The basic tenets of effective saving are touted far and wide: have a budget, build your savings to at least three months’ worth of salary, and beware of taking on too much debt at once. Popular “don’ts” are widely publicized as well, such as the ever sensible “don’t eat out for every meal.”
While you may have mastered the basic arts of budgeting and saving, you may yet be unaware of a plethora of subtle and insidious threats to your expenses. If you feel you could be saving more, try searching your habits for one – or more – of the following six spending traps:
1) Paying ATM fees
Many banks still charge a fee when non-members use their ATM. However, despite this persistent trend, there is absolutely no need for you to waste money on ATM fees.
Need cash? Emergencies are inevitable, but try to plan ahead as much as possible. Go to your bank for your ATM cash withdrawals or get cash back at the grocery store during either a routine trip or a quick stop for milk. Don’t use cash often? Aspire to keep $20 or so in your wallet for those pesky little “cash only” situations, like toll roads or chipping in for a gift for an expecting co-worker.
2) Relying on disposables
Reducing your use of disposable items doesn’t just help save the planet – it helps save you money as well. Many of us are trapped in the mindset that disposable items like paper towels or bottled water save us time. However, reusable items are often just as easy to use; they just require a little shift in our habits.
Instead of wasting your hard earned cash on a case of costly bottled water, consider investing in a Brita filter for your home. And paper towels? A single roll doesn’t cost that much, but imagine how much you spend over a year, or a lifetime. Switch to microfiber hand towels or something similar. They’re inexpensive, durable, reusable, and more effective than paper towels. They’re easy to reuse: just toss them in the washing machine whenever you do laundry.
3) Shopping hungry
You may know why you shouldn’t make impulse buys at the grocery store, but you may not know how to avoid the temptation. Aisle ends and check-out lines are hard to ignore with their discounted deals on instant-gratification snacks.
In order to stick to your grocery budget – or your diet – make sure you never shop hungry. Shopping on an empty stomach means you are especially vulnerable to impulse buys and grocery store marketing techniques. You don’t have to shop after a full meal; try eating a granola bar or other healthy snack before you go.
Having a lead-foot is costly. Get caught and you pay a hefty fine; depending on the infraction you may also see insurance rates increase. Driving well over the speed limit can also wreak havoc on your gas mileage, increasing your spending at the pump.
What makes this particular trap so insidious is the fact that speeding doesn’t really save time. Instead of speeding, try leaving earlier or making peace with being late.
5) Impulse buys
“Maybe I’ll wear this dress.” “Maybe I’ll use that gym membership.” More often than not, “maybe” purchases turn out to be “maybe nots,” taking up prime storage space and wasting money.
Buy what you’re absolutely sure you need or want; don’t waste money on items or activities just because you may want them at a future date. The same can be said for other emotionally-charged purchases justified by phrases like “it’s on sale” or “I have a coupon.” If you wouldn’t use it or purchase it without the discount, you’re not actually saving any money.
6) Ignoring redundancies
A landline and a cell phone. A Netflix account and Amazon Instant and cable. A laptop and a tablet and a smart phone. Stop paying twice (or more) for the same services or duplicate products. Instead, figure out which service or product best fits your needs—that works hardest and fulfills the most functions—and drop the rest.
You can apply this rule to everything from clothes to kitchen gadgets. Doing so frees up space as well as savings.
Oftentimes our worst spending habits are the subtlest. Other times we cling to bad habits out of fear that – though it saves money – the alternative may require more time or effort. However, with a little financial introspection, a commitment to planning ahead, and a little practice, you can increase your savings without altering more than a handful of habits.