50 Ways You’re Throwing Money Away
It’s the fourth quarter of 2015, and just as in the fourth quarter of a professional sports game, mistakes can multiply if you’re not keeping your eye on the ball. Sometimes, the money mistakes hit you where your investments live. Other times, your spending habits get out of whack, especially with the holiday shopping madness.
While it’s hard to shake off bad money habits, the hope comes from recognizing what you’re doing and then implementing sensible strategies. Here are 20 money management tips and trip-ups that revolve around common money mistakes.
1. Running Up Balances on High-Interest Credit Cards
This habit especially applies for frivolous purchases or shopping sprees around the holiday season when it’s all too easy to get carried away. Credit cards can put you on a hamster wheel where making minimum payments barely nibbles at the balance.
Among the worst offenders are department store credit cards. The Kohl’s credit card carries a 23.99% APR, and the Sears MasterCard has a jaw-dropping, eye-popping 25.24% APR. And this, of course, doesn’t include late fees.
2. Throwing Money Away on Layaway
While layaway might seem like the sensible way to hold onto an object come holiday time, it’s not always the smart way to net savings. That’s because layaway locks you into a certain price and — if financed by a credit card — additional interest charges.
Also, as the holidays draw closer, stores start rolling out promotions that knock anywhere from 30 to 50 percent off early prices. If you put those items on layaway in September or October, you’re committed to that initial retail price and miss out on the promotions.
3. Trying to Time the Stock Market
When stocks are on the rise, it’s tempting to think that you’re smart enough to know when to get in and get out to make a killing. But the experts say it’s nearly impossible to do this correctly every single time.
“You have to be right twice — you have to get out at the right time, and then you have to get back in at the right time,” said Ken Weber, president of Weber Asset Management and author of “Dear Investor, What the HELL are You Doing?”
4. Ignoring Refurbished Goods
It’s easy to dismiss refurbished electronics as rejects or factory failures. The truth is, many items are returned for the dumbest reasons — such as “I don’t like the color” — and are still subjected to rigorous retesting by manufacturers.
Electronics guru Kyle Wiens at iFixit.com sings the praises of refurbished items. He’s bought refurbished laptops “from my second computer at least, and I think I’ve gone through seven MacBook Pro equivalents over the years.” And the difference in price between refurbished and new usually starts at 15 percent off.
5. Closing the Box on ‘Open Box’ Savings
It’s a great idea to shop online marketplaces such as eBay to see if a vendor has cheaper, brand new “open box” versions of products, which are returned items that are “inspected by the retailer, found to be in working order, and re-sold at discount, rather than returned to the manufacturer,” according to Consumer Reports. The eBay merchant Microresellers — which has a perfect five-star rating on the site — has contributed an informative post on how to find these deals.
“Open Box items offer the best deals on eBay, but they may also present the most risk,” the post noted. “That risk can be minimized with a little common sense and good buying practices.” So, always check the seller’s rating. It’s best to find someone at or near 100 percent positive feedback after thousands of transactions.
6. Forgetting Your Company’s Employee Stock Purchase Plan
Your company’s Employee Stock Purchase Plan typically works by payroll deduction, with the company converting the money into shares every six months at a 15 percent discount. “If you immediately liquidate those shares every time they’re delivered, it’s like getting a guaranteed 15 percent rate of return,” said Dave Yeske, managing director at the wealth management firm Yeske Buie.
7. Paying Full Price for Gas
Even though gas prices are somewhat low, you might not be taking advantage of three free ways to drive the bill down further, such as rewards cards. BP has a Driver Rewards loyalty card — not a credit card — that shaves money off the price at the pump, as does Shell with its Fuel Rewards card. And the free GasBuddy app still ranks as the best for finding the lowest gas prices in your driving area.
8. Paying Full Price for Everything
With a plethora of bargain sites ranging from Groupon to DealNews, it’s a wonder why people shop at department stores or malls and pay the manufacturer’s suggested retail price on anything. Take advantage of coupon and deal sites to keep more money in your wallet year-round.
9. Paying Sales Tax
Sales tax can get very expensive in places such as Chicago where it’s a hefty 10.25 percent — the highest in the country, reports Fortune. But thankfully, some online vendors don’t charge a dime for sales tax. Although there are multiple bills in the works to “close the loophole that allows consumers to skip out on paying sales tax on [online] purchases,” TIME Money reported that “online shoppers won’t be forced into paying sales tax anytime soon.”
10. Not Having a Shopping Accountability Partner
One big problem with holiday shopping is the lack of accountability when we’re hauling the bags and digging the deals. Spouses can do each other a favor by serving as accountability partners and asking questions such as, “What’s being spent, and spent wisely? How’s the budget holding up?” The idea here is not to play Holiday Police, but to praise your sweetie when goals are met — and gently steer things back when they drift off course.
