20 Things We Do Everyday That Waste Money

Somedays when I’m walking around and see other people, I notice what I believe to be a waste of money. I don’t mean this to be judgmental. Rather, I am curious about their choices and try to learn from them. Most of the purchases I see are ones that I myself have made a time or two, but have since found that, for me, they are wastes of money. Here are 20 choices people make everyday that waste money.

1. Wasting gas by accelerating to a stop rather than coasting to a stop.

Fuel Economy.gov cites studies suggesting that aggressive driving (which includes rapid acceleration and braking) can lower gas mileage by 15-30% highway driving and 10-40% in the city.

2. Buying plastic baggies, forks, spoons, and cups.

One of the reasons I am able to keep my grocery bill at $100 per person per month is because we only buy food. We don’t buy paper towels, paper napkins, plastic baggies, or other single-use items (with the exception of personal hygiene products).

3. Buying bottled water when you’re lucky enough to have clean, safe drinking water.

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Bottled water was an $18.5 billion industry in the U.S. in 2017. It is now America’s favorite drink surpassing carbonated soft drinks, milk, and beer. At least 50 million plastic bottles are thrown away (not recycled) every day in the U.S. alone.

4. Eating out.

Whenever I go over budget (or gain weight), it’s because I’ve been going out to eat. This has been a pattern of mine since high school. I will go long periods of time eating at home, then something happens (e.g., holidays and birthdays back-to-back) when I go through periods of wanting to go out to eat every weekend.

This can be very expensive, according to The Motley Fool, many restaurants charge a 300% markup.

One thing I have not done in a decade is order food. No fast food delivery, grocery services, or subscription dinner kits.

5. Drinking soda or juice.

Photo by Marc Fulgar on Unsplash

Growing up, my mother often stopped at drive-thrus or convience stores for a soda. I don’t recall drinking water. We didn’t like the taste of water. So my mother drank diet soda and we kids drank juice. Then when I became an adult, I always drank soda.

After overcoming my soda addiction, I started to realize how much money we had been spending on soda. I was spending $40 a month on soda. That wasn’t including what my husband was spending going to the vending machine every day at work.

My kids only get juice on special occasions (i.e., when grandma gives them some). At home, we drink water.

6. Running the air conditioning on a beautiful day rather than opening the windows.

Photo by Alistair MacRobert on Unsplash

It is sad, laughable, and frustrating when you have your windows open on a beautiful day and all you hear is your neighbors’ air conditioners running. How cold do you need to be?

Consumer reports recommends that in the summer, set your air conditioner:

78◦ F* or higher when you are at home

85◦ F when away

82◦ F when asleep

*For every degree above 78◦ F, you can save  3% or more on your monthly cooling costs in the summer.

7. Paying too much for our vehicles.

Auto loans are keeping the middle class broke. In 2018, the average car payment was $523 per month. The average amount borrowed was a whopping $31,453.

8. Getting cheap plastic toys.

Kids have more toys than they play with. Fewer toys may actually be a good thing. It’s been associated with more creative play and longer play time.

My children receive a few gifts on the birthdays and Christmas. But throughout the year, we limit the number of toys that come into the house. Especially the small, plastic toys that they receive at various events throughout the year. 

9. Not saving for the future.

Whether we are missing out on an employer’s match, compounding interest, or even the just the principle deposit, every day that we go without saving for our future, it is costing us money.

10. Buying something using credit.

People spend 12-18% more when using a credit card. That’s not including the interest! 

11. Feeling entitled.

“I worked hard. I deserve this.”

12. Eating processed foods.

There are many inexpensive foods that are minimally processed.

13. Not asking how much something costs before ordering it.

Yes, I too can feel uncomfortable asking how much something costs. But I’ve learned that prices can be much higher than you think. For example, when I was a teenager, I could get a haircut and highlights from my hairdresser for around $40.

When I was broke and in college and grad school, 1-2 times a year I would get a cut at one of those discount hair cutting places. They cost around $15 per cut (I colored my hair at home).

Then one day after I accepted my first job, I went to a stylist who came highly recommended. He asked me if I would try highlights. I said sure. At the end of the service he told me it would be $200. I remember my hand shaking as I reached for my credit card. I knew it would be expensive, but I didn’t realize how expensive. I felt awful that I hadn’t asked. If I knew, I wouldn’t have gotten the highlights.

14. Buying coffee at an incredible mark-up.

Photo by Tim Wright on Unsplash

Even a few dollars for a coffee can add up over time. A 2012 study found that the average American spends more than $1,100 a year on coffee.

