Whether it’s paying a late fee or snagging a candy bar while waiting in the checkout line, it’s all too easy to spend mindlessly and waste money.
But that cash could be directed toward your savings goals or growing substantially in a retirement account.
“We all have room to set aside a little money for our future,” certified financial planner Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz tells CNBC. “A good habit to develop in 2017 is to take on a more mindful approach to spending.”
Step one is to identify where you’re wasting money. Do any of these purchases sound familiar?
1. ATM Fees
It’ll cost you a record high of $4.57 to withdraw money from an out-of-network ATM. There’s no reason to continue paying these fees, which can add up significantly over time.
A simple 2017 resolution: If your bank’s logo isn’t on the ATM, don’t use it. If you use one of the traditional, bigger banks, there should be ATM options in your area. Simply look up the locations online and put in the extra effort to get to one of your bank’s ATMs. If there aren’t any convenient ATM options in your city or town, you may want to consider opening a checking account with a more accessible bank.
2. Late Fees
Like ATM fees, late fees are a pointless money suck. And there’s more to late payments than simply paying a fee. Missing payments can also lower your credit score, which affects your ability to borrow money for bigger purchases, like a home or car, in the near future.
Never miss a bill again by setting up automatic payments online for fixed costs such as cable, internet, and insurance. For expenses that can’t be paid online, such as rent, set up calendar reminders and pay them at the same time each month so it becomes routine.
3. Underused Subscriptions
“Nothing makes a company happier than getting its customers to sign up for subscriptions,” writes Yahoo tech columnist David Pogue in his 2016 book, Pogue’s Basics: Money. “Millions of people sign up for 30-day free trials of things, intending to cancel within 30 days — and then they forget. Or they sign up for certain services but have long since stopped using them.”
Look over your last couple of credit card statements and figure out exactly what you’re paying for, whether it be subscriptions to magazines, software, or online services. Next, ask yourself which you can eliminate, and cancel them on the spot to save a couple hundred dollars a year. You could also use Trim, which automatically finds and cancels your subscriptions with a text.
4. Buying Lunch Every Day
Eating out can add up quickly. The more food you can prepare at home, the better off your food budget will be. Plus, packing lunch also tends to be better for your waistline. Of course, it’s OK to treat yourself and buy the occasional meal out, but if you’re aiming to hit major financial goals in 2017, going homemade is one of the simplest ways to cut back without making dramatic sacrifices.
5. Bottled Water
While you’re getting into the habit of packing your lunch, start filling up a water bottle too.
“Most people who buy water in bottles do it for convenience,” notes Pogue. “If you carry a water bottle with you, you spend nothing. (And lose weight. And live longer.)”
“The average American cable-TV bill is $100 a month,” writes Pogue. That’s a large sum to pay for a service that people often don’t take full advantage of.
Consider cutting the cord and getting your TV from the internet, through services like Netfilx ($8 a month), Hulu ($8 a month), or HBO Now ($15 a month).
7. Cable Box And Modem
If you decide you simply can’t live without your cable, at least buy your own cable box and modem.
“As though the cable companies weren’t already milking you dry with the cost of the TV service, they’re also charging you about $235 a year to rent the cable box,” writes Pogue. “You can buy your own replacement cable box for $120 (pays for itself in eight months).”
The same goes for the cable modem.
“The damage is about $10 a month, forever,” Pogue says, of the renting option. “Buy your own cable modem for $100, return the one you’ve been renting, and boom: a $120-a-year savings.”
8. Extra Smartphone Data
“The cell phone carriers hope you’ll go over your monthly allotment [of data],” says Pogue. “If you do, they slap absurd overage charges onto your bill.”
To never pay an overage charge again, install a “fuel gauge” app, like DataMan or My Data Manger, which will monitor the data you use and warn you if you’re approaching your monthly limit. Pogue also suggests identifying the “gas-guzzlers”. Different apps use different amounts of data, and you might be astonished to see which ones are the guilty parties. Finally, use Wi-Fi whenever you possibly can. When you’re connected to Wi-Fi, you’re not using any of your data allowance.
9. Excess Groceries
Collectively, we waste a lot of food. Every time you throw away excess groceries, that’s money down the drain. Before you grocery shop, think about the meals you’re going to make for the week and write down exactly what ingredients you’ll need to prepare those meals. When you actually go to the store, stick to just the ingredients on your list.
10. Brand-Name Products
Going generic — for groceries, toiletries, or pet supplies — is an easy way to save money over time.
As Pogue reports, “store brands cost around 30 percent less than national brands.”
You don’t have to buy generic for everything. Identify what’s really important to you and what you’re willing to sacrifice — then, buy brand-name for the stuff you care about and go generic for everything else.
11. Impulse Buys
From grocery stores to department stores, retailers have a way of tricking you into spending money mindlessly. One tactic is loading the checkout aisle with tempting products: cold sodas, candy bars, and 99-cent knick knacks. After all, your self-control is likely spent by the time you’re done shopping, and stores bank on you giving into that pack of gum.
Skip the candy or magazine and redirect that $5 toward your savings goals or retirement account, where it could grow significantly over time.