Are You Guilty of These 14 Money-Wasting Moves? Here’s How to Stop

Money spread on the ground
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Who doesn’t waste money? We all pay too much at times because we want something right now.

And on occasion, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we buy things we don’t really need.

Sometimes, though, we aren’t completely aware of all the ways we’re throwing away money.

Here are some common ways people waste money, and what you can do instead.

1. Paying Too Much for Car Insurance

View from back seat of a man driving a car.
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For many, car insurance is just one of those things where we cave in and pay. Because, just like the electric bill and phone service, we need it, right?

Yes. There’s no getting around car insurance, unfortunately. But one way you could save money is by shopping around and comparing rates at least once a year. Less than 50% of us do that, according to this survey from The Zebra, though 81% of us report wanting lower rates.

So, just like you compare the prices of flights, shoes and laptops before purchasing, why not compare car insurance?

The Zebra, an online car insurance search engine that offers “insurance in black and white,” compares your options from 204 providers in less than 60 seconds.

Here’s how it works:

1. Head over to The Zebra’s search platform. Enter your car’s year, make and model, and your zip code. Continue on to answer questions about your driving habits, your car and your life.

On the right sidebar, you’ll watch rates increase or decrease based on your answers. For example, if you’ve gotten into an accident — that was your fault — in the past three years, your rates will kick up. It’s interesting to see what effect your answers might have.

2. After answering some questions, it’s time to compare. The Zebra gives you an “Insurability Score,” which is similar to your credit score except it’s for car insurance, and it  teaches you how to get better rates. The site also gives you different options for coverage.

When you’re ready to consider your options and select a quote, you can also receive a phone call from The Zebra for additional support.

A nice representative (a real, live human) on the line asks if you want to speak with a specialist. If you’re truly interested in car insurance and want to ask all the questions, this could be the perfect time.

Otherwise, just keep shoppin’ around and weighing options through The Zebra.

2. Overpaying for Monthly Bills

A man and woman sit on a bedroom floor together as they look over paperwork.
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On the phone with your cell phone or internet provider, trying to haggle a lower monthly bill?

Go ahead and hang up. (We know you’re probably listening to crappy music while sitting on hold, anyway.)

Download TrueBill, an app that’ll negotiate your bills, cancel unwanted subscriptions and refund your bank fees.

After downloading the app, create an account and link your bank account and/or credit cards. Turn on the bill negotiation and outage protection features. Boom. TrueBill is already searching for potential refunds — it might get you a refund even when you didn’t know an outage occurred.

On average, Truebill says it helps customers save more than $700 a year by lowering their bills, canceling necessary subscriptions and getting refunds.

The app will also remind you of all those sneaky subscriptions you’ve signed up for through the years, so you can cancel what you don’t use and reclaim your monthly budget.

Signing up and using the service is free, though there are some paid premium services that are totally optional — but could totally be worth it.

3. Not Earning 100x the Normal Interest Rate

A woman talking on her cellphone pulls money out of an ATM.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Operating everything out of one checking account can make your finances muddy and contribute undue stress to your money management.

To simplify, open a second account for a dedicated purpose. One of our favorites is the Aspiration Account — there are no monthly fees, and you’ll earn up to 100 times the interest rate of other banks.

This online-only account comes with a debit card and free ATMs, so you can easily access your money when you need it.

After you open your Aspiration Account, use it to split your income:

  • Automatically deposit a portion of your income into your existing bank account, and use that to cover basic expenses like rent and bills.
  • Deposit what’s left into your Aspiration Account to use for fun stuff, like eating out, shopping or going on vacation.

4. Facing Your Debt on Your Own 

Two woman have their arms extended as they hold hands below sunshine and palm trees.
Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder

When you think about how much debt you have, you might feel a little anxious.

That’s where a company like Fiona can be helpful. It can help you find personalized lending options to refinance or consolidate your debt to potentially save thousands dollars in interest.

Fiona will show you all the lenders willing to help you pay off your credit card and eliminate the headache of paying bills by allowing you to make one payment each month.

If your credit score is at least 620, you can borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) and compare interest rates, which start at 4.99%. The idea is to secure a loan at a lower interest rate, potentially helping you save thousands. Repayment plans range from 24 to 84 months.

