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29 ways you waste cash

Being smart with your money is easy when you make big purchases. But what about all the little ways you can leak cash? Here's how to plug the holes.

By Stacy Johnson Jun 13, 2012 4:45PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyI consider myself a budget Jedi. I watch my accounts like a hawk, shop sales and stay home more often than I'd like to save money. But back in February, I realized I was still wasting money. In fact, I wasted $35.94 in stupid little ways in one week

But I don't think I'm the only one with a few leaks in her finances, and Stacy Johnson of Money Talks News agrees. In the video below, he gives you eight ways you're wasting money. Check it out and then read on for 21 more.

Here's how to avoid Stacy's eight money-wasters, plus others to watch out for:

1. Cable TV.

As Stacy said, the average cost of cable is about $100 a month. And it's still rising. A recent study by consumer research firm NPD Group "expects the average pay-TV bill to reach $123 by the year 2015 and $200 by 2020."

I canceled my cable about six months ago and haven't looked back. I keep up with the TV shows I like with Netflix ($9.99 per month for streaming) and Hulu (free for basic, $7.99 a month for extended). Many networks also stream their shows on their websites. For example:

There's a reason why the most popular story we've ever published is "You don't have to pay for cable TV."

2. Checking accounts.

Big banks charge an average of $110 a year for checking accounts if customers don't meet their minimum requirements, U.S. News & World Report says.

Your options? Get better terms at a community bank or credit union. The National Credit Union Administration has a credit union locator to help find one nearby.

Another option is an online-only bank. Without the overhead of brick-and-mortar branches, the terms are often better. Consumerism Commentary has a great starting point: "The best online checking accounts."

3. Bottled water.

A 16-ounce bottle of water costs about $1.50 at my local gas station. Buy a bottle of water five days a week, and you'll spend $30 a month and $360 a year. While it's not quite free, water from your tap is way cheaper. If you hate the taste -- and I do -- you can buy a water-filtration system for as little as $20. Check out Consumer Reports' "Water filters: Green buying guide."

4. Credit card interest.

If you're not paying your credit card balance off in full each month, you're wasting money on interest. Carrying a $1,000 balance on a card that charges 18% costs nearly $200 every year.

Pay off your plastic. If you can't, use any number of online credit card comparisons to find the lowest possible rate. 

Image: bank ATM (© Image Source/Corbis/Corbis)5. ATM fees.

My bank charged a $2.50 "convenience fee" for using an ATM that's not in its network. I didn't live near a branch, so I was paying about $130 a year to use my own money. I changed banks, and now I use an app, ATM Hunter, to find my new bank's closest ATM.

6. 411 calls.

As Stacy said in the video, you can pay up to $2.50 to call 411, depending on which service you use. Instead, use the search feature on your smartphone -- connect to a Wi-Fi network so you don't use data -- or dial Free411 at (800) Free411. The results are sponsored by companies, and you'll have to listen to a 10-second ad, but it's free.

7. Brand names.

Some brand names are worth paying more for, but there are plenty of things you should always buy generic. For example, basic food stocks like rice, sugar and flour. Many generic over-the-counter medications have the same ingredients as the name brands. And for cleaning supplies like bleach, can a name brand really be worth extra money? 

8. Books.

I'm an avid reader, but I haven't paid retail for years. There are plenty of free or cheaper options for getting new books:

9. Credit reports.

By law, the three major credit bureaus have to give you a free copy of your credit report once a year. Don't buy one until you've used up your freebies at Once you order your free credit reports, dispute any errors you find with the credit bureaus. Then look for articles with more tips give your credit score a boost.

10. Full-priced college degrees.

Between 2009 and 2010, full-time students spent an average of $17,464 on tuition, room and board, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But you can get a college degree cheaper (or even free) with scholarships. There are thousands out there.

11. Baggage.

You'll pay up to $35 to check your luggage when you fly. JetBlue and Southwest don't charge extra for baggage, but most do. Check Airfarewatchdog's Airline Baggage Fees Chart before you book. If you're getting charged, limit yourself to a carry-on.

