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Biggest Money Wasters – Or Temptations

August 1, 2011 · 39 comments

in Personal Finance

Recently, CNN posted an article stating 10 Biggest Money Wasters.  Below is CNN’s list, and how much I spend annually on each item:

  1. ATM fees.  The article states that it costs on average 5 dollars each time you withdraw from a bank that you do not belong to.  Well, I only withdraw money twice a month, and I take money from an ATM that does not charge fees (and my credit union doesn’t either).  However, my husband does occasionally rely on an ATM near where he works, and we do get slammed with charges then.   Approximate Annual Money Wasted:  $60.
  2. Lottery Tickets.  We only buy lottery tickets to break up the monotony of long distance driving trips.  We actually made about 80 dollars in Atlanta once, but have been big losers ever since.  Approximate Annual Money Wasted:  $60.
  3. Gourmet Coffee.  I bet you were wondering when this one would come up, since it is the original example that has been used to show people how easy it is to waste money each week.  The article states the average person spends $8.43 each time they visit a coffee shop.  (I think that is insane, what are these people buying that costs so much?)  Anyway, I do buy hot chocolate about once a week at Starbucks for about 6 months of the year.  However, I am also using that Starbucks to write for 2 hours while I drink that hot chocolate.   Approximate Annual Money Wasted:  $90.
  4. Cigarettes.  That is an easy one.  Approximate Annual Money Wasted:  $0.
  5. Infomercial Impulse Buys.  OK, I will admit, I am tempted by some of these deals. However, I never, ever order anything over the phone.  I either order online (like when I bought the P90X), or buy it on sale at a store that sells ‘As Seen On TV’ products.  However, I have never purchased an item that I felt was a waste.  As a matter of fact, I have made hundreds of smoothies with my Magic Bullet, which I first saw on an Infomercial.  So, I may have actually saved money on that purchase as I might have spent more on eating lunch out, or on a cafe-bought smoothie.  Approximate Annual Money Wasted:  $0.
  6. Brand Name Groceries.  I don’t see brand name groceries as a waste of money.  Especially since I almost always have a coupon for what I am buying, or it is on sale.  Also, I have thrown out many generic items I have bought because they just didn’t taste good.  There are some generic cereals I buy, along with applesauce, sandwich bags, trash bags, and a few other items.  Approximate Annual Money wasted:  $0.  (That one was tough to estimate, some may argue I am wasting some money, but hard to say since I have not tried every generic product available.)
  7. Eating Out.  This one is a killer, especially since my social life basically consists of lunch out with friends or family.  For the purpose of this post, I will focus on what I waste for lunch because dinner is so variable based on what the kid’s schedules are like.  Approximate Annual Money Wasted:  $1000 (But at least I am having fun!)
  8. Unused Gym Memberships.  Not sure if we truly get as much out of the gym as the money we put in.  I like to have the pool available and we play a lot of racquetball and basketball.  Basically, we use the membership for things we can not do at home.  However, we probably should use the facility more often than we do. Approximate Annual Money Wasted:  $600.  (I used a percent of what the membership costs our family each month.)
  9. Daily Internet Deals.  I fell for this once years ago when I bought a Roomba during a Woot-Off.  The thought of a little machine vacuuming my floors for me sounded so nice.  However, set-up was a pain and I never did get it working.  Not to mention, I have 3 kids that vacuum as part of their allowance each week.  Approximate Annual Money Wasted:  $50.  (Amortized the cost of the Roomba over several years.)
  10. Bundled Cable or Phone Services.  I revisit our plans every 6 months or so, and we actually use what we are paying for.  When I did call to get rid of HBO, it was actually more expensive to NOT have it.  Approximate Annual Money Wasted:  $200.  (Just throwing that out there in case there is something I am missing.)
Grand Total of Money Wasted Per Year:  $2060.   This number would be higher if I took the time to really think about how much money we do waste on eating dinner out.  However, I do try to keep that amount to a minimum by planning ahead and making cooler dinners.  The question I have to ask myself is if $2060 is a reasonable amount of money to ‘waste’.  It is hard to say because there are non-quantifiable benefits to some of the money that is spent, like the fun I have during lunches out and all the writing I can get done while drinking hot chocolate.