Take, for example, Katherine, who faced $12,000 in credit-card debt. Holding her back? The 15.24% interest rate. By refinancing with a 5%-interest, seven-year personal loan, she saved $12,000 in interest.

If she’d kept on the same road, she would have paid something like $14,000 in interest alone over 25 years. Yikes.

So even if you’re simply curious about what’s out there, know that checking rates on Fiona won’t hurt your credit score — and can probably save you in interest.

5. Not Saving Money on Every Gallon Pumped — Automatically

A gas pump fills up the tank of a red car.
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re a savvy saver, you probably already use GasBuddy to help you find the cheapest gas station in town. It’s an easy — and free — way to avoid overpaying.

But once you pull up to the pump, here’s something else you can do: Swipe your Pay with GasBuddy card to automatically save 10 cents per gallon on your first purchase (and 5 cents per gallon after that).

The free discount card is tied directly to your checking account. It works at 95% of gas stations throughout the country, so you don’t have to drive around town just to find “your” station. Plus, you don’t have to wait for a rebate — it’s immediate savings.

Simply and securely sign up through GasBuddy. Connect your bank account, enter your address, and GasBuddy will put a card in the mail.

6. Using Dirty Electricity

Light Switches turned off and on
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

If you just want to be greener, you can use your energy bill to support renewable energy.

With renewable energy company Arcadia Power, you can offset your monthly energy consumption with 100% renewable sources in about two minutes.

Arcadia Power matches each kilowatt-hour of power you use with a kilowatt-hour of wind energy. Basically the company purchases certified renewable energy certificates in your name, so others can take advantage of clean energy in their area.

When you sign up your home or apartment (yup, renters are eligible, too!) with Arcadia, you’ll get a free $20 Amazon gift card.

7. Forgetting to Protect Your Home and Belongings

A couple carries a box together through the hallway in their home.
RyanJLane/Getty Images

If you have homeowners or renters insurance, you might be paying too much for it. Try shopping around.

If you’ve never looked into it, start by getting a free quote.We recommend the online insurance company Lemonade, through which renters insurance starts at $5 a month and homeowners insurance starts at $25 a month.

Beyond affordable rates, Lemonade adds a layer of transparency you don’t often see in the insurance world. Instead of profiting extra when it doesn’t have to pay out claims, the company keeps a set 20% of your premium for itself, and 80% goes into a pool for paying claims. Money left over after paying claims each year goes to a cause of your choice.

That also means Lemonade isn’t going to be super stingy about granting customers the claims they deserve — ’cause the money isn’t going into its pockets.

Lemonade is available in Arizona, California, Connecticut Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

OK, so now that you know Lemonade has your back, here’s how to get a free quote. It’s easy — and you can do it all online. (Nope, it won’t hurt your credit score!)

  1. Click “Check Our Prices.”
  2. Get to know Maya, Lemonade’s chatbot. She’s nice and will ask you a few questions.
  3. Once you complete the application, you’ll receive a quote within a minute or two.

It’s easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. Plus, at the end of the day, you’ll feel better knowing your hard-earned belongings are insured. After all, when life hands you lemons… (OK, we’re done.)

8. Not Automating Your Savings

Saving money is tough. So what if you could do it in a way where you wouldn’t even notice?

Digit makes that possible.

This innovative app automates saving for you. Simply link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.

Bonus: Penny Hoarders will get an extra $5 just for signing up! Additionally, savers will receive a 1% bonus every three months.

Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing — read his Digit review.

If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.

Digit is free to use for the first 30 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward.

9. Paying List Price for Groceries

Patrick Mooney shops around his local grocery store in Cleveland Ohio., April 9th, 2018.

Carmen Mandato/The Penny HoarderWe know it sounds strange, but Ibotta will pay you cash for taking pictures of your grocery store receipts.

Here’s how it works:

Before heading to the store, search for items on your shopping list within the Ibotta app. When you get home, snap a photo of your receipt and scan the items’ barcodes.

Bam. Cash back.

Ibotta is free to download. Plus, you’ll get a $10 sign-up bonus after uploading your first receipt.

