11 Careless Ways You Waste Money Every Day (and How to Stop)

Aileen with money.
Tina Russell/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 Full Price for Groceries

Patrick Mooney shops around his local grocery store in Cleveland Ohio., April 9th, 2018.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

Did you know you can get cash back just for taking a picture of your receipt? Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up for Ibotta here. (You just need a name and email address to start.)
  2. 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 Too Much for Car Insurance

View from back seat of a man driving a car.
monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

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.

If you don’t drive a lot, here’s another strategy for paying less for car insurance: An insurer called MetroMile lets you pay by the mile.

If you aren’t spending as much time in the driver’s seat, you shouldn’t have to pay as much. For example, if you only drive 5,000 miles per year, you could save $500, according to MetroMile’s calculations.

Approximately 65% of drivers overpay on car insurance to balance out those who drive a lot, according to MetroMile. It's ideal for people who drive less than 30 miles a day or about 200 miles a week.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Your car must be a 1996 or newer to qualify.
  • After signing up, the company will mail you a free device that plugs into your car and tracks mileage (that's how it saves you money!)

Find out if it’ll help you save by snagging a free quote.

3. Trying to Keep up With the Joneses

Five professionals stand along a wall side-by-side. They each hold an electronic device in their hand.
PeopleImages/Getty Images

Picture this: You’re sitting across from your longtime friend at the local diner. You catch up on life, then, because you’re curious, you ask your friend about her income, her student loan debt and her savings.

How many of you just cringed?

Most of us don’t have friends — or even family members — who are willing to talk explicitly about these numbers.

Status Money is an app that allows you to anonymously compare your financial situation with your peers without asking those awkward, prying questions. Link an account to tap into this database and you’ll be able to compare your income, debt, interest rates, credit score, spending… you name it.

By seeing how others are doing, you can see what you need to work on — or where you can sit back a little and just breathe easy.

4. Paying Credit Card Interest

Hands cutting a credit card in half
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

Have you ever considered consolidating your debt? It could substantially lower payments you’re already making and help you save more money each month.

A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

A good resource is online lending platform Upstart, which can help you find a loan without relying on only your conventional credit score.

Unlike traditional underwriting models that use only the common FICO scoring model, Upstart’s technology looks at factors like your education and employment history to determine your creditworthiness.

It can help you borrow up to $50,000, potentially with better terms (e.g. lower interest or lower monthly payments) than traditional lenders. If managing many different bills and credit lines is a hassle, you can also use an Upstart loan to streamline all of your loans into one.

5. Overpaying for Monthly Bills

A man and woman sit on a bedroom floor together as they look over paperwork.
mediaphotos/Getty Images

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.

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. Ignoring Your Credit Card 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

Once you fall behind, you may find yourself getting crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. You’ll never catch up that way. You’re spending so much on interest, you’ll never pay off your balances.

If you’re financially treading water like this, it might be worth consolidating and refinancing your debt.

By refinancing an existing loan, you’re taking out a totally new loan, which comes with new terms and (ideally) a lower interest rate. By consolidating your existing loans, you lump all your debt into one big payment, so you’re only making one payment and dealing with one interest rate per month.

Make sense but don’t know where to start? Credible is an online marketplace that offers consumers personalized loan offers. It’s best for borrowers who have good credit scores (think: around 640 or higher), andit lets you quickly compare rates without visiting a bunch of sites.

Rates start at 5.99%, and you can check yours by entering a loan amount here ($500 to $40,000) and comparing your personalized options in under 90 seconds.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.)

11. 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

Got a big tax bill? Medical expenses? Moving to a new state?

Wondering how to pay for it? Well, it’s probably way easier than you think to apply for a personal loan — just make sure you know you can repay it.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Even Financial, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Even searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

Bonus: Get Rewarded for Hailing an Uber and Streaming Netflix

There are plenty of cash-back credit cards out there that’ll give you rebates whenever you dine at a restaurant, buy an airline ticket or fill up your gas tank. These rewards are pretty common. No big deal.

But what if your credit card also gave you cash back whenever you hailed an Uber or binged a show on Netflix? Do we have your attention now?

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card does that. This card was just revamped so it rewards more of the kinds of purchases consumers make today.

Here’s what it has to offer:

  • 3X points  on eating out and ordering in.
  • 3X points  on gas stations, ride shares, transit, parking and tolls.
  • 3X points  on flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals.
  • 3X points  on streaming services, including Apple Music, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Sirius XM Radio and Spotify Premium.
  • A $300 sign-up bonus if you spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months.

Plus you’ll get a 0% intro APR for 12 months, and there’s no annual fee.

We checked Credible’s credit card rewards calculator, and it estimates you could earn about $510 in annual rewards.

The information for the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.

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

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