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12 Ways You’re Wasting Money — and How to Stop Now

Taking small steps to cut unnecessary expenses can add up to big savings over time

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You may not realize it, but there are little money vampires all through your life that are draining your bank account. Fortunately, they’re easier to stop than a real vampire, and you won’t need garlic or a wooden stake.

How To Save on Your Monthly Bills

Get your budget back on track by identifying and eliminating these 12 common money wasters. ​

Accomplish Your Financial Goals With a Fresh Start

1. Ghost subscriptions

​Subscriptions are easy to get online and equally easy to forget. In a May 2022 survey, C+R Research found 42 percent of consumers have forgotten about at least one recurring subscription they are paying for but don’t use.

​Some automatic payments, such as for monthly utility bills, are convenient and can help avoid late fees. Others, though, can turn into big money leaks. For example, a monthly subscription to starts at $24.99, and a subscription to investment-information service Morningstar Investor runs $34.95 a month. If you’re an avid user, keep the subscriptions. But if you’re not actively researching your family tree or frequently changing your investments, cancel the subscriptions before they auto-renew, and pocket the monthly savings.

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​Review your subscriptions and automatic payments at least annually. Even the financial pros can find something to unsubscribe to, says Tess Zigo, a Palm Harbor, Florida, certified financial planner (CFP). “During COVID, due to stress, I signed up for Calm, an app that soothes you by reading stories, [because] I couldn’t fall asleep. Now we are back to the grind, so no need for Calm stories — subscription canceled.”​

2. ​Water leaks

Besides keeping you up all night, a dripping faucet or leaking toilet can cost you money. Let’s say your bathroom faucet drips at the rate of 10 drops per minute. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s drip calculator, three leaking faucets at that rate translate into 43,200 drops per day, or 1,042 gallons a year. That’s a lot of water, but water is relatively cheap: For most people using city water, 1,042 gallons would cost a little more than $1.50. You should still fix the drip, though, if only for the sake of the planet. ​​

A running toilet, however, can be a real water waster. The average leaky toilet wastes about 200 gallons of water a day, or around 6,000 gallons per month, or $108 a year. The average do-it-yourself fix for a leaky toilet ranges from $45 to $200, according to Angi. If you have a plumber do it, the national average cost is $350.

3. ​Bank fees​

The average monthly fee for an interest-bearing checking account is $15.33, according to, which translates to $184 a year. Want to avoid monthly fees? The average balance required to dodge those fees is $8,684, which is a lot of money to keep idle (unless you need it as an emergency fund). ​

Your bank may offer a non-interest-bearing account with no fee, which will save you that $184 a year and keep you from tying up that $8,684, which could be better invested elsewhere. You may also consider opening an account at a credit union, which typically has lower fees than commercial banks. And if you’re willing to give up the brick-and-mortar bank experience, many online-only banks (and some traditional banks) offer no-fee checking accounts.

4. Mutual fund fees

A mutual fund company, like any business, has expenses, including paying managers, accountants, lawyers and marketing executives. The average stock mutual fund charges about 0.50 percent of the fund’s assets a year, according to the Investment Company Institute, a trade group. Those fees reduce your returns or amplify your losses. Current fund fees are well below the average 1.50 percent of a few decades ago. Nevertheless, if you have $25,000 in the average stock fund, then you’re paying $125 a year, and that adds up.

You can, however, find stock index funds that charge less than 0.05 percent a year, or $12.50 for a $25,000 account. These funds send the manager packing and simply track a stock index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index. (A handful of index funds charge nothing — zip, nada — to manage an index fund.) If you choose a fund that charges 0.05 percent a year, that’s a savings of $112.50 a year over the average stock fund charging 0.5 percent. 

5. Dining out

​As pandemic restrictions have eased, people have been dining out more, which is understandable. But you might be surprised at just how much you’ve been eating out. “Many folks will say, ‘We go out a couple of times a month’ or something to that effect,” says Michelle Petrowski, a CFP in Anthem, Arizona. “They are typically surprised when we add up all those sources for that spending category — including lunch at work, lunch with friends, the kids or the grandkids, takeout, Uber Eats, stops at Circle K, and Starbucks — and come up with a monthly number.”​

And remember that the more of something you buy, the less satisfaction you get from it — enshrined in economics as the law of diminishing marginal utility. “I love my lattes, and if you can afford them, it’s no big deal,” Zigo says. “But if you buy one too many, you probably aren’t even getting the happiness boost from it [that you once did].”​

6. Heat fiends and cooling devils

You don’t want to be wrapped in blankets at home all winter or sweltering all summer. On the other hand, do you really need the house at 72 degrees when you’re at work? The U.S. Department of Energy says you can save as much as 10 percent a year on heating and cooling by adjusting your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day. ​Get a programmable thermostat and you can have the house heated (or cooled) to the temperature you prefer before you get home. Locate the thermostat properly to prevent “ghost readings” — unnecessarily high or low readings. Put the thermostat on an interior wall away from direct sunlight, drafts and windows.

