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Wasted money not only makes you feel terrible, but it also has the potential to really hurt your financial future.
But the term “wasted money” could look very different to different people.
So let’s see what it means, and if YOU fall into the trap of wasting money!
What does it mean to waste money?
Wasting money, simply put, is spending your hard-earned money on something that isn’t necessary.
When you break it down more, wasted money is using your money for convenience, things you can’t afford, or being careless.
But here’s the thing: we all do it!
In fact, in a study run by The Motley Fool, a whopping 95% of respondents believe that people in the United States waste more money than they should.
I haven’t met a single person who has claimed to never waste money. And if someone does claim that, they likely don’t know the meaning of wasting money!
How do we waste money?
It’s so, so easy to waste money. Mostly because money can buy a lot of convenience in life and can pave the way to have fun. But so many out there claim that, once they waste money, they instantly regret it!
I definitely fall in that category. It almost reminds me of a hangover: it hits you the next morning and you feel like crap.
LIke I mentioned, you waste money by using it for things that are convenient or just being careless. It doesn’t matter if it’s $10 or $1,000; money wasted is money wasted.
It could be as simple as spending $5 on a premium cup of to-go coffee on your way to work every day for a year. That adds up to about $1,300.
If you invested that $1,300 at the average 10% return per year, and let it sit for 30 years, you’d have over $22,000.
Just from not going to the coffee shop for a year!
So how do we waste money? I’ve got lots of examples below. And if you fall into multiple categories, just know that you’re not alone.
33 ways we waste money
1. Paid apps
Paid apps make a lot of promises, but in reality, are a big waste of money.
According to Statista, there are currently around 3.5 million apps out there to choose from. With that many apps out there, you’re really likely to find a similar app for free (maybe with an occasional ad).
2. Frivolous laundry add-ons
Doing your laundry doesn’t have to include tons of products. As long as you have your detergent and a washing machine, you’re good to go.
Add-ons like dryer sheets, laundry boosters, and fabric softeners are wasteful items that aren’t necessary to get your clothes clean.
Heck, you technically don’t even need a dryer, if you’re looking to cut down on electricity costs and be less wasteful!
So what can you use instead?
- These wool dryer balls can cut down on your drying time. And bonus: they’re reusable!
- Instead of using a dryer, you can use this retractable clothesline. That way, you get your clothes dry with fresh air, PLUS you can retract the line when you don’t need it. We also use this indoor retractable line when the weather isn’t great outside.
- If you’re using a clothesline, these stainless steel clothes pins won’t rust in the sunshine!
Disposable items are another convenience money-waster. What’s easier than using something and then tossing it when you’re done?
The truth is that shelling out a little more money for reusable products saves you a pretty substantial amount of money.
Take diapers, for example. In this post, I break down exactly what we did and how much we ended up saving (and are still saving!).
What are some other products you can switch from disposables to reusable?
- Paper towels – switch to cloth
- Sandwich bags – switch to silicone
- Water bottles – buy a reusable bottle
- Plastic straws – use silicone or stainless steel
- Makeup remover wipes – try a microfiber cloth
The list goes on!
4. Holiday/birthday cards
I know there are people out there that are going to get mad at me for this one. But I have ALWAYS thought holiday/birthday cards were a waste of money! Especially since the price of them has only gone up over the years.
I am a huge fan of creating your own card to give someone. It’s cheaper, personable, and I bet they’d appreciate it more than a Hallmark card.
5. Using your card
I think you’ll be a little surprised at what I mean by this point. Because I’m not only talking about not using a credit card, but also not using your debit card whenever possible!
Why, when using your debit card is essentially like using cash?
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to swipe your debit card at the checkout counter? And how it’s a pretty mindless transaction?
In this study done by Carnegie Mellon University, we learn that using cash activates the pain receptors in our brain, essentially making us feel the weight of our purchase.
I liked this quote:
“Credit cards effectively anesthetize the pain of paying,” said George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon professor of social and decision sciences (SDS) and co-author of the paper. “You swipe the card and it doesn’t feel like you’re giving anything up to make the purchase, unlike paying cash where you have to hand over bills.”https://www.cmu.edu/homepage/practical/2007/winter/spending-til-it-hurts.shtml
So, a great way to not waste money is to use cash whenever possible! It might make you think twice about that purchase.
If you’re looking for a way to organize your cash for your budget categories, check out this list of amazing cash envelope wallets!
