10 Common Money Wasters – And How to Avoid Them

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Our money is so valuable. Money is what gives us time. Yet, we throw away so much money by not being mindful. Avoid these money wasters by making some simple changes.

Before we get right into some of the common money wasters, it’s important to note that what might be a waste of money to some (or most) people, is not necessarily a waste to everyone.

For example, Ashley and I spend a good amount of our income on travel. Vacations make us very happy! In our minds, it’s money well-spent. Other people may not enjoy traveling as much and believe their money would be put to better use a different way.

The point of this post is to get you to think of some possible money wasters and realize the financial impact of them, not to tell you what you should or should not spend money on.

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1. Keeping the Car Engine Running

Both of my kids are now done with daycare (I don’t miss those payments!), but I was always amazed when I used to enter into that parking lot. Almost every single day, I would pull up near at least one car that was running with no one inside. Yes, living in New England, there are times when it is 100 degrees and other times when it is -5 degrees, but there are many more days when it is in a much more comfortable range. Yet regardless of the temperature, these cars are idling in the parking lot. Not only is it bad for the environment, but it’s also bad for your wallet.

In fact, vehicles in the United States consume more than 6 billion gallons of fuel each year without even moving!

Think about that one for a moment.

Imagine how much money is being wasted and how much of an impact it’s having on our environment. And it’s all easily avoidable.

The average large sedan consumes about 0.4 gallons of gas per hour while idling, but that is assuming neither the heater nor air conditioner is on. If on, these numbers are even higher. If we use the daycare parent as our example, the car idles for 10 minutes during dropoff and 10 minutes during pick up each day. Throw in an occasional idle while waiting in the drive-thru line and this bad habit results in a cost of about 40 cents each day.

It doesn’t seem like much, but add it up over the course of a year and you’ve idled away close to $100.

Are there times when it’s worth the forty cents to keep the car running? Sure, but it doesn’t have to be an everyday habit.

2. Buying Individually Packaged Snacks (Or Anything For That Matter)

Everyone knows that buying in bulk is usually a good way to save money, particularly with goods that will not spoil. However, people sometimes take this advice too far. The more extra packaging that is involved in a product, the more expensive it is going to be. For example, the current price at “Stop n’ Shop” for individual “Goldfish” packs is $8.69 ($0.43/ounce) for 20 one-ounce packages while the 30-ounce box of “Goldfish” costs $8.99 ($0.30/ounce).

Sure, the snack packs can be easier to pack up for a snack at work or school, but taking five minutes to create your own individual packs can be an easy way to save money.

3. Purchasing Extended Warranties

Extended warranties are almost always one of the big money wasters. Sales associates are trained to try to sell you on the warranty to add more money to their pockets. Usually, the manufacturer’s warranty on a product is more than sufficient and many of the extended warranties do not cover everything. In fact, some of the most common issues or defects are the ones not listed under the warranty.

Be mindful of the pros and cons of an extended warranty, and go for it if you think that there is a real chance it could save you money down the road. But, be prepared to be asked when making a large purchase, and lean toward saying no in most situations.

4. Buying Coffee from a Coffee Shop

I love coffee as much as anyone. Everyone who knows me well knows that I almost always have a cup of iced coffee in my hands, especially before noon. Getting your caffeine fix at a coffee shop can get expensive over time, however.

Instead of doling out $3 or more for that coffee from Starbucks or any other gourmet coffee shop, look into some of the cheaper alternatives. Ashley and I brew Solimo Dark Roast K-Cups over ice to make iced coffee with our Keurig. The stronger brew makes up for the ice melting as it’s brewed and we both think it tastes great. Each cup of coffee costs us $0.29. Friends and family of ours also drink McDonald’s and Cumberland Farms varieties of coffee which are much more affordable than Dunkin Donuts or some of the other coffee and donut shops.

5. Not Taking Advantage of a Fitness Reimbursement

This one might not fit the category of true money wasters. It is more of a commonly lost opportunity, and an important benefit that you might not know about. Most healthcare plans offer some form of fitness reimbursement. For my family, we can get up to $400 reimbursed each year for keeping ourselves healthy.

At first, I figured this would only work if you had a gym membership, but it works for so much more. Did you buy fitness equipment? That counts. Sign your kid up for basketball? That counts. Take a ski trip? That counts. Sign up for Weight Watchers? That counts, too!

6. Using a Debit Card Instead of a Credit Card

This nugget comes with a bit of a caveat. This method will only save money if you can be responsible with credit cards. If you find that you are spending beyond your means, or simply spending more because it’s plastic, then go back to debit cards or, better yet, cash. I used an envelope policy for years and it served me well.

Related Post: Credit Card Hacking – The Easy Way

If you are able to spend responsibly, credit cards can provide some great avenues for earning money. Many cards offer points or cashback rewards for every purchase. This is extra money in your pocket just for using a particular card. Saving money without doing anything extra? Sign me up!