My Biggest Money Wasters and/or Tempations (not included above):

  1. Stationery Products.  I love paper.  I love pens.  The ONLY thing I like about the kids going back to school is all the back-to-school sales!   Fact is, I probably already have enough pens to last the rest of my life, and probably a couple generations after that.  But, I can’t help it.  I don’t spend a lot on stationery products, but they are definitely my soft spot.
  2. Healthy Chocolate.  As I have stated before, I have been eating a square of at least 70 percent dark chocolate each day ever since I read about how healthy dark chocolate actually is.  It is the perfect accompaniment to my daily cup of coffee.  My chocolate vice is not a huge expense, but since I got the whole family on the healthy chocolate bandwagon, it is starting to add up.
  3. Cooking Utensils.  When I go in to a Bed Bath and Beyond, I want to spend.  I don’t need new bedding or anything, just a new spatula or maybe a new chopping device.  There is something about those kitchen gadgets that I just have trouble resisting.  Thank God I don’t go there very often, and when I do, I am armed with the 20 percent off coupon.  (Which last I read, do not expire, even though they have expiration dates on them.)
  4. Christmas Ornaments.  We have a ton of ornaments already, and most have a story behind them. However, I love to still pick up a couple new ones each year.  I love all the bright colors, I could spend days browsing through Christmas stores.
I am shocked that alcohol was not listed in CNN’s Top 10 Money Waster list.  It was mentioned in the section about eating out, but I know that people don’t just drink when out at restaurants.

What is your biggest money waster? What items tempt you the most?

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

First Gen American August 1, 2011 at 8:15 am

We eat out a couple of times/week, so that’s gotta be put on the list, but I don’t really feel that guilty about that. Food is my known splurge item. I spend a lot on food period and that includes groceries too.

As far as preventable splurges, I’d say the two coffee run like things are books and flowers. I have a huge garden with dozens of varieties of perennials, yet I’m still tempted to buy bulbs for the fall. Books I still buy a ton of but instead of amazon, I now try to buy them at tag sales and library sales. I just got about a dozen books at the library book sale this weekend.

Our biggest ticket splurge has definitely gotta be home improvement. We bought fixers, so there is a fair amount of “must do” items like roofs, etc, but then there are cosmetic things that really don’t need doing but I do anyway. I’m about to dump a bunch of money on hardwood floors at my moms. I won’t get my money back because we bought her house in 2005, but I’m spending it anyway. Again, I’ve been trying to be good and shopping craigslist but I’ll still probably end up spending $600 to do 3 rooms. Yeah, it’s cheaper than $1500, but a can of paint is only $50. However I tried that already and babci says the paint smells and it’s slowly poisoning her.


Jon - Free Money Wisdom August 1, 2011 at 9:57 pm

I am a big health food fanatic and so I naturally spend money on good food. I, however, pack my lunches and rarely eat out. I feel like it is a waste of money. I use my gym membership daily and know it is not a waste. It is definitely a good idea to step back and examine what are essential and what are not. Good post!


Kris August 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Jon, I agree, healthy food can never be considered a waste, nor a used gym membership. I am sure just about everyone has their soft spots that may not fall under a traditional list. Things like pens! 🙂


First Gen American August 2, 2011 at 11:38 am

Jon, I live in a little community and I know many of the restaurant owners by name. I guess I feel it is a waste of money if it’s a rotten chain, but my favorite organic pizza place opened another branch in my town (the original was a 1/2 hour drive). I love their pizza and I also feel like I’m going a good thing by supporting a guy who took a big financial risk to make my town a little nicer. I’m turning into a softie in my old age, but I think I do have a responsibility to support the arts and restaurants so that they stay in business. When I moved to my town 15 years ago, the downtown was dead and a little scary. It gentrified a lot when nicer places moved in. I want to help keep them from going under. It’s self serving really.


Kris August 1, 2011 at 10:37 pm

You definitely do not want to poison Babci! You are doing a great thing by refurbishing houses, so don’t ever feel bad about that.

I love flower catalogs and such. I found some really unique plants from Gurney’s that I just love. Unfortunately I bought a little indoor pomegranate tree that had a big bloom that I was highly allergic too. I gave it to a neighbor and it is probably dead now.

You are spending to beautify the world, don’t ever feel bad about that!


The Biz of Life August 1, 2011 at 9:17 am

The call the Lottery the “stupid tax,” because people actually volunteer to pay this tax with the hope of winning millions at astronomical odds.