6. Keeping your house energy efficient
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, the average American spends about $2,000 per year for energy.
Of that $2,000 per year, $200-400 could be wasted from drafts, air leaks, and outdated heating and cooling systems.
Instead of wasting that money year after year, find ways to make your house more energy-efficient. Simple peel-and-stick weatherstripping on your door could stop air leaks for less than $20!
Looking for other ways to cut on your electric bill? Check out this post on several different ways to cut your energy use!
7. Expensive entertainment
Entertainment can eat away at your money FAST.
For example, think of the last time you went to the movies. The average cost of movie tickets in 2021 is about $9 per person. But you don’t just get a movie ticket, you also get snacks and drinks. For two people to go to the movies, you’re probably looking at around $40, give or take with your snack selection.
On the other side, how much would it cost to watch a movie at home with your own snacks? Probably around $10 TOTAL?
So you could save $30 just having a nice evening in, watching movies at home!
But if you’re struggling to find cheap or free things to do, check out this list of 100 free or cheap activities! Or, if you’re looking for date night ideas that don’t break the bank, here’s a great post to have a fun date for cheaper.
8. Cleaning products
We have SO many different cleaning products in our cupboard. I think it’s because each promises to do different things, so you believe you need each of those products.
But in reality?
Good old vinegar can likely be the only cleaning product you need for your house. The acidity in vinegar makes it an excellent cleaning product.
You can use vinegar to clean your windows, countertops, shower/tub, toilets, floors (just not hardwood or natural stone), and many other areas around the house!
Plus, it’s super cheap!
Just grab a nice spray bottle, fill it about halfway with white vinegar, and top it off with water. Now you’ve got an instant, toxic-free all-purpose cleaner.
9. Special drinks at the grocery store
I’ll make this one short and sweet: stop buying drinks at the grocery store!
The mark-up is unreal, and it’s just for a special beverage.
Instead, find ways to spruce up your water. Make some blends with different fruits (or even cucumbers), make your own iced or hot tea, or even purchase a SodaStream and make your own sparkling water at home!
When you make your own drinks at home, there are fewer ingredients, less sugar, and all-around healthier for you.
10. Not doing a price comparison
Doing a price comparison before purchasing can be a big hassle. Even more so when you have the item in your hand at the store, but might end up putting it back because you found it online for cheaper.
Comparing prices can save you so much money! It makes little to no sense to buy something that costs $10 more just because it’s handy and you can buy it now.
Take the time to do a Google search for what you need to make sure you’re not wasting money on it.
11. Buying excess at the grocery store
Before we started meal planning and being super intentional about our grocery budget, we would throw away so much food.
It was especially bad when we brought home new groceries and had to make room for the new stuff.
And when we looked at all of the food we were throwing away (and adding up how much it was worth!), we said “enough is enough”.
According to this site, the average American family of four wastes about $1,500 in food each year. I can think of a lot of other things I’d like to do with my $1,500 than throw it away in the trash!
So how can you combat this?
The two biggest actions we took were meal planning before shopping (and not deviating from that list), and using curbside or delivery instead of going inside of the store. I don’t know about you, but we always pick up extra items when we go into the store. It’s just safer to stay out!
Also, think twice about throwing away after “best by” date. In a nutshell, this article states that the only federally regulated food date label is placed on infant formula. Everything else out there places a date on the label to ensure optimal quality, but could be eaten/drank days to weeks after the date on the label!
12. Eating out
You likely already know that eating out can be a huge waste of money (although I totally understand wanting to grab take-out instead of cooking).
This Forbes article is a little older, but it goes into depth about how much more it costs to eat out and even use a meal kit service you cook at home.
It costs as much as 5 times more to eat out than it does to cook at home.
And most of these meals are meals you can easily make at home! You’re simply paying for convenience.
13. Buying brand name
Remember when you were in grade school, and having a particular brand of clothing made you cooler?
Gone are those days!
Buying name brand, whether it’s clothes, food, drinks, or you name it, can be an expensive way to waste money.
The “brand tax” associated with these name-brand buys marks up the price substantially. Having to pay for advertising and having to pay the middle man to get the product to the store adds quite a bit of money to the product, as opposed to buying store brands.
14. Paying for services you can do yourself
Here’s another way to waste money based solely on convenience.
What are some examples?
