We all spend money on things we don't really need, and that's OK. Spending too much money on things we don't need is what needs to change. There are literally thousands of ways you could potentially cut back, but here are 15 common and often costly things that many of us could save money on. How many of these do you spend too much on?
1. Bank fees: If you're paying a monthly maintenance fee for your checking account, figure out a way to avoid it. Generally, this means switching to direct deposit or maintaining a minimum balance. If you're paying overdraft fees, see if you can link a savings account or credit card for overdraft protection, as the fees are often much lower. And, under no circumstances should you pay non-bank ATM fees. If your bank doesn't have a convenient ATM network, it may be time to change banks.
2. Game purchases: I'm talking about those in-app purchases on Candy Crush Saga or any other games. Those $1 to $5 charges can add up pretty fast. And what are you really getting for your money?
3. Credit card interest: If you owe $5,000 at the national average credit card interest rate of about 16%, you're paying $800 per year just for the privilege of owing money. Read that sentence again. Does that seem like a good use of your hard-earned cash?
4. Dining out: I'm not saying that you should never eat out, but this can be an expensive habit. Even cutting back by one restaurant meal per month can save you hundreds of dollars each year.
5. Not using coupons: You don't need to be an extreme couponer, but it's surprising how many people will pass up a deal simply because they don't want to carry coupons around, or don't have their grocery store's frequent shopper card. It's free -- use it.
6. Smoking: This should go without saying, but as a former smoker myself, I know firsthand that many pack-a-day smokers simply don't realize how much this habit costs. Health concerns aside, smoking a pack every day costs in the ballpark of $2,000 per year -- and that's if you live in one of the states where it's relatively cheap to smoke. In New York City, for example, that nasty habit costs an average of more than $5,000.
7. Cable or satellite TV: These days, services like Netflix, Hulu, and others have made it possible to live without cable. However, if you're not ready to give up cable or satellite TV, that's OK. The existence of these other options has given the average person much more bargaining power over their cable company than in previous years. If you're paying full price for TV, call your service provider and say that you're thinking of canceling because your bill is too high and you're just going to use a streaming service instead. You might be shocked at the discounts you're offered -- I have a friend who pays $45 per month for a popular satellite TV service, including features such as HBO and whole-home DVR.
8. Bottled water (and other bottled drinks): Let's say you spend $4 per week on a case of bottled water. This adds up to $208 per year. Meanwhile, a Brita filter pitcher can be found for less than $25.
9. Taking your car to the dealership: For warranty-covered issues, by all means go to the dealership. For most other maintenance and repair issues, it's much cheaper to go elsewhere. Even a non-dealer oil change can save you $30 or more. Or, better yet, learn to do simple maintenance by yourself.
10. Extended warranties: Sometimes extended warranties can be worth the price, but many times they're unnecessary. For example, let's say you're buying a $100 printer and are offered a four-year extended warranty for $25. This is a high price to pay, considering you'll probably end up upgrading the printer before the warranty is up. For most small electronics and appliances, the factory warranty is sufficient. In fact, Consumer Reports has said that products rarely break within the extended warranty period.
11. Brand name everything: Now, in many cases, certain brands just make a better product, plain and simple. For example, when I go the gym, I won't wear any kind of shirt except my Under Armour heat gear. However, there are other items where the difference in quality isn't quite worth the price -- especially in the grocery store. Why buy name-brand sugar or salt when the store brand is the exact same thing?
12. Magazine subscriptions: I'm not talking about magazines you actually look forward to reading each month. Those can be well worth the cost. I'm talking about those that you might glance at, but generally just end up cluttering up your house. In these days of auto-renew, lots of people keep getting magazine subscriptions they no longer want, but haven't gotten around to canceling yet.
13. Memberships you don't use (or rarely use): Walk into any fitness center in the U.S. and they'll tell you that their busiest time of year, by far, is January. People buy memberships as part of a New Year's Resolution, but then lose motivation after a few months. If this sounds familiar, or if you have any other types of memberships you no longer use, now is a great time to get rid of them.
14. Rental car insurance: Insurance is important, but when you rent a car with a credit card, the card issuer generally provides rental car protection. Your own car insurance probably provides some level of protection as well. Unless you don't have other auto insurance and didn't pay for your reservation with a credit card, the coverage they offer is probably a waste of money.
15. Your landline phone: Do you really need a landline anymore? Your cell phone probably offers unlimited long distance, and you can fax documents online. Even if it's costing you just $10 per month, save your money.
The savings can really add up
I'm not saying that you should never spend money on these things (with the exceptions of smoking and rental car insurance). Quite the opposite -- you work hard for your money, so treating yourself and occasionally being able to pay for convenience is important. I already mentioned that I love certain name-brand products, and I also have no plans to get rid of satellite TV anytime soon -- I just like watching live sporting events too much, and there's really no other service that compares.
Rather, my point is to get you thinking about just how much you're spending on these and other "extra" expenses and realize just how much you can save by just making a few small cuts. For example, cutting out just one restaurant meal per month, taking your car somewhere other than the dealership for service, and replacing your bottled water with a filter pitcher could easily translate to more than $1,000 in savings over the course of a year.
How many ways are you spending money on non-essentials, and how much could you save if you cut back a little?