Saving money is no easy feat, especially when life's expenses get out of hand. Of course, struggling to save in the face of rising costs is one thing, but wasting money needlessly is a completely different story. Here are three ways you're probably throwing money away without even realizing it.
1. Wasted food
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical American family spent close to $4,000 on groceries in 2014. Yet the National Resources Defense Council reports that Americans usually wind up throwing away 25% of the food they purchase each year. If you're the like average American, that's $1,000 a year gone to waste for no good reason. Now think of the things you might do with $1,000 instead. You could use it to pay off debt, save for retirement, or invest to meet some of your short-term goals. In fact, imagine you're able to invest $1,000 a year instead of flushing it down the toilet in the form of uneaten food. If your investments generate a 6% return -- which is actually well below the stock market's average -- over the course of 20 years, you'll grow your savings to $40,000, which is enough to make you rethink your current habits.
2. Upgrading electronics needlessly
Our collective obsession with technology may be costing us more than we think. According to a recent Gallup survey, 44% of Americans opt to upgrade their smartphones as soon as they're eligible, which is generally every two years. And it's not just cellphones we're all so eager to replace. These days, it seems like everything we buy has a magical way of becoming obsolete within a year or two of purchase, from laptops to TVs to GPS devices -- or at least that's what the companies who sell these items would have us believe. According to a study by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Americans spend about 17% of their monthly mortgage or rent payment on technology. This means the average American with a $1,500 mortgage bill spends over $250 a month on gadgets instead of investing that money or putting it in the bank. If you were to cut that annual spending in half, you'd save over $1,500 a year and still have plenty of cool toys to show off.
3. ATM and banking fees
In the grand scheme of wasting money, there's perhaps no greater offense than paying for cash that's rightfully yours. A study by Tufts University confirms that American households lose a collective $43 billion per year to costs such as check-cashing services and ATM fees. For the average family, the price of accessing cash is a ridiculous $1,739 a year. Even if you fall well below that average, there's a good chance you're still paying more than necessary to get your hands on money that's yours to begin with. According to Bankrate, it costs an average of $4.52 to withdraw money from an ATM that's not affiliated with your own bank. Make one such transaction per week, and you're out $235 dollars over the course of a year. Clearly, there's a lot to be saved by planning your cash withdrawals in advance and sticking to your bank alone.
As humans, we're wired to seek out convenience and luxury in just about every form imaginable. And while it's easier to take money out of the nearest bank, get a new computer as soon as your current one starts to slow down, and grab food haphazardly off the supermarket shelves in lieu of creating a carefully curated grocery list, these practices can cost you not only your savings, but the opportunity to put your money to better use. So the next time you whip out your wallet, think hard about what that transaction entails. You'll be amazed at how much you stand to save by putting some of your old habits to bed.