- Landscaping – tasks like weekly lawn maintenance, pulling weeds, trimming bushes back
- Minor car repairs – oil changes, changing your own brake pads, changing the battery, replace windshield wipers
- Food – food delivery, grocery delivery (can do curbside)
With all of the streaming services out there for a fraction of the price, not to mention some online streaming services that are free, there is little need to pay the premium price for cable.
What are the chances that you are watching every channel with your cable package? Very slim! And that means you’re paying a premium price for the few channels that you do watch.
Instead, choose between the dozens of online streaming services that have the shows you enjoy watching. Or, if you’re looking for free options, here are a few to try:
- Pluto TV – hundreds of free channels to watch
- Plex – thousands of free movies, over 100 channels of live TV, podcasts, web shows, and music
- Tubi – more than 30,000 movies and TV shows, and 100+ local and live news channels
16. Forgetting to return unneeded items
Are you guilty of leaving bags of unneeded items in your trunk to return, and then forgetting about them?
This could be wasted money if you don’t return within the store’s return window. Try to return your unneeded items as soon as possible!
17. Buying just because you have a coupon
I know it’s nice to save money using a coupon, but it’s silly to buy something just because you have a coupon.
Try your best to stick to what you need when putting together your grocery list, instead of adding on more items because you found a good deal.
I am SO guilty of this!
Some subscriptions are totally worthwhile. Amazon Subscribe and Save, for example, is a subscription service we use every month. We use it for things we always need, like vitamins, batteries, and other things, and we get a discount on by using their subscription service.
Other subscription services might be wasting money.
19. Not meal planning
I’m not even exaggerating here: we literally wasted hundreds of dollars when we went to the grocery store without a list. It’s embarrassing to even think back about it because I know just how wasteful we were being.
The problem with not meal planning before you go is you create your grocery list as you find things at the store. So, not only does it cost more, but you spend longer there making sure you get everything you need for your meals.
If you’re looking for even more ways to save money with your grocery budget, check out these helpful tips!
20. Bank fees
I’m going to be totally honest with you. Before we started to get serious about our budget, we were overdrafting like crazy in our bank account. And every time we overdrafted, we paid a $2 fee.
I can’t even tell you how much money we wasted in a year of overdraft fees. It’s so embarrassing.
Now that we’re on a budget and have control of our money, we don’t have those pesky overdraft fees and aren’t wasting that money.
Other bank fees might be an annual fee, insufficient funds fee, or an excessive transactions fee.
Try looking for banks that have as few fees as possible to ensure you aren’t wasting money on your account.
21. Convenience items
Everyone is guilty of wasting money on convenience items. And yes, there are times that absolutely warrant it. But, the majority of the time, convenience items are more of a waste of money than necessary.
What are some examples?
- Purchasing meal kits or meals already put together for you from the grocery store instead of buying the ingredients and assembling yourself
- Quick snacks or drinks at the gas station
- Buying coffee on the go instead of brewing at home
- Ordering fast food instead of cooking at home
22. Buying wants, not needs
It can be really easy to justify a want as a need when you’re in the moment. Something we do is apply the 24-hour rule to these sorts of purchases.
What is the 24-hour rule?
As you probably guessed, we wait 24 hours to buy that item. It gives us time to let our in-the-moment emotions about a product die down, so we act more on logic than the desire for that item.
23. Not using cash-back apps
Did you know there is money lost when you’re not using cash-back apps and browser extensions?
Yes, it takes a little more work when you’re making your purchase. But a few clicks could get you a few dollars back. I’d say that’s worthwhile!
Here are a few cash-back apps and browser extensions that I LOVE to use!
24. Not budgeting your money
I’d say this is one of the top money wasters on this list.
Not budgeting your money is leaving a lot of money on the table. If you don’t have a plan for each dollar you bring home, it will easily get spent on unnecessary things.
And, unlike a lot of other points on this list, not budgeting your money affects your financial health every single month. Plus, could be losing hundreds of dollars each paycheck!
If you want to get started with creating a budget and not wasting money, check out this post on a step-by-step guide.
25. Buying cheap over quality
Here’s one thing that paying extra actually saves you money.
Have you ever bought something cheap to save yourself a few bucks, only for that item to break down on you quickly?
I definitely have. It didn’t help that I was fresh out of college and broke.
Luckily, I learned my lesson pretty quickly. By paying a little extra upfront on a quality product, you end up saving yourself from having to replace the cheaper item.
What are some examples?
- Paint – cheap paint will likely take more coats, making you buy more
- Garbage bags
The list could go on and on, but those are a few examples of the higher end and lower end of things you shouldn’t skimp on.
