20 Ways to Waste Your Money

by Erin Burt
Thursday, July 23, 2009 provided by Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Whether a newbie or seasoned budgeter, nearly everyone has spending holes
-- leaks in your budget that drain money with you hardly noticing.

These small drips can add up to big bucks. Once you find the holes and plug
them, you'll keep more money in your pocket. That spare cash could be the
ticket to finally being able to save, invest, or break your cycle of living
paycheck to paycheck.

Here are 20 common ways people waste money. See if any of these sound
familiar, and then look for ways to plug your own leaks.

How to waste your money

1. Buy new instead of used. Talk about a spending leak -- or, rather, a gush.
Cars lose most of their value in the first few years, meaning thousands of
dollars down the drain. However, recent used models -- those that are less
than five years old -- can be a real value because you get a car that's still in
fine working order for a fraction of the new-car price. And you'll pay less in
collision insurance and taxes, too.

Cars aren't the only things worth buying used. Consider the savings on
pre-owned books, toys, exercise equipment and furniture. (Of course, there
are some things you're better off buying new, including mattresses, laptops,
linens, shoes and safety equipment, such as car seats and bike helmets.)

2. Carry a credit-card balance. If you have a $1,000 balance on a card charging
18%, you blow $180 every year on interest. That's money you could certainly
put to better use elsewhere. Get in the habit of paying off your balance in full
each month.

3. Buy on impulse. When you buy before you think, you don't give yourself
time to shop around for the best price. Resist the urge to make an impulse
purchase by giving yourself a cool-off period. Go home and sleep on the
decision. If you still want to make the purchase a day or so later, do your
comparison shopping, check your budget and go for it. Oftentimes, though, I
bet you'll decide you don't need the item after all.

4. Pay to use an ATM. A buck or two here and there may not seem like a big
deal. But if you're frequenting ATMs outside your bank's network, the
surcharges can add up quickly. Put that money back in your pocket by using
ATMs in a surcharge-free network such as Allpoint or Money Pass.

5. Dine out frequently. A habit of spending $10, $20, $30 per person for
dinner can be a huge drain on your wallet. Throw in a $6 sandwich for lunch
and a $4 latte in the morning, and you've got quite a leak. Learn to cook, pack
your lunch and brew your coffee at home and you could save a couple
hundred bucks each month.

6. Let your money wallow. If you are stashing your savings in your checking
account or a traditional bank account, you are wasting money. You could put
it in a high-interest online savings account and get paid to save. You can even
get an interest-bearing checking account through such reputable companies as
Everbank, Charles Schwab, E*Trade and ING Direct.

7. Pay an upfront fee for a mutual fund. Selecting no-load funds can save you
more than 5% in sales charges. Of course, no matter how well a fund has
done in the past, you can't be sure how it will perform in the future. But if
you pay a load, you'll begin the performance derby in the hole to the tune of
the load. See the Kiplinger 25 for our favorite no-load funds.

8. Pay too much in taxes on investments. Are you investing in a tax-sheltered
401(k) or Roth IRA? If you're not maxing out those accounts before you
invest in a taxable account, you're spending too much.

9. Buy brand-name instead of generic. From groceries to clothing to
prescription drugs, you could save money by choosing the off-brand over the
fancy label. And in many cases, you won't sacrifice much in quality. Clever
advertising and fancy packaging don't make brand-name products better than
lesser-known brands (see Similar Products, Different Prices).

10. Waste electricity. Of the total energy used to run home electronics, 40% is
consumed when the appliances are turned off. Appliances with a clock or that
operate by remote are typical culprits. The obvious way to pull the plug on
your energy vampires is to do just that -- pull the plug. Or buy a device to do
it for you, such as a Smart Power Strip ($31 to $44 at
www.smarthomeusa.com, which will stop drawing electricity when the
gadgets are turned off and pay for itself within a few months.