Some cash-back opportunities we’ve seen include:

  • 25 cents back for any item.
  • 25 cents back on strawberries.
  • 50 cents back on frozen fruit snacks.
  • $1 back on a box of tea.
  • $5 back on a case of Shiner Bock beer.

Notice a lot of those aren’t tied to a brand — just shop for the staples on your list and earn cash back!

10. Leaving Money on the Table When You Shop

A close-up of the Walmart storefront sign.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

One of our favorite ways to save is with Ebates, a cash-back site that rewards you nearly every time you buy something online. For example, Ebates gives you 10% cash -back on online purchases at Walmart.

Plus, you’ll get a free $10 gift card to Walmart for giving the site a try.

To earn your gift card:

  1. Sign up for Ebates with your email or Facebook account.
  2. Use the Ebates portal the next time you need to buy something. It’s connected to thousands of stores, including Walmart, Amazon and Target. You’ll need to make your first purchase through the site within 90 days and spend at least $25.
  3. Your account will be credited with rewards points you can cash in for your $10 Walmart gift card.

11. Forgetting to Compare Prices

A woman sitting on a couch uses her laptop as her daughter and dog lay down next to her.
DGLimages/Getty Images

If you don’t compare prices every time you shop online, you’re probably missing out on a lot of deals. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to get compensated when a better price is available — without keeping 100 tabs open on your browser.

One of our secret weapons is called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It’s free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund when there’s a price drop.

Plus, if your guaranteed shipment shows up late, Paribus will help you get compensated.

Disclosure: Paribus compensates us when you sign up using the links we provide.

12. Leaving Electronics Plugged in

messy cords plugged into a wall outlet
KURJANPHOTO/Getty Imagses

Leaving lights on when you’re not in a room is an obvious waste of money.

But in addition to turning off your lights, you might want to unplug some devices. That’s because many of them use power even when they’re switched to “off.”

Calculate what these energy vampires cost you with online tools, such as this one from Duke Energy. For instance, leaving your digital cable box on (even when the TV is off) eats $23 in electricity each year.

Need more incentive? California residents can earn extra money by syncing their utility accounts to an energy-saving program called OhmConnect and agreeing to help reduce energy usage a few hours each week.

We talked with one San Diego resident John Hastie, who’s made more than $400 in one month through the platform.

13. Ignoring Your Student Loan Debt

A young woman is shown using her calculator and balancing her budget. Credit cards are positioned on the laptop in front of her.
Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

For some, a lower interest rate could be one of the best steps to paying off student loans.

Try getting a lower interest rate on your federal and private loans by refinancing with a company like Credible. Other companies offer similar services, but we like that the average Credible user saves about two interest points on their current federal loans.

Refinancing will generally mean replacing your laundry list of loans with one (or a few) loans that bring all of your student debt under one umbrella.

This could simplify your life with one monthly payment, instead of several. It may also lower your monthly payment, improve your interest rate and/or give you more time to pay.

It might seem like a small difference, but a lower interest rate can mean a lot of savings over time. It’s helping grad Ashley Williams save more than $18,000 in interest over the life of her loan!

14. Buying Name-Brand Instead of Generic

Honestly, it’s time to ditch the name-brand groceries. You’re spending money for a name, and that’s unnecessary. Instead, consider going Brandless, which is (ironically) the brand of a new online marketplace.

With Brandless, you can stock up on all your grocery essentials for $3 each. Yup — everything’s $3. And you’ll get $5 off your order when you sign up with your email address.

Better yet, Brandless carries organic, gluten-free and vegan options. You could spend hours perusing the virtual aisles, but here are a few examples:

  • An 8-ounce jar of organic, 100% pure honey: $3
  • Organic aged white cheddar popcorn: Two for $3
  • Roasted and salted almonds: $3
  • Organic, fair-trade, light-roast ground coffee: $3

You can also stock up on Brandless cleaning supplies, household essentials and clean beauty supplies.

Shipping is free when you spend $39 or more.

Bonus: Letting Free Money Pile up in Your Closet

Are your closets and shelves packed to the brim with stuff you never use — or even look at?

You can sell virtually anything on Letgo. This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. It removes a lot of the hassle of selling things online, and it’s 100% free to use.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He tries — tries — not to waste money.

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