Read More: 40 Ways to Save Money Over the Holidays
11. Not Shopping Ahead for 2016
The worst time to buy Halloween paraphernalia is in the month before, and the worst time to buy winter gear is in the winter. So, why not buy your fall clothes for 2016 right now, when they’re “past season” and stores are eager to dump ’em to make way for the high-priced stuff? Buying items one to three seasons behind their price peak guarantees you’ll get a bargain.
12. Impulse Shopping
It’s tempting to spend money on impulse buys when you’re caught up in the passion of sales galore. But you wouldn’t want to come home from the supermarket with a 20-pound cheese wheel you bought on a whim, right? Think long and hard about what you need before you head out and stand by that list.
You should take advantage of sales as they pop up but tally all your projected expenses for the season and set a budget for each category. Holiday fruitcakes, by the way, go under the category “lethal projectiles.”
13. Not Taking Advantage of Your Company’s 401k Match
A 2014 analysis of more than 3.5 million employees eligible for defined contribution plans — such as the 401k — by human capital and management consulting services firm Aon Hewitt found that nearly 40 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds and 31 percent of 30- to 39-year-olds save at levels below the company match threshold.
The analysis provides an example of how this move can cost these workers money over time:
And if they don’t? Kiss that cool million goodbye.
14. Lacking a Clearly Defined Plan
From shopping trips to investment moves, it’s futile to sweep the numbers under the rug and hope for the best. You need a plan to get the most of your money and avoid costly errors.
“Whether it’s for retirement, education, excess wealth or any other portfolio, first determine a specific goal,” said Peter Mallouk, chief investment officer of Creative Planning and author of The New York Times bestseller “The 5 Mistakes Every Investor Makes and How to Avoid Them.” “Everything else flows from that purpose,” he said.
15. Tapping Into Your Retirement Fund for Extra Money
Dipping into your retirement fund to finance emergencies is one thing — financing a kitchen renovation or taking a cruise with your retirement dough is another. The penalties are stiff coming and going if you take a distribution from your IRA before age 59 1/2. On the front end, you might have to pay a tax penalty of 10 percent with the money also considered taxable income. And on the back end, that money is no longer compounding for you. That $10,000 you took out could have amounted to a six-digit loss over three or more decades.
16. Spending Too Much While Eating Out
Sure, you don’t know how to make Thai food and don’t feel like cooking dinner. But consider how that attitude drains your wallet over time. Say you eat out for lunch five times a week and spend $15 on each meal. That’s $3,900 you spend a year. By eating out for lunch just two times a week instead of five, you save $2,340.
17. Not Inflating Your Tires Properly
There are many ways to waste money when it comes to your car, and this is one. Keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent, according to FuelEconomy.gov. Imagine that: A little bit of air keeps gas prices from inflating.
18. Confusing Needs and Wants
Whether you’re looking for discretionary cash or more investment funds, it’s too easy in the budgeting process to overlook places where you blow your dough. But, you need to understand what is a need and what is a want. “It’s amazing when I work through the numbers that some people think manicures, landscapers and maids are a need,” said Michael Chadwick, CEO of Chadwick Financial.
19. Giving to Wasteful Charities
The winter holidays bring out the best in people, but charities shouldn’t be painted with a broad brush, as some make much better use of your donations than others. A good first step is to check out a non-profit at the Charity Navigator website, which breaks down the particulars for thousands of charities.
Gambling is an epidemic in this country, and compulsive gambling is a very real disorder affecting an estimated an estimated 2.5 million adults in the U.S., according to Rehab International. But the simple fact of the matter is that casinos and gambling parlors aren’t built because people win more than they lose. In every table game from blackjack to roulette, the odds are against you.
Read More: 5 Quick Fixes for the Worst Money Mistakes
21. Neglecting New Customer Specials
Whether you’re heading to the new hair salon in town for the first time or getting chiropractic treatment from a wellness center, don’t forget to ask about new customer and client specials. Some small business owners that offer personal care and wellness services want repeat business and will invite new customers to come in and try their services at a discounted rate.
22. Skipping Happy Hour Specials
You might not be extremely hungry come happy hour, but this is the perfect time to enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant at a discount. You can take advantage of buy-one-get-one-free deals on many drinks and appetizers and turn your entire visit into an early dinner.
23. Not Clipping Grocery Coupons
Whether you need to stock up on snacks or cereal, don’t forget to check your newspaper for this week’s coupons. If you don’t have access to the newspaper, be sure to check out the store’s circular and other special offers on products you buy every day so you aren’t paying extra on each grocery run.
24. Skipping the Car Warranty
Warranties can cover some of the costs of many common car repairs and end up saving you money in out-of-pocket expenses every time you head back to the dealership or garage. Seek out a warranty you can afford, but read the fine print — some third-party warranty providers often have many restrictions and limitations.