My biggest leaks are probably eating out. We have gotten lax in this department since paying the house off.


Kris August 1, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Biz, if your house is paid off, I don’t think anyone would judge your eating out habits! I wish my house was paid off, then I would go to Taco Bell everyday. (hee hee)

I am not a fan of the lottery at all, but we do all enjoy the occasional scratch off ticket. Sometimes the Easter Bunny brings them, and the kids always get them for Valentines Day. (Aren’t I a great mother?)


Eric J. Nisall August 1, 2011 at 10:18 am

I hate the idea that a restaurant is a “waste” of money. Newspaper websites, local shopping portals, restaurant.com all provide ways to dine out and not have to spend the full price. Plus it isn’t always practical to cook EVERY single meal, and it’s nice to go out every now and then and try a new cuisine and let someone else do all of the work. I love food, and consider my expenditures on it more of an adventure than anything else since I usually try new places or at the very least different dishes at places I’ve been to previously.

Besides all of that, who is the almighty judge of what is and what isn’t a waste? I mean, seriously it’s not like this hasn’t even been done before, the least they can do is put anew spin on it like showing people how to minimize or hedge their “wasting” of money.


Kris August 1, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Eric, I do agree, although I have to say that cigarettes are definitely a waste, at least from my perspective.

Restaurants really can be quite affordable if you take advantage of all the discounts that show up in the mail and at restaurant.com like you said. For our family of five though, it can get expensive if we are not careful.


Eric J. Nisall August 1, 2011 at 11:07 pm

You definitely have to be careful with that Kris. I was speaking more in general terms about what is wasteful, though but I do concur that cigarettes can be considered in that category since they provide no benefits and serious health drawbacks. But as far as certain other things like the brand name grocery items in particular I think that these people are full of it. I personally buy certain generic items, but have found that there are some items that cannot compete with the “name” labels. I’d be curious to know if the authors of these types of articles actually follow the “advice” they write about particularly the unused gym memberships and gourmet coffee 🙂


Money Beagle August 1, 2011 at 11:11 am

We don’t really use that much cash these days. The bank is a little out of the way to get the $10 each or so that we typically do get per month, so what we’ve started doing is using Costco as our ATM. We average one trip per month, and since we use the debit card to pay, we just punch in the request to get $20 cash each time we go, and most of the time they have two tens so that we can each be set up for the next few weeks.


Kris August 1, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Beagle, how do you get by on so little cash each month? Oh my goodness, good for you! Actually, I guess I wouldn’t use as much cash if I didn’t have 3 teens running around the house…

Great job!


Barb Friedberg August 1, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I’m in on bundled internet and phone… but it’s a conscious choice and we are okay with it! We are pretty good on all of the rest!


Kris August 1, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Barb, I am sure you are very good on the rest, you are very money conscious. Hope all your travels are going wonderful!


Money Reasons August 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Great list of money wasters!

Hmmm, I’ll have to read up on the dark chocolate! It will give me an excuse to consider starting a new healthy habit that I would enjoy. 🙂

Well, just thought I’d stop by for a quick read since I’m on vaca, have a good day 🙂


Kris August 1, 2011 at 10:30 pm

MR, you gotta indulge in the healthy chocolate. It is one of my favorite parts of the day!

Have a fantastic trip, thanks for visiting my site when you are out of town!


Squirrelers August 1, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Seems like you guys are actually doing ok – despite that $2000+ figure you quoted. Many people waste a LOT more than that!

For me, it’s without a doubt eating out that’s my biggest waste of money. I am trying to work on that, it’s a prolonged battle. I guess we all have our vices, right:) I don’t smoke and never have/never will, rarely drink – maybe 1 drink every month (despite 2 the other night!…rare), don’t drive an expensive car, haven’t taken an expensive trip in a few years, haven’t spent too much on clothes this year (other than a needed suit)….you get the idea. I’m clearly trying to justify/rationalize my one area of wasting money 🙂

Oh, I do spend on kids. That’s not an area in which I’m cheap at all. But I can’t even consider that in the category of wastage, as there’s nothing more important to me.


