11 Careless Ways You Waste Money Every Day (and How to Stop)
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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 Full Price for Groceries
Did you know you can get cash back just for taking a picture of your receipt? Here’s how it works:
- Sign up for Ibotta here. (You just need a name and email address to start.)
- Browse through the cash-back offers in your area and take note the next time you go to the grocery store (the offers change every week). Some cash-back deals we’ve seen include:
- 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! Once you’ve reached at least $20 in earnings, you can request payment via Paypal or Venmo.
Right now, Ibotta is giving new users a $10 sign-up bonus.
2. Paying Banking Fees
Traditional banks are notorious for hitting you up with fees whenever possible. In fact, two of the five most hated companies in America last year were well-known banks: Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
Thankfully, some smart companies are starting to offer solutions — online bank accounts designed in direct response to every complaint we’ve ever had about our traditional banks.
Samuel Demeny, who recently switched an online bank account with Chime, cited fees as a big reason he left Wells Fargo. He was paying $25 a year just to keep his checking account active and would’ve had to pay another $45 a year to add a savings account.
Chime charges no monthly fees, no overdraft fees and no foreign transaction fees.
With Chime, ATMs are fee-free at MoneyPass locations. For Demeny, on the rare occasions when there’s no fee-free ATM nearby, the app finds him businesses where he can get cash back at checkout.
3. Paying Credit Card Interest
Paying interest on consumer purchases is a bad — and expensive — habit. Every dollar of interest is a dollar less for retirement, traveling, education or for enjoying an extra meal out now and then.
How much money are you wasting on credit card interest?
In 2017, the average U.S. household with revolving credit card debt carried a balance of more than $6,000, according to a NerdWallet analysis. Assuming an interest rate of 14.87% — the current average — they’re paying about $900 per year just in interest charges.
Make a plan to pay down your credit card debt as quickly as you can, and then start a policy of paying in full every month.
4. Leaving Electronics Plugged in
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.
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 $20 off your next electric bill.
5. Overpaying for Pretty Much Everything
You can always get a better deal, but who can keep track of everything? A personal finance assistant would be helpful here.
Meet Charlie. He’s a money-saving penguin. He lives in your SMS text messages or Facebook Messenger (your choice, but Facebook Messenger is way more fun). He offers help with a little bit of everything, including:
- Finding you free money by making sure you’re getting the best deals around (ahem, overpaying $24 a month on that cell phone bill?).
- Helping you avoid unnecessary extra charges by reminding you when you have a bill due.
Getting acquainted with Charlie is easy. When you click “get started” on its homepage, you can opt into chatting via text or Facebook Messenger, and follow his prompts. You’ll connect your bank account or credit card (or both) so he can get to work.
6. Overpaying for Cell Phone Service
You might be paying an absurd cell phone bill each month — just so you can avoid eye contact in awkward situations and scroll through Instagram instead. I mean, you probably use it to check for important emails and keep in touch with your mom, too, but still, it costs how much to do that?
Try switching over to a discount prepaid phone carrier like US Mobile, where the average user’s monthly phone bill is $15. This can save folks on average more than $670 a year.
Want to see if the switch could be worth it? Run a hypothetical.
Create your own custom plan by entering the number of minutes you talk, the number of texts you send and the amount of data you consume each month. You’ll get a free estimate within seconds. Or you can opt for one of US Mobile’s unlimited plans starting at $35 a month.
Once you choose your plan, order a SIM card. If you’re a student, it’s free; otherwise, it’s a $3.99 one-time fee with the starter kit. If at any point you decide you need more or less data, you can adjust accordingly through the US Mobile dashboard.
Plus: US Mobile operates on two of the largest cellular LTE networks — T-Mobile and Verizon (heard of them?) — and covers more than 320 million Americans.
Go ahead and see if your area is covered, snag an estimate and order your US Mobile starter kit.
7. Overpaying for Home Insurance
If you own a home, you probably have homeowners insurance. But have you shopped around for a better deal recently? Bet you haven’t.
If you live in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., we recommend the online insurance company Lemonade, where homeowners insurance starts at $25 a month.
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 and charity.
That 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.
You can do it all online:
- Click “Check Our Prices.”
- Get to know Maya, Lemonade’s chatbot. She’ll ask you a few questions.
- Once you complete the application, you’ll receive a quote within a minute or two.
8. Spending Too Much on Student Loan Repayments
Consider refinancing your student loans so you can pay them off faster and save money in the long run.
An easy way to do this is with LendKey, a service that allows you to quickly browse low-interest loans from credit unions and community banks. Compared to the big national bank chains, smaller community banks often offer more borrower-friendly loan terms — namely, lower interest rates and more flexibility.
LendKey’s simple, straightforward online platform can help you find and apply for the right loan without visiting a dozen bank branches.
And if you’ve been turned down by other lenders, don’t fret. LendKey has more lenient credit score minimums and income requirements for applicants. When you’re approved for a loan, you’ll get a $100 bonus after the loan is disbursed.
9. Buying Premium Gasoline
“Unless your engine is knocking, buying higher octane gasoline is a waste of money,” says the Federal Trade Commission.
It says cars designed to use regular-octane fuel (which is most of them) get no advantage at all from premium gas. Unless your owner’s manual recommends a higher-octane gasoline, you're throwing your money away buying anything other than regular.
If you use 800 gallons annually and pay 22 cents more per gallon for premium, you’re wasting $176 each year. Buy regular gas (and find the cheapest stations while you’re at it).
10. Ordering Appetizers
The average restaurant meal has more than 1,200 calories — over half of what you need in a day, reports Time magazine.
Then there are the drinks most people order along with their meals… So you probably don't need the added calories or cost of appetizers.
Alternately, if it's the appetizers you really want, order your favorites, and skip the dinner menu altogether. That can cut your costs and calories.
11. Subscribing to Premium Cable
More and more TV viewers are bidding farewell to cable because it costs so much. Nearly half of cable or satellite users are planning to or are open to getting rid of the service, according to a TiVo report. About 80% of those who have cut the cord did so because of the price.
Cord-cutters are switching to online streaming services to save money, the report found. Over 54% had Netflix, 27% used Amazon Prime and just under 12% used Hulu.
Each streaming service has its own pros and cons, and if you’re wondering which would be best for you, we’ve got you covered in this comparison of Hulu, Netflix and Prime Video. You can compare costs, the type of content, the number of available titles and more.
Pro-tip: Cut the cost of your internet to save even more.
The negotiation bot Trim will negotiate your cable or internet bills down for you.
It works with Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and other major providers.
You can sign up simply with Facebook or your email address. Then, upload a PDF of your most recent bill, and Trim’s AI-powered system gets to work. If at first it doesn’t succeed, it’ll keep negotiating until it can save you some money.
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He tries — tries — not to waste money.