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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?