Kris August 1, 2011 at 10:30 pm

What is a ‘waste’ is definitely a subjective thing. Many people think I waste money on travel soccer I am sure, but I think it has been great in a lot of ways. We also spend on vacations (not overseas or anything), but it is memories our family will share forever. However, I am sure others think money spent on trips could be used for other things. I guess if we were suffering, it would be one thing. If my husband lost his job, travel sports and trips would be the first thing to go (but not sure I could give up my lunches… :))

My eating out expenditure is more, but I try to mitigate it as much as possible, so I don’t really call it a waste. (See, I can rationalize too!)


Little House August 1, 2011 at 2:25 pm

My biggest money wasters are coffee at $756 per year, eating out at $1,920 per year, and Mr. LH’s cigars at $1,825 per year. But, I don’t waste money on random shopping sprees, knick-knacks, gym memberships, or lottery tickets. I track all of our spending categories through Quickbooks, so these figures are accurate. Yes, I could save a bundle if we cut back on these things, but then what fun would that be?!


Kris August 1, 2011 at 7:26 pm

I agree, you need to enjoy the little things in life. Depravity is no fun.


Maggie@SquarePennies September 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I like to save in some areas to afford fun in other areas. So a waste of money is in the eye of the beholder. Our house if paid off, our basic expenditures are low, so we can afford to travel & eat out sometimes. It’s those who are under finantcial pressure that need to cut money-wasters.


Kris September 9, 2011 at 8:16 am

Maggie- when my kids are out of college and the house is paid off, I totally plan to live a lot differently than I do now. I am not saying I will just spend in order to spend. But if my husband and I want a weekend away, then we are going to take. If people have earned the money and have it saved, they should do whatever they want. It is those that spend recklessly that are ruining our economy.


Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager August 1, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Eating (or going out for drinks) and my pint glass collection. Which is getting a little out of control…


Kris August 1, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Jenna, is a pint glass collection for drinking pints of beer? If so, maybe you just need to have big parties…


Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager August 2, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I could have like 100 people over if that was the case! Don’t think they would fit in my apartment though…


Financial Samurai August 2, 2011 at 1:15 am

Alcohol should definitely be on the list!!

My biggest money waster is on shoes. I love retro sports shoes like Jordans I couldn’t afford when I were younger.

Hard though, as I try and really find purpose and return in all the money i spend.


Eric J. Nisall August 2, 2011 at 5:25 pm

If the sneakers are comfortable (and you don’t have the entire series in every color), then that would be the purpose of those particular purchases. Especially considering how hard it is to find really comfortable footwear, it would be worth it to me. I wear mine until the soles start falling off (exaggerating a little there) simply because I can’t find ones that I like and fit really well.


Crystal @ BFS August 2, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Frozen yogurt has made me its bi*ch. I easily spend $5-$10 a week on that stuff now – annual waste, $260-$520. Yep, I am a Orange Leaf, Brownie Batter addict…

We also eat out way more than we should. We could cut $1500 pretty easily every year but I know we won’t…


Ken @ Spruce Up Your Finances August 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Brand name groceries is probably one of the biggest money waster for us in the past but we have slowly switch to a few private label brands since the quality are pretty much the same. we usually shop at Costco so you can expect that we have a lot of Kirkland labels.


retirebyforty August 3, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Did you see the lotto story about Cash WinFall? Basically, some people figured out when to buy the lotto so they’ll have a good chance of winning more money. This is in MA, that’s where you are right? So lotto isn’t a waste of money after all if you know how to play the odd. 🙂


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Actually, I am in Michigan, so I am not familiar with the story. I can’t imagine finding a way to get an advantage in a game of chance like that. Very interesting!


FP Guys August 5, 2011 at 3:49 pm

My biggest annual expense has got to be eating out away from home. It is hard living in a busy town with so many good places to eat, especially if I am rushing between jobs and don’t have time to make it home let alone cook anything. Other things on CNN’s money wasters list, such as cable television, gym memberships, smoking, impulse buys, ATM fees, and gourmet coffee, I avoid all together. Perhaps my expensive habit of eating out around town isn’t so bad after all, so long as I can shuffle some priorities around to support it. 😉


Elisa Jed August 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm

There are a lot of places where money can be saved. I know at one point we have a roof problem but didn’t quite have enough to cover the cost. We cut down on eating out and after a month or so where able to get one of the Calgary roofing companies to help us out. Saving helps!


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