7. Electricity vampires​

Energy vampires are devices that quietly use electricity all day long, even when you’re not using them. Duke Energy, one of the nation’s largest electric power holding companies, says there are two common energy vampires, which they call “bricks” and “wall warts.” A brick is one of those power plugs for computers and televisions that has a big black box attached to it. A wall wart is a charger that has a large plug. When plugged in, both consume energy, even when the laptop or charger isn’t being used.

​Other devices in your home quietly suck electricity all day long. That second television you don’t use? It’s draining power. That DVD player you turn on once a year during the holidays to play A Christmas Carol? It’s merrily using power all year long. 

You’re not going to turn off the refrigerator to reduce energy, but there are plenty of other devices you can power down when they are not in use. An easy and effective tactic: If you have lots of bricks and wall warts, plug them into a power strip, and turn the power strip off when you’re not using the appliances.

8. Books ​

A good book is a wonderful thing to have and hold, and a full bookshelf is a wonderful sight. But do you really have to own all of them? The average cost of an adult fiction paperback is $17.89, according to the Library Network, and hardcover fiction will set you back, on average, $27.45.​

You can get free books at your local public library. You can also get e-books and DVDs, as well as helpful advice from your librarian. (Some libraries will even lend you tools.) All you have to do is return your books on time or pay a nominal late fee. In fact, many libraries are eliminating fines altogether. In some cases, the libraries figure that ending late fees will increase the number of users by eliminating the Walk of Shame to the book return counter by those who kept their books too long.

9. ​Hoarding

Do you have boxes of old stuff in your basement or garage that you’re keeping, just in case film cameras go back into style or the kids might someday want that old snowblower? It doesn’t cost you anything to hang on to these things — unless you consider what you could get for selling them.

Vintage cameras, for example, sell for as much as $250 on eBay, and you can sell that snowblower on Craigslist or Facebook or Amazon Marketplace for $100 or so. Got high-end vintage clothes? Sell them on The Real Real or Tradesy. Did you save your wedding dress but no one wants it? Sell it on StillWhite.

If you say to yourself, “It’s only $50,” remember that you might have five things you could sell for $50: $250 is serious pocket money. And even if it is just $50, would you pass up a $50 bill if you saw it lying on the sidewalk?

10. ​Gas hogs

Do you need premium gas? Probably not, unless your car’s maker says so (look behind the fuel door or in the owner’s manual). The occasional tank of premium won’t clean your engine; most major gasoline brands have all sorts of additives to keep your engine sparkling. Cars that need premium gas generally do because they have turbochargers or high-compression engines. ​

​Other ways to save on gas:

  • Check your tire pressure. You can improve your gas mileage by as much as 3 percent by making sure your tires are properly inflated. The recommended tire pressure for your vehicle is usually found on a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb or in the glove box, as well as in your owner’s manual.
  • Use the recommended grade of oil. You can boost your mileage up to 2 percent by using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil.​
  • Get your engine tuned. Fixing a serious problem, such as a broken oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. ​

11. Extended warranties

Whether you just purchased a fancy new mobile phone or an espresso machine, chances are the retailer will offer you an extended warranty for a fee. And while it may not seem like that much money, it can be a waste of cash. With a regular warranty, the manufacturer promises to fix or replace the product for free if it breaks or is damaged during a specified period. An extended warranty is insurance once the original warranty runs out. It is not free. 

You can purchase an extended warranty on pretty much everything from toys to electronics, but that doesn’t mean you should. Often these extended warranties go unused and when you try, many aspects of the product aren’t covered. “An extended warranty is like taking a sugar pill for a headache instead of an aspirin: You only think you feel better,” says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of “Most extended warranties operate on the placebo effect. You shell out the money because you think you’re protected if something goes wrong.” 

Instead of purchasing an extended warranty see if there are any protections with your credit card. Many credit card issuers will reimburse you or give you a replacement product if it’s damaged or stolen within 90 to 180 days of purchase. Visa, American Express and Mastercard all offer this type of protection. 

12. Unnecessary groceries

We’ve all been there; we stock up at the grocery store on food we plan to eat, but it sits untouched in the refrigerator until it spoils. We have no choice but to toss it. If this sounds familiar you aren’t alone. Roughly 30 to 40 percent of food produced, processed and transported in the U.S. ends up as waste in landfills, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. What’s more, Americans generated over 66 million tons of food waste in 2019, and of that, 40 percent occurs at home, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The good news is there are several strategies you can employ to reduce the amount of food you waste, including these four:

  • Don’t go to the food store hungry and only buy what you need. 
  • Engage in meal planning, create a shopping list and stick to it. Be realistic about how many times you cook each week. 
  • From bananas to bread, many things can be frozen, which increases the shelf life. Make sure when freezing food you break it down into portions and use airtight containers. Label and date the contents. 
  • Don’t shy away from fruits and vegetables that are bruised or otherwise imperfect. They are still as nutritious as perfect fruits and veggies and tend to cost less. Companies like Imperfect Foods, Misfits Market and Hungry Harvest will deliver imperfect goods to your door.
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