Keep an eye on these three ways you may be guilty of carelessly spending money. Every little bit adds up.

By Megan Boettcher
March 18, 2020

When it comes to my monthly budget, I have a pretty solid understanding of where the majority of my household money goes: housing, utilities, insurance, etc. But I'm also guilty of indulging in the occasional smoothie or scented candle. And it turns out I'm not alone. In fact, Americans are spending up to $5,400 a year on impulse buys. “You need to take a look at your expenses and your spending habits and look for ways to put back one full paycheck worth of savings,” says Bill Pratt, vice president at The Money Professors and co-author of Personal Finance: Easy. Relevant. Fun. But a little preparation can go a long way in saving you money each day.

Karla Conrad

Everyday Money Wasters

Each day, there are small changes you can make to stick to a budget. Brewing coffee at home instead of picking it up at a coffee shop saves you a few dollars right away. Skipping the convenience store for bottled water and sodas is another smart move. It’s cheaper to buy in bulk and bring drinks in refillable water bottles.

The same is true for lunch hour. Packing a lunch instead of eating out every day can make a huge impact on your budget. Let’s say your favorite deli is a few blocks from the office. It’s an easy place to pop in for a sandwich or a salad. Your total bill is usually around $10, which doesn’t seem like a big deal. But if you eat out every day, you’re spending $50 a week and approximately $200 a month, which adds up to $2,400 over the course of a year.

It’s important to make intentional choices each time you reach for your wallet. When we default to eating out every day, we waste a lot of money that could go toward a bigger purchase.

How to Save Money on Food

Eating out isn’t the only money waster when it comes to food. After housing and transportation costs, the biggest expenditure for Americans is food, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most recent data shows households spend an average of $7,923 each year on food, with $4,464 reportedly allocated toward groceries alone. There are hidden costs to watch for when grocery shopping, but if you're conscientious, you can avoid these common budget busters. 

Compare Costs

The easiest way to save money is to watch local ads to see what store has the best prices on the foods you need for the week. It takes a little time to research, but it could save you big bucks in the long run. Even if you don’t have time to research sales, opting for the store brand instead of name-brand products will help you save on your grocery bill. 

Skip the Lines

Food delivery has made life much more convenient, especially for busy families. But some food delivery methods cost more than a home-cooked meal. If you use a grocery delivery service, check to see how much they charge per delivery. Some stores offer free delivery if you spend a certain amount, or you can opt for free pickup, which still saves you time but doesn’t cost you delivery fees. Meal delivery subscriptions and take out delivery services can also quickly add to the grocery budget. 

Take Inventory

Kumiko Ehrmantraut, an accredited financial counselor and author of The Budget Mom, recommends shopping your freezer and pantry before hitting the store. “Instead of going to the store and overbuying, challenge yourself to use up the food that is just chilling in the freezer.” 

She suggests taking inventory of everything you have on hand and then making your meal plan noting what ingredients, such as chicken and frozen vegetables, that you can leverage. “I was able to save $300 on my grocery budget in one month because I made meals with items I already had in my house,” Ehrmantraut says.

Mindless Money Wasters

When we operate on auto-pilot, we don’t notice how expenses, like auto-renewals to apps, software, and streaming services, add up quickly. According to a recent report, Americans shelled out $640 in 2019 on digital subscriptions alone.

“It’s so easy to forget about a purchase through an app, and then six months later you’re still paying for something you’re not using,” says Melissa Brock, money editor at Benzinga. "Scour your credit card bills and bank statements and ask yourself where you're wasting money. Even better, adopt an app like Clarity Money, which can help you track and cancel subscriptions, gym memberships and other things you never use.”

Related: 9 Tips to Help You Save Money at Costco

Digital subscriptions aren’t the only things we tend to “set and forget.” Insurance is a product that we typically shop for once and then continue to pay for without ever checking in to make sure we’re still getting the best deal. There’s no reason to overpay for coverage just because you’ve been with one provider for several years. You can get an idea of what rates may be online, at sites such as Compare.com, but your best bet for savings is to reach out to three or four agents and see who can offer the best bundling discounts.

Also, be sure to monitor your bank and credit card statements for unnecessary fees, and don’t be afraid to shop around for financial providers that offer you a better deal or more flexibility.

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