Does it sometimes feel like your money flies away from you and you often don’t even remember how you spent it all? Same. It’s a common affliction! But most people tend to waste money on the same ten things, which should make it easier to figure out what’s killing your budget. Once you identify which of these is wasting your money, you’ll be able to make a few lifestyle tweaks and start saving major coin.
Bottled water is one of the most popular beverages in America, and in 2017, Americans purchased more than 13.7 billion gallons of bottled water. It’s convenient and healthy, so what’s not to love? Two things, actually: its environmental impact and its impact on your budget. This is an easy money-waster to get rid of. Just start toting a water bottle with you everywhere you go! Water fountains are now often equipped with special bottle-filling taps, and if you don’t like the taste of your municipality’s water, water bottles with built-in filters are available. A cold pitcher of water in your fridge also helps beat the bottled water habit.
It happens all too often: You get home from the grocery store, happy with your beautiful new produce, open your fridge, and discover that last week’s beautiful produce now looks like a science experiment. Throwing away uneaten food is basically like throwing away money. The best way out of this is to embrace meal-planning. The time to prevent wasted food is before you go to the store. First, check your fridge and pantry to see what you already have, and especially look for things about to go bad. Plan out your dinners, and then move backward through lunches, breakfasts, and snacks. Be realistic: If Thursday’s schedule includes one adult working late and another taking the kids to a long sports practice, is anyone going to cook a pot roast? Plan to eat food nearing the end of its useful life first, and then go to the grocery store to fill in the rest of your needs.
There’s a relationship between eating out and wasted food. Often, an unexpected restaurant visit (or two or three or four) either starts or ends with food in your kitchen going bad. Sticking to your meal plan makes it easier to skip an unexpected dinner out. Prepping breakfasts, lunches, and snacks also prevents you from stopping for fast food out of hunger. Keeping granola, protein bars, and other easy-to-transport food in your car or bag helps curb the need to stop for snacks.
Do you hate chopping onions? Your grocery store probably sells them already chopped. Hate packing lunches? Prepacked lunches are available in another aisle. Find rolling up meat and cheese boring? Don’t worry, you can buy them prerolled! Of course, there’s a catch. Not only is this bad for the environment (so much packaging!), but it’s also costly. Those chopped onions are sold at a premium. Prerolled meat and cheese are quite a bit more expensive than their unrolled siblings. And prepacked lunches? They pack in sodium and a high price tag, too. Choosing to skip the convenience for a little bit of extra work can result in significant savings in your grocery budget.
Do you only purchase one brand of soda, tissues, sneakers, sheets, and outerwear? Your brand loyalty is rewarding the brand but punishing your wallet. Private-label foods and grocery items are often made by the same manufacturers that produce name-brand items, so buying private-label foods should provide the same taste experience and save major money. If you can’t bear to give up your favorite name-brand clothes or shoes, consider entering the resale market. Multiple apps allow you to sell your used designer items and purchase other people’s used goods at a fraction of the retail price.
Bank fees have many different components. First, let’s talk about getting rid of account fees. Free checking accounts are available, and most banks offer free checking if you have direct deposit. Some checking accounts don’t have any restrictions. Next, take a look at your overdraft fees and work to get rid of them. Track your spending and check your balance daily. The other typical bank fee is ATM fees. Some banks offer to reimburse you for a certain number of ATM fees a month, but the easiest thing to do is to avoid ATM fees and instead choose to get cash back at gas stations, grocery stores, and pharmacies or actually go to your own bank when you need cash.
Gym memberships, apps, Patreons, streaming services, magazines, subscription boxes … it’s easy to end up subscribed to lots of things, and you might not even be using all of them. There are now apps dedicated to helping you figure out how many and what subscriptions are coming out of your checking account. Find out what subscriptions you are paying for, and then decide which subscriptions you actually use. Did that cool-sounding subscription box just result in a medicine cabinet full of beauty samples you used once? Unsubscribe. Are you signed up for a streaming service you haven’t used since your favorite show wrapped up? Cancel it. Do you have piles of unread magazines? Stop those subscriptions. Did you go to the gym once? Call and stop that one as well. Soon, you’ll stop paying money for stuff you weren’t using anyway, which is an absolutely painless form of saving!
Utility bills, especially during especially hot or cold months, can take a big bite out of your budget. Start saving money by doing the simple things: Turn out lights, take shorter showers, unplug unused appliances, and switch out incandescent light bulbs for CFL or LED bulbs. Then, look at the tougher stuff. Check your windows and doors and replace any brittle or missing weatherstripping. Installing new windows can result in energy savings, too. As appliances wear out, replace them with Energy Star appliances. And contact your energy provider: Many utility companies offer energy audits, which will identify areas where you can make improvements and save money on your energy bills.
Lottery tickets buy into a dream, but savings accounts are an investment in reality. The average American spent more than $200 on lottery tickets in 2017, but you only have a 1 in 292,201,338 chance of winning the Powerball jackpot. That $200 could have been used to start a Roth IRA, which invested with a 5% return would net you more than $500 in 20 years. Think $500 is nothing? If you invested $200 every year, you’d end up with more than $7,000 instead of a bunch of worthless scraps of paper.
Procrastination is the most expensive hobby of all time. Did you put off paying your bills? Now, you have to pay late fees. Put off going to the grocery store? You’ll end up ordering pizza. Put off depositing a check? Hello, overdraft fees. The good news is that everyone procrastinates sometimes, and there’s plenty of literature to help you stop procrastinating and take control of your life. One easy way is to list the top three things you want to do every day. On a day off, that list might include getting an oil change, picking up groceries, and prepping lunches for the week. Another day might feature doing laundry, paying utility bills, and opening an IRA. Once you get into this habit, your life will feel more livable, and your bank account will be a lot healthier!