7. Not Using a Programmable Thermostat

Whether you opt for a more expensive thermostat like a Nest or go for a fewer frills brand, a programmable thermostat is a must for any home. I’ve written before about the cost savings over a traditional thermostat. Gone are the days of trying to remember to turn down the heat before you leave the house. These new thermostats can either be set to lower at certain times or can even lower themselves based on the movement within the household. The result is huge savings.

8. Keeping Unnecessary Subscriptions

I had a gym pass for years. It was a pretty good deal only for teachers so I was saving over 60% off the normal rate. The cost was only $25/month for a pretty nice gym. As a result, I talked myself into keeping the membership for about four years. Within that time, I probably went to the gym about 80 times, usually in one-month spurts. My “good deal” gym membership still cost me $1200 over the course of the four years. In other words, $15/visit! Yikes! That one hurts to write.

There are a million other examples of money wasters: the Netflix subscription even though you haven’t watched anything on there since the summer. Or you got HBO for Game of Thrones but haven’t bothered to cancel the subscription even though you don’t watch anything else on it. Maybe your cell phone bill gives you 5GB of data when you only use 1 or 2 GB each month.

All of these subscriptions add up, so take the time to reassess what subscriptions provide value to your life and which don’t. Then, be sure to take the time to go online or make a call to cancel.

9. Impulse Buying

This money waster goes for any shopping — the mall, the grocery store, even restaurants.

Personally, I never go shopping for clothes. I would rather be almost anywhere other than a mall. But, that’s just me. Maybe you like clothes and maybe you enjoy going shopping. That’s great, good for you. You should spend money on what will bring you the most happiness. However, there is a distinct difference between shopping in search of something you will love or need and shopping just to buy something.

The same is true at the grocery store. I do all of the grocery shopping for the family. I don’t normally have a formal list, although I do know plenty of people who swear by it. It’s just not for me. I do, however, get pretty much the exact same things each week. I don’t allow myself to wander through the aisles to “see what looks good” or to “try something new”. If I am interested in trying something new, I look up a recipe before heading to the supermarket so I know exactly which ingredients to pick up.

At restaurants, we try to really be mindful of what we are ordering. We do not eat out very often (or ever during these times!), so Ashley and I both look at going out to restaurants as a bit of a treat. As a result, we don’t need to go anywhere ultra-expensive and we don’t feel the need to order three courses. Again, the important distinction here is that we don’t feel the need to do that. Do we splurge at times and order an appetizer or a dessert? Of course, but it’s not a habitual thing, it’s a conscious decision. Additionally, going out to a restaurant happens so infrequently for us that the night out in and of itself serves as the splurge.

10. Letting Food Go to Waste

We’ve all done it at one time or another. Those strawberries from the farmstand, the leftovers from dinner a few nights ago, or the half-drank gallon of milk. These things get lost in the back of the fridge, and before you know it, it’s too late. Not only is this a major drag on the environment, but it’s also a complete waste of money. In fact, this is one of those money wasters that occurs for most people on a weekly basis.

Try to only buy what you and your family will eat and what you can finish. The price per unit on milk might be much less on the gallon, but you’re still losing money if a half-gallon would have been enough for the week.

Another easy hack is to just keep your fridge clean and organized. The less that clutter in the fridge, the easier it is to see everything. Organize food on the shelves and in drawers for easy access.

If you’d like more great advice on this topic, check out this post.

Avoiding Money Wasters

These are just a few examples of possible money wasters, but it’s also important to note that everyone’s preferences are different. If that cup of Starbucks coffee absolutely makes your day everyday, then you ABSOLUTELY should have it. The same goes for that extended warranty. If you’ll be spending sleepless nights worrying about your purchase, then buy the warranty to give yourself that peace of mind.

Related Post: 13 Easy Changes We’ve Made to Save over $9,000 This Year

So how do you avoid these money wasters? What traps have you fallen into in the past?

6 thoughts on “10 Common Money Wasters – And How to Avoid Them”

  1. Good list, I also find wrong gift-giving wasteful. Better ask the gift-receiver what he or she wants to avoid gifts (=your money) landing in the trash 😉

  2. I thought I was the only “old” person who used the envelope method. Either to save for golf /future vacations/christmas etc. The one money waster I find for a single person is food. There are only so many days in a row I can eat leftovers. Freezing 1/2 a loaf of bread never tastes the same.

    1. minimalismandmoney

      Nope, I loved the envelope method for a long period of time in my twenties. That’s a great point about food waste. I never thought of that one, but it makes sense when you consider how much food is packaged for families.

  3. I’m certainly guilty of buying individually packaged snacks, haha. At my prior job, there was a vending machine and I am guilty of frequenting the vending machine quite often, even after eating lunch.

    I regret spending so much especially since I don’t reap the benefits of eating junk food but rather the burden of it.

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