12. Long-distance calls.

Most wireless plans include free long distance. If you call during off-peak hours, you won't use your minutes, either. You can also make long-distance calls over your Internet connection with Skype and Google Voice. Both services offer free state-to-state calls and inexpensive international calls. 

13. Software.

Many popular software programs have free alternatives that are nearly as good as the paid versions. For example, the free OpenOffice suite mimics Microsoft Office, and Pixlr offers free online photo editing with both vintage effects and a basic editor. For more advanced editing, use free software like Gimp.

14. Morning lattes.

In my area, a grande caramel macchiato costs $4.55. Buy one every weekday and you'll spend $22.75 a week, $91 a month, and $1,092 a year. By comparison, a 16-ounce bag of coffee costs $5.99 and I can make about 82 cups per bag. That's 7 cents per cup, a savings of $4.48 a day.

15. Dining out.

I like to have a nice meal out every once in a while, but I've wasted a ton of money eating fast food I didn't really want because I didn't plan ahead. If I hit the drive-through twice a week, I spend $12 on average. That is $48 a month, or enough for a really nice meal I actually want.

Instead, keep snacks on hand, freeze leftovers to eat later, and plan your trips to the grocery store so that you always have something at home to eat.

16. Utilities.

Growing up, I got lectures about leaving the lights on and "air conditioning the neighborhood." I didn't care too much then because I didn't pay the bill, but now I'm a stickler. The result: My summer utility bills rarely top $100. If you have lights or a ceiling fan on in a room you're not in, you're wasting money.

17. Insurance.

Becoming complacent about your insurance can cost you money. Shop around once a year. Insurance shopping tools can be found online. 

18. Services you don't use.

If you're automatically paying for something every month -- like a gym membership, magazine subscription or streaming service -- make sure you use it. For example, here are mine:

  • Gym membership, $29.99 a month.
  • Netflix subscription, $9.99 a month.
  • Popular Mechanics subscription, $1 a month.

That's more than $40 a month. I make sure I get my money's worth out of them.

19. Hotel fees.

In many hotels, you'll pay silly fees on top of the room price. Don't be afraid to dispute them or find lower-cost services and/or hotels.

20. Bill-pay convenience fees.

Some online or over-the-phone bill payment services come with fees. For example, my electric company charges $2.95 to pay online through its website. Instead, I use free bill pay through my bank. I still get to pay online, but I skip the fee and save $35.40 a year.

21. 401k company match.

Many companies match an employee's 401k contribution up to a certain percent. If you're not contributing enough to get the maximum match, you're losing out on free money. Ask your HR department for information.

22. Premium fuel.

Unless your car requires premium fuel, don't buy it. Paying a premium isn't going to extend the life of your car or give you a significant mileage boost. In fact, studied cars built from 2008 to 2012 and found that many models didn't need premium fuel even though the manufacturer recommended it. Here's what they had to say:

In today's automobiles, advances in engine technology mean that even if the owner's manual recommends premium gasoline, the car will typically run on regular without knocking. Its performance will suffer only slightly: Perhaps it might be a half-second slower from zero to 60 mph. The key for drivers is to know whether premium gasoline is merely recommended or if it's required.

Edmunds has a list of cars that need premium fuel (and a list of those that don't).

23. Oil changes.

Cars don't need oil changes as frequently as they used to. If you're getting your oil changed every 3,000 miles, you're probably doing it too often. Follow the recommended mileage in your owner's manual.

24. Avoiding coupons.

Now that coupons are available online, you're wasting money if you're not using them. Do a quick coupon search before you buy anything, including clothes, groceries and electronics. You can find coupons on sites like:

25. Cellphones.

Consumer Reports says the average person spends $600 a year on wireless service. But many people pay for services they never use. For example, I had an $85 unlimited plan and rarely used more than 1,000 minutes a month. So I switched to a cheaper 1,000-minute plan and saved $20 a month.

26. Being disorganized.

Being disorganized about your finances leads to costly late payment and overdraft fees. You can easily rack up hundreds in fees. For example, even a single $25 late fee per month will cost $300 extra a year. Set up bill reminders and keep your checkbook balanced.

27. Protection you don't need.

While you need to protect some things in your life -- like your car or your house -- you don't need to insure everything. Things like extended service contracts, home warranties and identity theft insurance often aren't worth the money. 

28. Not comparing prices.

When you shop online, there are hundreds of sites competing for your business. Buy those shoes at the first site you go to and you may be wasting money. Compare the purchase and shipping price at three or more sites before you buy anything.

29. Impulse buys.

Who doesn't know that impulse purchases are a bad idea? Three quick tips:

  • Make a list. Take it with you and stick to it.
  • Eat beforehand. An empty stomach can doom the most prepared shopper, especially at the supermarket.
  • Shop alone. Bringing children (or a significant other who acts like a child) is a sure way to fill your cart with impulse buys.
More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:
Jun 14, 2012 12:05PM
What about being trendy?  I know plenty of people who are in debt because they spend their money on stupid hats and belts that are so cute this season and go perfectly with the new bags and shoes they just bought.  Or exercise equipment?  Or buying new seasonal decorations for their apartment.  Or painting racing stripes on their car because otherwise the new rims look stupid.  Or "going green" by ripping out all their flooring, wall treatments, and insulation and replacing it with the latest green material.  Or having too many hobbies that you'll never have enough time to enjoy; meanwhile those skis or model train pieces are gathering dust in the corner, destined to be sold for peanuts at the next garage sale.  Luxuries have become necessities these days, and people waste money when they just spend without being realistic about their intentions or taking stock of what they already have.
Jun 14, 2012 5:27PM

This is to tempting to pass up commenting on.


The biggest waste of money is a lot of the taxes we pay and receive very little in return.

Jun 14, 2012 6:20PM

To be alive doesn't mean you're really living. Do what you love and leave the rest behind. If you just sit in a tiny apartment staring at the walls all day to "save money" you will have to use your life savings for Psychological treatments some day, LOL. I guess another view is "have you ever seen a hurse towing a U-haul trailer"? You can't take it with you either!

Jun 14, 2012 10:55AM
Who vetted this article?  Netflix is $7.99 for streaming.  And when in the last 5 years, at least, have you seen a bag of coffee @16 oz.?  More like 12 oz.  The incredibly shrinking package.
Jun 14, 2012 12:52PM
I hate articles like this, when they all talk about cutting the cord on cable tv, they fail to mention that the internet to use netflix and hulu isnt free. Show the public the exact cost. Some of us get by with the web browsers on our phone and dont have home internet service.
Jun 14, 2012 1:56PM
Great article.  I quit cable in 2010 when I had a temporary cash-flow problem and discovered rabbit ears pick up 32 stations when you live between Baltimore and Washington, including some x.2, x.3, etc. channels that cable TV doesn't supply like Washington PBS's WETA-UK: 24 hrs/day of British TV series (Last of the Summer Wine, Dr. Who, Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abbey, etc.).
Jun 14, 2012 12:41PM
8 ways we waste money: health insurance, health insurance, health insurance, health insurance, health insurance, health insurance, health insurance, health insurance.
Jun 25, 2012 4:50PM
The guy says that if you save at 10% over time that's $100,000!!! I'd like to know where you can get that kind of rate. Seriously. I was overjoyed to find 0.8%. Let's get current people.
Jun 25, 2012 5:02PM
A few problems with this advice (including omission):

1.  Buying cable as part of a bundle can often save you money if you need every bundled service.  You'll still pay for cable but it won't be the full price.

2.  A good way to avoid checking account fees is to do your checking with a bank where you might have a loan.  E.g. I have a car loan with a well-known bank and that alone saves me monthly account fees.

3.  Buying software "clones" may work for some people, but if you're using -say - Microsoft Office for work as well as home, you'd better SPECIFICALLY learn/use Excel, PowerPoint, etc.  Additionally you [likely] won't be able to transfer work projects to a cloned program.