25. Skipping the Phone Warranty
Make sure your smartphone is protected with at least a basic phone warranty. That way, you don’t rack up a bill of a few hundred dollars just to have a cracked screen or a power button replaced.
26. Leaving Unused Appliances Plugged In
If you leave the house in a hurry and forget to unplug the coffee maker or leave lamps and small appliances plugged in all day, you're wasting energy. Lower your energy bills by making the effort to unplug any appliances you aren’t using at any given time. From shaving tools and hairdryers to radios and computer equipment, it pays to simply unplug.
27. Grocery Shopping When You're Hungry
If your grocery store bills are always high, you might be buying much more than you actually need. Shopping on a full stomach could be all it takes to trim down that grocery bill. So the next time you head to the supermarket, eat a meal or a snack to resist the urge to buy food you really don't need.
28. Ignoring In-Store Savings Apps
Many retailers and drugstores, including Target and Walgreens, have developed smartphone apps that can help you find coupons and discounts on your everyday purchases. Ignoring these apps could add extra dollars to your bill, so be sure to pull out the smartphone as you make your shopping rounds.
29. Making Pricey Credit Card Balance Transfers
Whether you’ve been targeted with a low-interest or zero-interest balance transfer offer from your favorite credit card issuer, don’t make the mistake of transferring thousands of dollars over without reading the fine print. Many credit card companies charge balance transfer fees as a percentage of the total transfer, so you could end up paying a few hundred dollars in transfer charges that negate the benefits of a lower interest rate.
Take the time to calculate the total cost of the balance transfer so you don’t end up making a costly decision in an effort to consolidate debt.
Read More: 40 Mindless Ways You're Burning Through Your Paycheck
30. Overlooking Generics
When you’re buying grocery and household staples like rice, oatmeal and cleaning supplies, being loyal to a particular brand might be costing you. Unless you’re using coupons, you can save on the cost of many staple items just by switching over to a generic brand.
31. Stocking Up On Bottled Water
You know you need to drink eight glasses a day, but don’t let that goal of staying well-hydrated burn a hole through your wallet. Save some money by investing in a water filter that attaches to your faucet or a water filter pitcher so you're only paying for replacement filters after your initial purchase.
32. Paying High Shipping Fees
Pay attention to shipping charges posted at checkout, or you could be overpaying for items that otherwise qualify for free shipping. You could save on every order if you pay attention to stores' free shipping policies — many will ship items for free when your order is above a certain dollar amount, for example — and find out if you can get a discount on shipping by placing a subscription order for items you buy regularly. Combining orders to meet the minimum, and planing ahead so you don’t have to pay for express shipping, can help you offset the cost of your next online purchase.
33. Paying Checking Account Fees
What’s your bank’s policy on checking account fees? Some waive monthly fees for new customers during a promotional period but will then post a $10 or $12 fee per month if you don’t meet certain balance requirements.
Make sure you’re aware of these terms and conditions so you can maintain a balance that won’t incur fees. If you can’t meet the requirement, talk to a banker about switching over to free checking account — or even switching banks.
34. Neglecting Your Gym Membership
Sixty-seven percent of people with gym memberships never use them, and $39 of a gym membership fee go to waste from under utilization, according to 2015 industry data compiled by StatisticBrain.com. You could be losing dollars a day just by skipping a few workout sessions a week or neglecting your fitness regimen altogether.
Consider the cost of not going to the gym the next time you contemplate skipping a workout. If you don’t think you will make full use of your membership, talk to the gym about canceling your membership or putting it on hold.
35. Missing Post-Holiday Sales
If you’re the party planner of the family, love to decorate or just enjoy arts and crafts, make sure you’re not overpaying for supplies. From party hats to confetti, you can find a wide range of party supplies and craft items on sale at party stores and craft stores right after a major holiday. This is the perfect time to stock up on holiday-themed items as well as decor and craft supplies that you can use year-round.
36. Buying Gift Cards at a Store or Restaurant
The next time you're thinking about buying a gift card for a friend of family member, don't buy it directly from the store or restaurant. Instead, shop warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club or Costco to buy cards at a higher value but for less. You can find gift cards for fast food restaurants, chain restaurants and more with values of $25, $50 or more -- but the actual price you pay is a few dollars less. Also, you can purchase discounted gift cards through sites like GiftCardGranny.com, Raise.com and Cardpool.com.
37. Not Signing Up for Email Offers
When you’ve found your new go-to online retailer for home furniture, personal care items or makeup, make sure you're not paying the full retail price on your first order. Many online retailers will offer a discount on your first order if you sign up for their email newsletter. And others might send exclusive discounts and special offers to email subscribers throughout the month. Don’t miss out on these offers, or you could be paying extra on your first and future orders.
