My neighborhood’s big coordinated garage sale gave me a surprising wake-up call. It’s one thing to see a family’s stuff spread out in the front yard, but quite another to see a whole neighborhood’s castoffs at once. All I could think of as I walked from one yard to the next was all the dumb decisions that led to this colossal display of stuff— purchased with dollars, now offered for pennies.
Imagine how much cash you’d have right now if you could get a do-over on all the thoughtless purchases you’ve made in your lifetime. Me? I’d be one wealthy woman!
I can’t tell you what those little money wasters are in your life (the five pairs of black shoes in your closet? dozens of owl figurines for your collection?). All you have to do is walk through your house to see what you’ve been throwing away your money on.
I’ve learned that there are a lot of “conveniences” I don’t really need. Once I end them, it’s like giving myself a raise.
Just think about it. If you can cut out the stupid stuff, you may have the money you need to start a serious savings program or pay down your debts. Or stop running up the credit card. Read and learn from my mistakes.
1. Extended Warranties
Generally, they’re not worth the money. (The only thing I now have an extended warranty on is my laptop computer, and that’s because I practically beat laptops to death.)
If a new gadget or appliance will fail, research tells us it will do so during the manufacturer’s warranty period or long after the extended warranty has expired. That makes extended warranties, which can cost anywhere from $5 to hundreds of dollars, a big profit center for retailers and a useless expense for consumers.
If you’re worried about a breakdown, take the money you’d spend on a warranty and stash it into a special savings account. If your item fails, you’ll have the money to repair it. If not (which is more likely), you’ll have stashed away a nice nest egg in three or five years when everything’s gone well.
2. Gym Fees
The sales pitch is compelling, and the promise of better health is hard to deny. But getting roped into a legal obligation to pay a big monthly fee for the next two or three years—whether you use the gym or not—makes no sense.
Find a gym or health club that requires no contract (you pay by the month if and when you desire). Or don’t pay at all: There’s a big wonderful world out there where you can walk, jog or run for free!
3. Fast-Food Runs
You know how ridiculous it is to spend $3 or $6 for coffee—over and over, day after day. But how about the other snacks and food purchases that can cause your bank account to evaporate? A morning egg sandwich here, an afternoon bag of chips there. Before you know it, you’ve spent $40 or more a week.
Before you leave the house in the morning, figure out how much cash you’ll need for the day, then take only that amount with you. Bring your own snacks and pack a brown bag to reduce costs even further.
4. Phone Apps and Games
OK, so it’s cool to have apps, filters, and games on your devices. And sure, $2 to $3 a pop or $10 a month may not seem like a lot of money for so much fun. But watch out. You can blow through a lot of cash in no time.
Make a hard-and-fast rule that you do not pay for apps or games—then find them for free. They’re out there; you have to search for the ones that work on your particular phone and with your service provider. Check the Apple Store for iPhone, Google Play for Android.
5. Fees (Late, Over Limit, or Worse)
Not paying attention to your bills is a big mistake these days, when banks do all they can to boost their profits. Late credit card payments can mean a $39 whack on the wrist. Being sloppy with your bank account and bouncing a check can cost you around $27.
Find your inner private detective. Go over every statement and question every entry. Don’t know what it is? Find out! Get bold! Call customer service if you’re charged a fee for something silly, like allowing your balance to drop a few bucks below the agreed-upon minimum or sending your payment a day late. Explain that this is not like you, as evidenced by your clean record. Then ask them to waive the fee or reverse the charge if it has already been assessed to your account.
6. Rental Car Insurance
Saying yes to adding additional insurance coverage to your rental will add anywhere from $9 to $40 or more per day to the cost of the car. That’s a waste if you carry insurance on your cars at home or pay with a credit card that offers rental car insurance as a perk. Your existing auto policy may be all you need if it includes third-party liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage for rentals (most do!).
Before you even get to the car rental counter, call your insurance agent to ensure you’re covered. Check your credit card’s terms and conditions, too—the card you will use to secure this rental. Prepare to be surprised!
7. Computer Software
You got a great deal on that new computer, so why go broke loading it up with software? Before you spend a dime, take a look at all the freeware out there. You’ll find programs written by enthusiasts and distributed with no strings attached: games, graphics, office suites, fonts, and every kind of desktop tool and gadget imaginable.
Get into search mode to find free versions of otherwise pricey programs you’re interested in. Take Adobe Photoshop, for example. It’s cool—perhaps even mandatory if you’re a professional. A quick search for “free Photoshop alternatives” turns up a bevy of options for that super pricey program. Give that a try, and by the way, my favorite Photoshop alternative on that list is Gimp.org. Totally free and quite awesome.
8. Unlimited Texting
Most cell phone plans include a certain number of texts with the basic service. Texting is fun, but it can get out of control in a big hurry. Upgrading to an unlimited plan can add $15 (about $180 per year per phone on your cell plan) so that you can engage in meaningless chatter. How dumb is that?
Forget the upgrades. Scale back to a limited number of text messages for you and the kids. Or consider a lesser-known cheap basic prepaid cell phone plan. A little self-discipline could be a good thing for everyone involved.
9. Bottled Water
You’ve got to hand it to the bottled water industry. They’ve convinced otherwise rational people to pay around 800 times more to purchase water in a bottle rather than get it from the tap. These days a 16-oz bottle of “spring” water goes for about a dollar, which works out to about $8 a gallon—twice the cost of milk and roughly on par with soft drinks. According to online averages, home delivery is less per gallon but still around $40 a month. However, 16 8-oz glasses of tap water cost about a penny. Bottom line: You’ve heard it before, but now you need to do it. Lay off the bottled water.
The next time you feel thirsty, turn on the tap. Don’t like the taste of your tap water? Invest in a filter pitcher or install an inexpensive faucet filter. You’ll still come out ahead.
10. Music Downloads
Unless you’ve got money to burn, paying $1.29 or more per tune can add up. Or even $9.99 a month for unlimited service. But not to worry. There are plenty of ways to get free music downloads, all totally legal and easy to access.
Check out the free classical catalog at ClassicCat.net. Want country? Check out the huge library at Free Music Archive. Your Amazon Prime membership includes free music downloads. Or Google the words “free downloads” plus your genre of interest.
Question: Do you have a tried and truly free alternative site or option for something you used to pay for? Do you recommend that others consider it? Any pitfalls or loopholes to look out for? Would you share that with us and your experience in the comments below? Remember that comments are moderated, so no spamming, personal promos, or off-topic questions, please.