BOO! Time to take a realistic (and maybe spooky) look at everyday habits that could be killing your attempts at budgeting and getting ahead financially. Individually or collectively, the thirteen ideas below have the potential to save you hundreds (or more) a year and that’s full-on treat!
1. ATM Fees
GREAT NEWS – This is one of the most easily avoidable money wasters! Avoid the unnecessary ATM fees by getting cashback from your debit card at the stores you shop. Most outlets offer a cashback option when paying with your debit card and neither the store nor your banking institution charges you for this convenience. I’ve even bought a $0.35 pack of gum to get $20 cashback to avoid a $3 ATM fee. Some banks also charge you on top of what the ATM does, so double ouch.
Are you still purchasing coffee from your local shop more days than not? Is it due to time and convenience? Well, try Investing in a coffee maker that has a preset option allowing you to program your brew to be ready when you wake. Is it due to taste and self-spoiling? Well, just take a look at all the grocery store coffee additives if there isn’t even one that rivals (or beats) what you get at your shop of choice. Whatever your reason, you’ve probably rationalized it quite well, but if your budget is a concern, switching to a “sometimes” splurge of buying your favorite coffee drink is a tweak that will pay off surprisingly soon. In the end, the extra money to your finances could be all the perk you need.
3. Prepared Foods
GUILTY! I tend to buy my rice pre-cooked and frozen, sure it’s always perfectly cooked, but when I realized that it’s costing me 5 times per serving over what I would pay for uncooked, unpackaged bulk rice, I nearly wanted to go carb-free permanently! After simply dusting off my rice cooker and looking up a “perfect rice” recipe online, the problem solved. This budget reality check has caused me to look at what other “convenience” foods I might be throwing money away on that I can replicate at home. Pre-cut fruit is another great example of overpaying for something was so easily done at home.
Did you know just spending a little time to get 3 to 5 quotes (on most services actually) will result in you finding the lowest price? Try it. I did, and it’s panned out every time! Even if the first quote I received ended up being the least expensive, the due diligence on my part brought peace of mind and confidence with my final purchase. It pays (YOU) to shop around on insurance quotes… on all quotes!
Does everything need a warranty? NAH. Sometimes a warranty is a smart buy, but most of the time… not really. Warranties are usually only lucrative money-makers for the company offering them. Many companies are banking on the fact that most people forget about the warranties, don’t understand what’s covered or the coverage runs out by the time you need to use it. If you think the item will break or not live up to claims, then read some reviews, compare products, take your chances or rethink the purchase altogether.
6. Cell Phones & Plans
Just like comparing insurance quotes, there is a lot of value in comparing cell phones and plans. By evaluating your cell phone needs, you may find that you’re probably paying for features that you don’t need. New phones bring a ton of hype and it’s easy to get on board with wanting the latest and greatest, but patience is a dear friend to your budget. Prices tumble quickly on phones and by waiting 6 months or a year, you’ll see major savings on what was, at one-time, a must-have. Equally important to smart finances is shopping around cell phone plans and carriers. Could you be paying for data limit that you never even come close to maxing? Could you be missing out on a bill credit or a discount for not enrolling in auto-pay? Is pre-paid a better option? Look at your current carrier through the eyes of a new customer, see if you’ve been grandfathered into paying higher rates. Maybe it’s time to move on and potentially save hundreds a year.
7. Buying Brand Names
The product sitting on the shelf next to the product that you saw the commercial for is usually the same product in different packaging (in costume?). Just check the ingredients to compare and confirm! So, we must be paying more for better quality, right? Wrong! We’re paying for that commercial. Store and generic brands are underused and yet so widely available. From food to skincare, to medicine (including doctor prescribed), there’s most likely a suitable off-brand or generic version available that keeps more money with you and less with the company advertising to you.
8. Expiration or Best Before Dates
So, there’s expiration dates and there’s best by or best before dates. Most perishable foods (meat, dairy, veggies) will have expiration dates which hold more authority over best by or best before dates that are often used on non-perishable items. A general rule is to air on the side of safety when it comes to expiration dates, but best by or before dates are only suggested and are very general. Foods stored correctly can still be consumed after these dates and if not, you’ll surely know by the smell or color (common sense). To get more time out of foods with expiration dates (for example meat), freeze whatever you can’t use before the expiration date. This buys you more time and the food will be fine after the expiration date when thawed correctly and used right away. There are also online databases to look up the shelf-life of many common foods that you can compare to the product dates. I recommend: EatByDate
9. In-game Purchases
“Only this one time” and then “only this one other time and then only once more to get past this level.” We all have our luxury items, so if these in-game/app purchases in one of yours and you’re not spooked by your budget, then go for it. BUT, try noting each time you spend $1 here, or $5 there and see how much you’ve spent over a month. Or, check your credit card statement (if you’re not paying off the balance each month, you’re paying interest on these purchases… GASP!) and confirm that you’re comfortable with the amount you’re spending. If not, try unlinking your credit card and seek out a how-to-guide to get around that seemingly unbeatable final battle. A great way to level-up on your budget.
Ohhhh what a mess we have here! Having organization and systems will help your budget by freeing up time spent on searching for and/or replacing lost times. Chargers, cables, phones, jewelry, keys, wallet, spouse (just checking to see if you’re still with me) are examples of items that most of us have repurchased due to misplacing. The financial sting is when you find the original later. Having a structure on where you store important items will save you time in scouring (time is money) and save you money from double (triple?) buying.
11. Late Fees
This veers into organization too. A smart way to avoid late fees on bills is to set up autopay with each company (sometimes even gets you a discount!). Even if you’re not assessed a late fee for late payment, it doesn’t mean this isn’t costing you. Being late on some bills will result in the company reporting negatively on your credit. This can lead to higher interest rates and newly required deposits and down payments for future services. To fix, try setting yourself calendar reminders (even alarms if needed!). If you are charged a late fee, it never hurts to simply ask for a courtesy waiver… the worst they can say is no… and if they say no, it could be because you’ve made a costly habit of out this. BOO!
12. Remember the Memberships
Magazines, gyms, meal plans, streaming services, “trial” memberships with auto-paid renewals – any of these could be causing your budget to suffer majorly. Try gathering up each membership and take a good look at what you’re actually getting use out of and what you’re intending to use. If a month goes by and the ones you “intend” to use are still not getting action or don’t provide value, cancel or don’t renew them. Simple, they must go! Although that doesn’t mean the positive intent also must go. For instance, if you don’t find yourself using that gym membership, but really want to be in shape… start free! Start with walks, hikes, stair climbing on actual stairs! You can always get more habitual with it and organized to the point where you will make use of that pricey gym membership.
13. Premium Gasoline
Regardless of what your owner’s manual or dealership says, the reality is some cars are perfectly fine running on regular gas over premium. Purchasing premium gas costs around $0.20 to $0.45 more per gallon, and it may not even be necessary. Many of the engines in today’s vehicles are designed to protect themselves and the type of gas doesn’t make a difference. To confirm if your car will be just fine running on regular gas, there are resources online to help. I used Edmund’s list of premium recommended vs premium required and found out (unfortunately) that premium is required for my ride… but it gave me something to think about for my next one.