A reader recently asked:
“I like your post about 25 little things you do to save money. I was wondering, have you thought about writing a post about little ways that people waste money?”
I had actually never considered this topic, because I think that “waste” is a somewhat subjective term. What I consider to be a waste of money, another person might consider to be essential. With that in mind, here’s a list of what I think are the top 12 money-wasters that should be avoided. Your list may be very different, but this will be food for thought, if nothing else.
1. Alcohol. Don’t get me wrong, I like an occasional bottle of beer or glass of wine, and I joke (a lot) about needing a drink, but the truth is, these indulgences are rare because alcohol is expensive. Also, after being previously married to an alcoholic who wasted money on beer even when we were in very dire financial straits, I have some pretty serious emotional hang-ups about drinking (I thank God every single day for the blessing of my current, happy marriage. I’m so happy that I got a second chance).
2) Cigarettes/chewing tobacco. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that Americans spend $80 billion dollars a year on this nasty habit, which is not only extremely unhealthy, but also destroys your physical appearance, and your property. We rented a house to a woman who, after years and years of smoking, had developed lung cancer (and still smoked), and when she moved she left behind a thick nicotine film on every surface. The damage was permanent. Even after cleaning and painting, the disgusting yellow film still bled through, and no amount of airing could remove the smell. I personally know someone who spends $50 a week on cigarettes – that’s $200 a month!
3) Starbucks. We love “the ‘Bucks,” as Michael Scott would say, but it’s a once-a-month indulgence for us, when the girls have their American Girl Club at Barnes and Noble. I recently read that Americans spend an average of $8.43 every time they stop at a coffee shop. If you buy one cup of $4 coffee every weekday morning, that adds up to $80 a month.
4) Restaurant meals. I know that I don’t need to elaborate on this, and we are as guilty as anyone of spending too much eating out. But restaurant meals cost 3 times as much as meals cooked at home, so this is an area that we’re always working on.
5) Manicures/pedicures. If you get a mani/pedi every two weeks, you’ll spend an average of $120 a month, or $1440 a year. That’s a lot of money! I only get my nails done when I receive gift certificates from my children for Mother’s Day or my birthday. I typically wear clear polish, or none at all. I keep my nails clipped short and filed, and my cuticles moisturized so they don’t look ragged. I also have a nail buffer that polishes my nails to a glossy sheen. In summer sandal weather, I actually have my husband paint my toenails – he’s shockingly good at fine detail work like that. He has a very steady hand.
6) Lottery tickets. State lotteries typically have odds of 18 million to 1. Save your money. Please.
7) Car washes. A hose, a bucket of soapy water, and a sponge. That’s all you need. It’s good exercise too, as is…
8) Landscaping and lawn mowing. Our yard is about an acre and a half. When I was on bedrest during my pregnancy with Cakes, we looked into having our lawn mowed to give my husband a break. The cost? $50 a week. TruGreen ChemLawn charged $200 for one weed treatment, and they recommended 4 per year. If we took advantage of these services for only one year, we would’ve spent approximately $1600 on chores that we can easily do ourselves. Even if you have to buy equipment to do it, you’re usually still better off doing your own yard work.
9) Cable TV. We have cable now, but only because it was part of a bundled package that gave us a better overall rate on telephone and online services – 2 absolute essentials for my husband’s business. In the past, we’ve gone literally years with only our local networks, and you know what? I think we were happier and more productive at those times. I’m truly astonished when people write to me because they’re in serious financial trouble, and yet they’re still paying $80 a month for cable.
10) New books and DVDs. This might sound crazy, coming from a book lover such as myself, but I’m somewhat jaded because I’ve visited countless garage sales where people were desperately trying to unload boxes and boxes of paperbacks and movies they’ve lost interest in, for 25 cents to $1 each. Instead of buying new reading material, I visit the library at least once a month, and check out 4-6 books at a time. I do like to own favorites that I enjoy reading over and over, but I buy them for pennies on the dollar at garage sales or consignment stores. I can’t even remember the last time I purchased a new fiction book, and I find that reference books are unnecessary if you have regular access to the internet, because you can find accurate information about almost anything. One of my favorite sources of information is our area’s cooperative extension service. Their site is filled with knowledge about practical subjects, such as cooking, household management, sewing, gardening, and even organizing. Visit the USDA’s web site to find your local extension service.
11) ATM fees. If you regularly use an ATM not associated with your bank, it will cost you approximately $5 a pop. Most banks will give you a list of area affiliate ATMs that you can keep folded up in your purse or wallet (this is what I do). Sometimes you can find these on your bank’s web site. It’s worth looking into because those little fees here and there really add up.
12) Disorganization. This is a huge money waster. It may cause you to pay bills late (late fees and finance charges), return library materials late (fines), overdraw your bank account (an average of $35 for each bounced check), and forget about appointments (fees up to $50, in the case of our dentist). Taking the time to get, and stay, organized will not only bring you peace of mind, it will ease the burden on your pocketbook.[print-me/]