26. Adopting a pet you can’t afford
We have three rescue dogs; we love our dogs. But, as they are getting older, their vet bills are getting more expensive.
I’m not saying that rescuing a pet is a waste of money because it certainly isn’t (I think highly of people who rescue!).
BUT, it is a waste of money if you’re already in a bad spot financially.
If you’re struggling with your money, then adopting a pet is a huge expense that you simply can’t afford.
27. Going to the salon
I know I’m going to get some hate for this one. But that’s okay!
I’ll start by saying that, before the pandemic, I had never even thought of cutting my own hair.
But, one day, I decided to go for it. And you know what? I didn’t hate it.
I realized that I was paying someone $40+ for a haircut that I could give myself at home! And if you’re someone who goes for a haircut every couple of months, just think about how much money you could be saving if you did it yourself.
You don’t have to be a beautician to cut your own hair, either. YouTube has some amazing tutorials that even I could do (so I know you can too). This is the video I used and thought it was super easy to follow!
It took about 25 minutes from start to finish to cut my own hair. I saved $40 and the awkward conversation I always have with my hairdresser.
28. Emotional spending
This is another really big one. So what do I mean by the term “emotional spending”?
Emotional spending is when your emotions are saying you need something louder than your logic.
I really like this breakdown of different emotional spending triggers, since it seems like most emotional spending can fit into at least one of these categories.
But, in a nutshell, that article lists these as some big emotional spending triggers:
- Protecting our image
- Spending up to our income level – a raise of unexpected income makes you want to spend
- The emotional high of spending
- The need to feel powerful
- The need for immediate gratification
- The desire to protect our standard of living
- The need to overcome past problems
- Convince ourselves of self-worth
I absolutely have done my fair share of emotional spending, and I’ll bet you have too!
29. Lottery tickets
Not only is purchasing lottery tickets similar to gambling (could very well become an addiction), you also have VERY low chances of winning. Like a one in 300 million chance of winning.
Since the odds are pretty low and it’s not the healthiest of habits, it’s a pretty bad waste of your money.
30. Buying a Christmas gift for everyone
Are you someone who likes you purchase Christmas gifts for everyone you know?
That’s an incredibly sweet gesture, but it can be a waste of money, especially when you’re strapped for cash.
Instead of purchasing a gift for a lot of people, try purchasing something for just a few people and send out Christmas cards for the rest.
Or, if you don’t mind a little DIY to save yourself money, check out this list of frugal Christmas gift ideas you can make!
31. ATM fees
These fees are a HUGE waste of money! Maybe it doesn’t matter much if it’s just one withdrawal every once in a while, but if it’s an ongoing expenditure, you’re losing a lot of money by not using the ATM at your bank.
If possible, try to only use the ATM at your bank (where there should be no fee to withdraw money), instead of withdrawing at the gas station you’re filling up at.
32. Upgraded shipping costs
Prices go up almost exponentially when you choose next-day or two-day shipping over standard. With some purchases, you’re looking at spending well over triple the cost of standard shipping for next-day shipping.
Plus, with many companies offering free standard shipping on orders over a certain dollar amount, you might actually spend the same amount of money for your one item with next-day shipping as you would for multiple items and free shipping!
More often than not, you don’t HAVE to have that item you ordered on the next day. Save yourself that money and choose standard shipping.
33. Buying new versus used
When you are owner #1 of a brand new car, you have very likely wasted money.
Cars depreciate in value the moment you drive them off the lot and lose thousands of dollars of value over the first couple of years.
Let someone else waste the money and buy a used car. It doesn’t even have to be an older car; just one that is a couple of years old is a better investment than a brand new car!
What are some other things that are better to purchase secondhand?
- Books (especially college textbooks)
- Sports gear
- Pricy baby gear like strollers, bassinets, and cribs
What to do when you wasted money?
As I mentioned earlier, we all waste money. There’s no way to get by without at least one of these points affecting your finances.
But let’s say you have wasted money and acknowledge it. What do you do?
Most importantly: learn from it!
Remember how much you wasted and how you felt after you lost that money. That’s going to be huge in preventing this from happening again.
If you’re able to, try to recoup the money you just lost. Maybe that means returning an item you shouldn’t have bought or work overtime to bring in more cash.
That’s all about wasted money!
How many of these points have affected your finances? What have you done to recoup your finances from wasted money?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments!