Published in: Banks | Aug. 20, 2019

8 of the Most Wasteful Money Habits and How You Can Break Them

By:  Lyle Daly

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Feel like your money keeps slipping away? Wasteful money habits might be to blame.

100 dollar bill burning -- wasting money cash

Image source: Getty Images

It’s just about impossible to find a person who never wastes money. We’re not robots, after all, so it’s normal to spend frivolously now and then.

There are different levels of wasteful spending, though, and if you do it too much or make a habit of it, then it can become a problem financially. You may find yourself unable to save money or falling behind on your bills because of the amount you waste.

To fix your spending habits, you need to know where you’re going wrong. Based on our study of wasteful spending habits, here are some of the ways that people waste money and how you can correct each one.

1. Paying excessive or unnecessary interest

The prevalence of credit makes it easy to end up paying excessive unnecessary interest. This happens often with credit cards, as you’ll pay interest for carrying balances from month to month.

Another cause is those zero-interest financing programs that many stores offer. These programs are usually deferred interest offers, meaning the financing company can charge you interest if you miss a payment or fail to pay off the full balance within a certain timeframe.

How to break it: Treat your credit card like it’s a debit card. Only use it for purchases you can afford and pay it off in full every month.

Avoid financing programs whenever possible, and if you decide to use one, make sure you understand the terms so that you can avoid extra interest charges.

2. Throwing out leftovers or expired food

You cook more than one meal’s worth of food or you lose track of some ingredients at the back of the shelf, and before you know it, your food has gone bad.

It happens to just about everyone, but if you’re tossing food weekly, that’s going to add up.

How to break it: Plan your meals for the week and only buy the ingredients that you need.

Keep in mind also that the "best by" date isn’t a hard rule you always need to follow. Some items can last longer than the date listed. For example, I know from experience that cereal can taste surprisingly good even three years past its best by date.

3. Impulse buying

Considering all the effort stores make to drive impulse buys, it’s no surprise that this is a common wasteful spending habit.

You may have noticed how brick-and-mortar stores put those tempting, last-minute buys near the checkout. For example, clothing stores may have bracelets and other accessories at the register, and grocery stores often have candy and packs of gum in that area.

How to break it: Make a list of what you need before you go shopping and stick to it. You can also give yourself a limit on impulse buys, such as one or two per month.

4. Frequenting fast-food places and dine-in restaurants

When you want a bite to eat and you’re either on the go or just don’t feel like cooking, fast-food places and dine-in restaurants are two very convenient options.

The problem is that they will almost always cost you more than preparing your own food, so if you’re eating this way often, you’ll also be spending much more money.

How to break it: Start meal prepping so you have pre-made meals that you can take with you to work or school. You can also buy snacks to help stave off hunger in between meals.

5. Overpaying for digital services

Digital services are a dime a dozen, so plenty of consumers sign up for several different services that they don’t really need. This is especially common with digital subscriptions, where consumers often drastically underestimate how much those services are costing them.

How to break it: Review the digital services you’re paying for monthly and cancel any that you aren’t using on a regular basis.

6. Failing to return unneeded items after purchase

You buy a product, realize you don’t need it, and promise yourself that you’ll return it as soon as you have time. But then you forget all about those plans. By the time you remember, the return window has passed, and you’re stuck with something you don’t need.

How to break it: It’s best to put a stop to this problem before it even starts. Spend more time thinking about whether you truly need a product before you buy it.

If you do buy something that you need to return, check how long the return policy lasts and use a calendar app to set a reminder to return it.

7. Buying overpriced beverages

There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to the occasional fancy drink order at your favorite café or bar, but these beverages can get expensive when you’re buying them on a regular basis.

How to break it: Learn how to make your favorite drinks yourself so you can whip them up at home.

8. Not comparing prices or looking for discounts

It’s always frustrating when you buy a product for one price, only to discover that there was a better deal available. Depending on what you’re buying, you could end up paying much more just because you didn’t shop for comparisons or see what discounts are available.

How to break it: With any big purchases, I like to search for the product online to see which stores are selling it and at what price. A good way to stay informed about discount offers is to sign up for newsletters at a few coupon sites.

Fixing up those wasteful money habits

You don’t need to strive for perfection with how you spend money, but it is always a good idea to cut down on wasteful habits where you can. Even a few adjustments could mean more money in your bank account every month.

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