The 10 Top Reasons Americans Waste Money

How many of these reasons have caused you to waste your hard-earned money?

Christy Bieber
Christy Bieber
Aug 12, 2019 at 6:15PM
Investment Planning

You work hard for your money -- the last thing you want to do is waste it. Unfortunately, frivolous purchases and unnecessary spending are a way of life for many Americans, with recent research from The Ascent showing more than six in 10 Americans admit to wasting a "considerable amount" of money over the course of their lives. 

This wasted money takes all kinds of forms, from cash thrown away on unnecessary fees to spending on fast food and impulse buys. Unfortunately, it can come at the cost of your financial security if you're wasting too much and not doing the right things with your cash. And, sadly, it's not even making most of us any happier. In fact, three-quarters of survey respondents told The Ascent they'd spend more on things that made them happier if they weren't wasting so much. 

So why are we so careless with our hard-earned cash when wasting money doesn't even bring us joy? Here are the top 10 reasons Americans waste so much money.

Sad man looking at money flying from wallet.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Really wanting something

Desire was a leading cause of financial waste, with 64% of survey respondents indicating that really wanting something was a top reason for wasting cash.

There's nothing wrong with buying things you have a strong desire for -- but you need to make sure that your purchase fits in your budget. This means allocating money to savings and important financial goals and then setting aside some for splurges so you can buy the things you want guilt-free. 

2. Convenience

Convenience was also a common reason for wasteful spending, cited by 59% of survey respondents. 

To stop wasting money on convenience, take steps to make the cheaper option the more convenient choice. For example, if you use ridesharing services too much, close your Uber account and delete the app and start carrying a fully loaded subway card or bus pass. This can turn public transportation into your default option. Or, if you tend to waste on dining out, prepare some meals and keep them in the freezer to make cooking at home easier than calling for take-out. 

3. To feel good

Sometimes, buying something just boosts your mood, which is probably why 52% of people indicate they waste money to make themselves feel good. 

You can avoid this type of frivolous spending by making a go-to list of free activities that also improve your attitude. These could include going for a walk in the park or calling a friend. Whenever you're tempted to hit the mall or start browsing online stores because you're feeling down, pull out your list and pick a different activity instead that costs you nothing. 

4. Because an item was discounted

Marketers are really good at getting people to buy stuff because it's on sale -- which is why 40% of people indicate they waste money by buying discounted items. 

Don't fall for these gimmicks. Keep a running list of things you actually really want or need to buy, and don't purchase any item unless it's on that list -- no matter how good the sale. You're not really saving if you buy something you wouldn't otherwise have purchased just because it's cheaper than usual. And remember, another sale will always come along if you truly need the item in the future.  

5. Negligence resulting in interest or fees

There are lots of ways a minor mistake can cost you, whether you overdraft your bank account or get hit with a fee for paying a bill late. So it's not surprising 38% of people report their own negligence has resulted in money being wasted on interest and fees.

You can avoid this by getting organized about your cash. Use banking or budgeting apps to remind you when your accounts are getting low or a bill is due. You can set up automated payments so you never have to worry about being late on a bill again. 

If you do make a mistake, call the company that charged the fee and ask if they're willing to waive it. If you don't make a habit of paying late, they'll usually work with you to keep you happy. 

6. A mistaken belief the item is affordable

Around 37% of survey respondents indicated they wasted money because they mistakenly thought they could better afford an item they bought.

If this happens to you often, consider breaking down the cost of your purchases into your hourly rate. Figure out how much you make an hour (divide your salary by the number of hours worked in a year). Then see how many hours you have to work to buy something. That big-screen TV may no longer seem worth it once you learn you have to work 20 hours to afford the purchase price. 

7. Making a big purchase at the wrong time

Buying something at the wrong time was a reason cited by 36% of survey respondents for wasting cash. Whether this means timing the market poorly or buying before you were really ready, this kind of purchase can be difficult to avoid. 

The key is to research as much as possible rather than rushing into any purchase. Always look at historic pricing trends and, when available, projections for the future so you can see if you're buying at an opportune time or should wait. 

8. Not realizing how multiple purchases add up

Around a third of survey respondents told The Ascent they wasted cash because they were unaware of how small purchases could add up. 

Tracking your spending can ensure this doesn't happen. If you track spending for a month by using an app or manually entering transactions into a spreadsheet each day, you'll likely be shocked to learn exactly where your money is going. The good news is, once you identify problem areas, you can set a budget to limit spending on all the little things that add up. 

9. Not realizing how much an item costs in the long run

Looking at short-term costs, rather than long-term costs, can be very problematic. In fact, 32% of survey respondents blamed a failure to consider total cost over the long run as a reason for overspending. 

This is easy to avoid if you always look at the big picture. That means focusing not only on monthly payments but on total price, including ongoing maintenance or upkeep expenses. If you can't easily fit the item into your budget -- without compromising big financial goals -- don't buy it. 

10. Falling for limited-time offers

This mistake, which 31% of survey respondents said caused them to waste, is similar to falling for marketing gimmicks that prompt you to buy discounted items.

Limited-time offers are rarely truly limited in time. And unless you really need the item now, any time limits on your ability to buy won't matter anyway. When someone is pushing you to buy quickly without thinking about it, that's usually reason enough to say no -- chances are it isn't that good of a deal anyway. 

Avoid the top 10 reasons for wasted cash

Now you know the leading reasons Americans waste so much money -- and you've got some suggestions for what to do about it. Hopefully, you can stop the frivolous spending and put the money you were previously throwing away to better use. As The Ascent's research makes clear, you'll be much happier if you do.