38. Last-Minute Grocery Shopping
You already know a trip to the grocery store on an empty stomach is never a good idea, but don't make another common mistake: running to the grocery store at the last minute to buy items you could have bought at a lower price had you checked the weekly grocery store circular, in-store coupon book or waited a day for new weekly sales to begin. Take the time to map out your grocery pickup strategy, and make note of available deals and coupons so you're paying the lowest possible price at any given time.
39. Not Using All Your Warehouse Club Benefits
You made the effort to pay your annual membership dues at the warehouse club, so make sure you’re taking full advantage of member benefits — beyond having access to the store. From discounts on eyeglasses to travel, you can save money on a variety of services and products. Review your membership agreement to learn more about perks beyond grocery, clothing and household item discounts available to you.
Read More: 40 Money Habits That Can Leave You Broke
40. Missing Bill Payments
If you don’t open your mail regularly or keep track of bill due dates, it’s easy to fall into the trap of playing catch-up when you realize your bills are overdue. Most companies will charge you a late fee, and some credit card companies might cancel your promotional rate if you fail to pay on time. Do this long enough, and the late payments could show up on your credit report and lower your credit score.
41. Choosing Valet Parking to Save Time
When you’re running late and need to be at an event, you might not have the time or patience to find a parking spot near your final destination. So, you take advantage of valet parking to save time — but you end up throwing away money in the process.
Unless you’re prepared to spend $5 to $10 or more plus a tip for each event, map out a low-traffic route and leave as early as possible so you don’t have to pay extra just to park your car.
42. Buying Food at Sporting Events
You’ve probably already spent a pretty penny on tickets to cheer on your favorite sports team, so make sure you’re staying within budget by taking care of food purchases outside of the stadium. Many sports venues charge higher prices on snacks and meals because they know attendees won’t have many options from the stands. Eat a bigger meal on game day before you head to the field, or pack a few snacks for the road so you don’t have to buy food at the game.
43. Paying Gym Signup or Initiation Fees
You’ve recommitted to your fitness routine so buying a new gym membership is probably at the top of your priority list right now. But as you start searching for your ideal workout destination, make sure you’re not wasting money on signup fees and other costs that can easily be avoided.
New gyms opening up in your neighborhood might offer free passes and discounts for new members. If so, take advantage of those deals.
44. Parking at Hotel Restaurants
Treating your significant other to a gourmet meal or planning a special gathering at a hotel restaurant can be a splurge-worthy venture, and you’ll find plenty of parking at the hotel. However, non-hotel guests are usually charged a daily parking fee as they exit the gate. Make sure to ask the restaurant or hotel's front desk to validate your parking so you aren’t paying an extra $20 per visit.
45. Skipping the Dentist
If you're experiencing any discomfort in your teeth, don't delay your dentist appointment. Schedule an appointment, and make room in your budget for dental products your dentist might recommend. Delaying your dental visits could lead to costly dental treatments in the near future.
46. Skipping Annual Doctor Visits
If you’ve been skipping your annual doctor visits in an effort to save on the co-pay or because you don’t think you have any serious medical issues, you might be setting yourself up for costly health problems down the line. Make full use of your insurance benefits, and budget for additional visits your doctor recommends so you aren’t putting your health at risk.
47. Not Shopping Around to Fill Your Prescription
When the doctor recommends any type of prescription drug, don’t assume your insurance will cover everything. Depending on your insurance provider, you could be responsible for a co-pay on all prescriptions or have to pay a portion of the cost out of pocket. When that’s the case, take the time to shop around for the best prices at drugstores and pharmacies in the area.
Consumer Reports found that your next prescription drug could cost as much as 10 times more at one pharmacy over another. Explore options at a warehouse club or even retail stores like Target and Walmart to get the best deal.
48. Not Taking Advantage of Company Wellness Benefits
If you work for a corporation or larger company, your employer might offer health and wellness perks in addition to health insurance benefits. Many promote these benefits as a way to encourage work-life balance. Don’t waste your money on a gym membership, chiropractic adjustments or even counseling services if your employer offers to foot some or all of the bill.
49. Buying Products at the Salon or Spa
You walk out of the salon or spa with a bag full of fancy products your stylist or massage therapist recommended so you can re-create the experience at home — but you probably burned a small hole in your wallet by doing so. Instead of giving in to the expensive massage oil or shampoo, have a little patience and save your money. When you get home, check out online megastores like Amazon to find authentic brand-name products at a discount.
50. Ignoring Rebate Offers
It’s easy to miss rebate offers that are not heavily advertised in store circulars or even listed next to an item for sale. But before you make a purchase, ask the retailer to find out if there are any manufacturer’s rebates available. Then, take the time to compare prices online and offline so you're paying the lowest possible price.
Lou Carlozo contributed to the reporting for this article.
This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.