to make it easier, use a smart thermostat that learns your habits. Over time, a smart thermostat will pay for itself.
How many times did you get told to turn off the lights when you left a room as a kid? I know I got told that tons. And it’s sound advice.
But now, with LED lights, the much more straightforward solution is just to choose light bulbs that require less energy. Replace the most commonly used lights in your house with LEDs.
Want to take your electricity savings one step further? Get a smart power strip, so electronics like your TV don’t eat electricity when you’re not using them.
If you have cable, you’re probably tired of people telling you it’s a waste of money. And to be honest, I get it. I love cable.
With streaming services becoming increasingly expensive, sometimes traditional cable isn’t as bad as everyone says.
However, give some thought to how much you’re using cable relative to what it costs. If cable is one of those fun things you like to waste money on, that’s okay! If you do want to keep it, see if there are ways to lower your cable bill using a service like Truebill. They’ve saved me a bundle!
18. Streaming Services
Next, streaming services have gotten expensive. And with so many services vying for your hard-earned dollars, it can be easy to overspend.
My suggestion? Choose one or two streaming services you use most often and cancel the rest. It takes seconds to restart your subscription if there’s a must-watch show.
In fact, I cancel my Netflix subscription every time I am done with a show until I hear about the next phenomenon I need to watch. If you need help canceling your subscriptions, Truebill can help with that too!
While it may sound like just a few bucks a month, do this with enough streaming services, and it adds up.
Truebill is a bill negotiation service that will help negotiate your regular bills, track your subscriptions, and help you save. You only pay when Truebill saves you money, so you have nothing to lose. Check out our review to learn more!
If you drive a car, there are some ways to cut your ownership costs meaningfully.
19. New Cars
If you need to purchase a car, I’m pleading with you not to buy a new car. Cars are one of the biggest wastes of money because they’re depreciating assets.
While I realize the new car smell is pleasant, a used car can save you a bundle. It won’t depreciate nearly as fast, and your overall cost of ownership is often much less over the car’s lifecycle.
I’ve been driving a used car for years. It is incredibly nice, and my cost of ownership is low.
While there are many expenses involved in owning a car, gas is one of the biggest. Rather than throwing your hands up and accepting gas costs for what they are, make sure you’re doing what you can to lower your gas bills.
Some ideas to keep in mind include:
- Check your tires regularly for proper inflation
- When your tires are underinflated, your gas mileage will suffer
- Make sure to get regular maintenance
- Maintaining a car properly will save you a lot more in the long run
- Avoid rapid acceleration or heavy braking
- This will help boost your gas mileage
While there are countless other wastes of money, there are a few others I want to flag.
Do you like to gamble, smoke, drink, or buy lotto tickets?
All of these things are surefire wastes of money. Now don’t get me wrong, I love to buy a lotto ticket a couple of times a year, enjoy a glass of wine, and spend a few bucks at the blackjack table in Vegas.
The key here, though, is to align your expectations with these vices. Know that you’re going to lose money, decide how much you’re willing to spend, and then stick to that limit when spending money on these items.
My mother affectionately calls me gadget boy. Why? Because I must have the latest and greatest when it comes to technology. Phone, computer, iPad, you name it. If it’s new, I want it.
However, over the years, I’ve come to realize that these are significant purchases, and very rarely does the step-change in technology justify spending thousands of dollars.
Sometimes you really do need a new phone or computer. But other times, you just want to keep up with the Joneses. Before making a technology purchase, decide if this is an area of your life where you want to spend your money.
Coffee. It has a cult following. And it’s delicious. But it’s also rising in price.
While there are countless ways to consume coffee, by far the most expensive is at a coffee shop (be it Starbucks or your local café).
Instead, choose to brew your coffee at home rather than throwing away money on having coffee out.
Even at home, there are some ways to consume coffee that cost less than others. For example, those Keurig pods, while convenient, are expensive relative to making your coffee by hand.
Enjoy coffee if you like it (I do) but be conscious about having the expensive version too frequently.
24. Airline Fees
In recent years, airlines realized they needed to find new revenue streams. As a result, they’ve come up with countless fees like baggage fees, change fees, cancelation fees, and more.
While some of these fees have gone away in the post-COVID era (like change fees), many fees remain.
Understand how airlines charge for flights and learn how to avoid those fees. For example, unless you hold frequent flyer status, you will be paying baggage fees if you check a bag.
Do not check a bag. You do not need to. If business travel has taught me anything, it’s that on trips up to a week, you don’t need to check a bag. Pack a carry-on and skip the baggage fees – and save time at the airport.
25. Extended Warranties
Finally, the last waste of money I want to mention is extended warranties.
Imagine a company sells you a warranty for $100. How much does that company expect you’ll cost them over the life of the contract? Less than $100.
Companies have made an entire business out of warranties. Unless it’s a product you genuinely think might break (in which case, don’t buy it), you should be skipping the extended warranty.
25 Wastes of Money You’ve Never Thought About: Summary
There are countless wastes of money.
If you want to know how to stop wasting money, the secret is looking for the small stuff – the leakage in your budget you’ve never thought about. Hopefully, this list gives you some ideas of products and services that are a waste of money.
Whatever you do, find common sense ways to scale back your spending and start building a brighter financial picture today!