4.  Don't bother paying of your credit card balance every month.  Don't even use a credit card...ever.  Have a savings that will withstand any "emergency" and go cash-only.  I do and it works great.

5.  Best way to save money is to make money.  Don't stay "satisfied" in one job if you feel your experience (which should always increase by definition) could land you a better salaried/hourly position.  Each additional year of experience is worth something.  I moved from one job to another with a 78% higher salary.  Try saving 78% of your expenses...impossible.

Jun 25, 2012 8:17PM
I have used an antenna for the last 3 years and have never looked back...I just changed my cellular provider and an saving $40 per month. I am trying to get rid of my crappt Verizon 4G internet (have only had it for 3 months and have called tech support 12 times), but I REFUSE to pay the cancellation fee...I keep making them give me credits! My coffee is from the pot at my house, my water comes out of my kitchen sink. My financial affiars have no fees. My only downfalls are my home warrenty (which I have used every year and has actually saved me money) and impulse buys...I blame the store for those:)
Jun 25, 2012 7:30PM
Don't buy books, if writers don't make money they'll stop writing.  I'm not talking about the billionaire writers, most are not.  The vast majority are not.  So whether you like fiction, nonfiction, news publications etc. They still need to make money to stay in business. I  am not sure why everyone is trying to get everything for free, but most people have to work for the things they have and that means they also need to get paid.  Idiots.
Jun 14, 2012 4:12PM

When renting a car for just yourself, go for the smallest economy possible.  Chances are you'll find their nearly new car just fine for your needs.  In general it is better to self-insure and use your own car insurance than buy the rental agency's insurance which can often double the cost of the rental.


Buy airline tickets well in advance.  Rule of thumb:  at least 3 -4 weeks before departure.  Also, some airlines like Southwest will give you a credit for the difference, if you purchase your tickets prior to a seat sale.  Travel mid-week usually saves you a bit.


Book hotels online, don't just show up at the front desk hoping for their best rate.  The best rates are usually on-oine.





Jun 25, 2012 5:05PM
Plus, you didn't mention the you still need cable Internet. Hulu and Netflix need it. For a decent connection, you'll be spending at least $40+ a month. Most cables companies have a $109.99 rate for Internet, tv, and a phone.  So giving it up won't save you $100. Or at least it will- without Internet.
Jun 25, 2012 6:52PM

Lots of whining about cable/internet.  I have a basic cable/high speed internet package and pay only $49 a month.  I've got 20+ channels and on demand so even though I don't get channels like TLC, Discovery, etc. I can watch those shows a few days after their original run.  So it IS possible to save on your cable bill IF you're willing to cut back a bit. 

As for cell phone, I pay $30 a month for Straight Talk's 1000minutes/1000texts.  If I need more than that I can pay $45 for UNlimited minutes/texts.  No contract, no hassle, and a few more dollars saved. 

Jun 25, 2012 8:12PM
I recently changed vendors for several services (TV, home and cell phones) and leased a new car totally with the savings. All changed services are equal to or better than the previous ones. Oh, and my new car gets 37 MPG -- double that of the previous vehicle.
Jun 26, 2012 9:49AM
if I need not have to pay out thirty percent of my income for the last forty years to support people on welfare and goverment waste I would be able to have a better life.
Jun 25, 2012 10:54PM
My father told me before he died that "if you die and leave money in the bank because you refused to buy yourself something you wanted then your money did not do you any good". Pay your bills, have good insurance and spend the rest.  
Jun 25, 2012 5:39PM
This fool says that 5 dollars saved per day at 10 percent you will save a lot but no bank gives 10 percent anually. You are lucky to get 1 percent. Cable bill? you need cable usually to get internet, So here he is wrong also. You still have an internet bill. These people don't know what they are talking about or don't think about the other bills you do have to pay.
Jun 25, 2012 11:42PM
I hate how they have all these things to get something for nothing! u have to spend money simple as that, just try to spend it locally if u can! go downtown to a local book store instead of barns and nobles at the mall or a locally owned restaurant instead of an applebees where they have all your food precook and just warm it up and serve it

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