11. Pay banking fees. Overdraw your checking account and you'll pay $20 to
$30 a pop, so it pays to keep tabs on your balance. Plus, are you still paying
for a checking account? Free deals abound -- but make sure they're really free.
For instance, will the bank charge a fee if your balance drops below a certain
level or if you download your info into a personal-finance software program?
That's not free.

12. Buy things you don't use. This sounds like a no-brainer to avoid, but how
many times have you seen something on sale and thought you couldn't pass it
up? Even if something is 50% off, you're spending too much if you don't use
it. href=Couponing, for instance, can be a great way to save on your grocery
bills. But if you buy things you wouldn't have purchased in the first place
simply for the sake of using the coupon, you're wasting your money. The
same goes for buying in bulk. A bargain is no bargain if it sits unused on your
shelf or gets thrown away.

13. Own an extra car. Okay, so a car is a necessity for most people. But face it
-- cars are a huge drain, from their loan payments to insurance fees to gas and
maintenance costs. Own more than one car and you'll double or triple those
expenses. Ask yourself if that second or third car is really necessary. Are you
holding on to an old car for sentimental reasons? Can you or your spouse
carpool, take public transportation or bike to work?

14. Ignore your local dollar store. Shopping at the dollar store can be
hit-and-miss, but it's not all kitsch or junk. If you know what to buy, you can
find some real bargains. For instance, my local dollar store charges 50 cents
for greeting cards versus the $3-plus at a drug store or gift shop. (I have a big
extended family so I figure this saves me more than $100 per year.) You can
also score a deal on cleaning supplies, small kitchen tools, shampoos and
soaps, holiday decorations, gift wrap and balloon bouquets.

15. Keep unhealthy habits. Smoking is not only bad for your health, it burns
up your cash. A pack-a-day habit at $6 a pack costs $180 a month and $2,190
a year. A junk-food or tanning-bed habit can be costly as well. Not to
mention the money you'll waste on medical bills down the road.

16. Be complacent about insurance. Your bill arrives and you pay it without a
second thought. When was the last time you shopped around to determine
whether you're getting the best deal? Rates vary widely from insurer to insurer
and year to year. Reshopping your auto, home or renters insurance might save
you hundreds of dollars.

It also pays to evaluate your insurance needs. For instance, upping your
out-of-pocket deductible from $250 to $1,000 can save you 15% or more on
your car insurance. Consider using the same insurer for your home and auto
insurance -- you could snag up to 15% off for a multiple-line policy. And
make sure you're not paying for insurance you don't need. For instance, you
need life insurance only if someone is financially dependent upon you (such
as a child).

17. Give Uncle Sam an interest-free loan. If you get a tax refund each April,
you let the government take too much money in taxes from your paycheck all
year long. Get that money back in your pocket -- and put it to work for you --
by adjusting your tax withholding. With a little discipline, you can use that
extra cash each month to get started saving or pay down debt (or make ends
meet to avoid going into debt in the first place). You can file a new Form
W-4 with your employer at any time.

18. Pay for something you can get for free. Dust off your library card and
check out books, music and movies for free (or dirt-cheap). Don't pay to
receive your credit report when you're allowed to get it at no charge by law.
Take advantage of kids-eat-free promotions. And dial 1-800-FREE-411 for
free directory assistance.

19. Don't use a flexible-spending account. Your employer may allow you to
set aside pretax dollars to pay for medical costs not covered by insurance.
You can use the money for expenses such as therapy, contact lenses,
insurance co-payments and over-the-counter drugs. You may be able to do
the same for child-care costs.

20. Pay for unnecessary services. How many cable channels can a person
watch? Do you really need all those extra features for your cell phone? Are
you getting your money's worth out of that gym membership? Are you taking
full advantage of your subscriptions (such as Netflix, TiVo or magazines)?
Take a look at what you're paying for and what your family is actually using.
Trim accordingly.

Copyrighted, Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc.