We've all got sinkholes in our lives into which countless precious dollars fall. Mine include books, movies, and games. I have many more games than I really need, considering how much time I have to play them. I have stacks and stacks of books to read, when local libraries have the same books available, for free. I have piles of movies (and TV shows on DVD) to watch ... again, more than I really need. Still, I do play and read and watch some of them, regularly, and it's nice to know they're there when I want them.

If I were a little bit smarter, though, I'd rein in those expenses, because the money I save could be deployed toward my retirement. Imagine that -- I might be able to retire earlier if I save more now. Then I'd have lots of time for books, movies, and games.

On our Credit Cards and Consumer Debt discussion board the other day, I ran across a link to an interesting Bankrate.com article titled "Top 10 Money Drains." Here they are:  

  1. Coffee
  2. Cigarettes
  3. Alcohol
  4. Bottled water
  5. Manicures
  6. Car washes
  7. Weekday lunches out
  8. Vending machine snacks
  9. Interest charged on credit cards
  10. Unused memberships

The coffee and cigarettes are no surprise. I've written about such costs many times before, and you've surely read about how you can save so many dollars by reducing or forgoing such purchases. But alcohol was an expense I hadn't thought about too much. As the article noted, at $5 a pop, two beers a day add up to $3,650 each year. And as one of our community members, who is also a bartender, pointed out, plenty of people spend quite a bit more -- many between $3,000 and $10,000 per year just on alcohol.

Similarly, I hadn't given manicures much thought, but they apparently typically cost around $20. Done weekly, they can add up to more than $1,000 per year. This struck some people, like me, as an expense many could easily do without. But if appearing "professional" at work gets you better pay and better treatment, it could be worth it. Here's one story about a Fool community member who's making the most of her appearance:

My boss has commented on my appearance and I think the fact that I dress well (and have decent table manners) is why I get invited to many lunch meetings and asked to represent the company at events. I think the positive feedback she gets on me is why I've been topping the raise percentage each year, and I know of at least one department that would like to steal me, if it wasn't for angering my boss. When I say 'dress well' I don't mean expensively. I usually wear a dress or pantsuit, hose & heels. I rarely spend over $60 for an outfit. Dressing in a classic business style does get me noticed and appreciated.

That's a point worth thinking about -- sometimes the seemingly extra sums we pay might provide more benefit than they cost. It's a little like those fund-raising letters that charities send out. If the charity takes in $2 for every $1 it spends on mailings, then it's worth it.

Other drains
Of course, the 10 listed drains are not alone. I mentioned some of my own drains at the beginning of this article. It's easy to spend more on basics like food, clothing, and shelter than you have to. Pet care can cost a bundle. Many hobbies also consume money.

What drains can you think of? Share your thoughts on our board -- or just drop in to see what others are saying.

Learn more, save more, make more in investments
Finally, if you want to save even more money, do yourself a favor and test-drive, for free, our Motley Fool Green Light newsletter, which aims to deliver at least $450 in savings ideas each month. Even if you tap just half of that, you might well end up saving $2,500 per year thanks to the newsletter. The free trial gives you full access to all past issues.

Motley Fool Green Light also sports solid investment ideas. One mutual fund it recommended last year sports a five-year average annual return of 13.3%, beating the market by nearly two percentage points. Its annual expense ratio is about 1%, and its minimum initial investment is a modest $1,500. Focusing on large-cap value plays, its recent top holdings included Cemex (NYSE:CX), Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER), Whirlpool (NYSE:WHR), and Altria Group (NYSE:MO).

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Cemex. Cemex is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation and a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Try any of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.