I save thousands of dollars a year by making coffee at home rather than buying it from a coffee shop. Specialty coffees are reserved for special occasions.

15. Sucking phantom power.

Phantom power is the power being used by appliances that are turned off. Anything that’s plugged in and has a light (e.g., digital clock, light on when turned off), can be operated through remove control (e.g., TV, gaming consuls), or is hot when off is likely drawing phantom power. These can be all throughout one’s home or office and are drawing a small but constant electricity.

Phantom power costs the average US household over $100 a year.

16. Leaving water running.

Whether it’s while washing hands, brushing teeth, or rinsing dishes, I continue to be astounded how much we leave the water running. This not only costs money, but wastes a precious natural resource.

By reducing shower time by just 4 minutes, you can save almost 4,000 gallons of water, which could be worth as much as $100 per year. Save money and save water!

17. Contracting for expensive cell phone plans.

Some people spend more than one hundred dollars a month for their cell phone plan. There are a number of discount carriers these days. We pay $70 a month for two lines with a pre-paid unlimited plan (no contract or fees).

18. Paying for subscriptions or monthly fees.

It could be the best product or service in the world, but if it requires a contract or monthly fee it is automatically crossed off my list. Even $5 a month adds up to $60 a year. These charges can really add up over time and across services.

19. Driving places that are within walking/biking/skating distance.

Photo by Soroush Karimi on Unsplash

I live 1/4 mile from school. Some of my neighbors actually drive their children to school. I am curious about their reasons. We’ve left at the same time, so I know it’s not any quicker to wait in the car lane than it is to walk or ride a bike. Not only does it save money on gas, the environment from the emissions, but walking or biking is also better for one’s health.

20. Being sedentary.

Medical debt is the #1 reason for bankruptcy in the USA. Lifestyle factors attribute to the top ten leading causes of death in this country. Being active can is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle.

Your future self can either pay the price or thank you for the choices we make today.


What are some things you have come to see as wastes of money?




8 thoughts on “20 Things We Do Everyday That Waste Money”

  1. Great list — I think a lot of these items are habits or actions by default when we don’t do enough advance planning (e.g., to bring a water bottle instead of buying one on the go). Another item is not taking advantage of free or reduced days at culture attractions, like museums. Many places have a free or pay-as-you-wish day, and if you know when these are, you can have a steady stream of free or reasonably priced entertainment.

    1. Hi Caroline! Great point about planning ahead. I didn’t even think to mention looking for free or reduced prices for activities. you are right that there are so many opportunities out there for saving – if we only first ask.

  2. Wonderful list. I recently decided to stop purchasing bottled water to save some money. As far running the AC, I live in Louisiana where the humidity is off the charts in the summer, so it is a necessity.

    I also purchase tea/lemonade at a coffee shop ten minutes from where I live to support local businesses in my community. It’s a safe haven for those to come and exchange business ideas.

    1. Hi Jerry! You make a great point about supporting local businesses. I have come to appreciate how important small businesses can be. I love that your coffee shop has become a meeting spot for community members to share ideas. We need more of that!

  3. This really resonates with me today as I was standing at a supermarket checkout and I happened to notice that the couple behind me, who I would guess are on benefits/welfare had bought an apple, already sliced in a plastic bag and sweet potato, chopped up with some butter added in a little metal tray to cook in the oven. I just wanted to ask them why. Aren’t they capable of slicing an apple or chopping up some sweet potato? When money is tight why waste it? As you say, I didn’t want to come across as judgmental, so I didn’t say anything, but I just wonder why people can’t see how they are wasting their money. Many thanks for making me feel that I’m not the only one on the planet who thinks like this.

    1. Hi Sam! You are certainly not alone. I really am curious about how one makes these decisions. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons. Most of the time, we follow our initial instinct which is to buy what is most convenient.

  4. This is such a great list! We have cut down quite a bit on much of our spending, but there’s always opportunity to save more. We use a water filter and reusable water bottles instead of purchasing bottled water, we have cheap cell phone plans, and we try to minimize power use. I love cooking from scratch, but we also love going out to eat – so we do that occasionally. But it’s so important to be reminded about where you *can* cut costs, so you can spend your money on what you really value, rather than just frivolously wasting it!

    1. Hi Kate! Love your point about knowing where you ‘can’ cut costs. And that the idea is to save on things that are not adding value to have money to spend on the things that do value. Appreciate your comment!

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