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23 Ways You’re Wasting Money Without Knowing It

Not paying attention to the fine print can cost you some serious cash. Here's how to save your money.

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Airline fees

You’re paying extra for almost everything when you fly these days, from your bags to your seat, the Motley Fool reports. So be sure to compare not only the prices of flights but what they’re charging in extra fees. You may also want to weigh your bag before you go to avoid any additional charges.

RELATED: 11 Things You Won’t See in Airports Anymore

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Mature woman inserting credit card into local french cash machine
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Bank fees

Not keeping enough money in your bank account could cost you some serious cash. How much? Americans pay $17 billion per year in fees for overdrafts and insufficient funds. (It costs $32.74 every time your account is overdrawn.) ATM and other maintenance fees can also add up to $1,000 over ten years. To avoid them, look for banks with free ATMs that don’t charge monthly maintenance fees.

RELATED: 20 Hidden Fees You Didn’t Know You Were Paying

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Senior man and woman examining car at showroom
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Buying things new

Sure, a shiny new car is tempting. Car buyers spend an average of about $31,000 on new cars. But as soon as you drive it off the lot, the car loses 11 percent of its value. A better option? Opt for a reliable used car and a short-term loan you can pay off quickly. The same goes for electronics. Instead of the latest Mac, seek out “open box” items at electronics stores, such as refurbished computers.

RELATED: Habits of People Who Are Great at Saving Money

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Close-up of a remote control
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Cable TV

Access to hundreds of channels can add up to a monthly cable bill of $100. (And many people pay double that.) Fortunately, there are plenty of options to save money without sacrificing TV time. Services like SlingTV and HuluLiveTV range from $10 to $40 a month. Or Netflix is even less expensive—and commercial-free.

If you’ve already pulled the cable cord, ask yourself whether you’re subscribing to more streaming services than you actually need or use. Unsubscribing from one or two can save you another $20 or so each month.

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Packaged Salad Is The Second Fastest Selling Item On Grocery Shelves
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Convenience foods

Pre-cut fruit and vegetables can save time, but they can also dent your wallet. Opting for 20 bags of lettuce over the course of a year instead of buying heads of lettuce will cost you about $60. Instead, buy food as close to its natural form as possible, and divide it up into portion sizes yourself.

The same concept applies for all those fancy lattes. Even if you buy just three $5 drinks each week, that’s $780 per year. Over a decade, it’s $7,800.

RELATED: Money Saving Secrets of Grocery Store insiders

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Credit card interest

It’s not uncommon to be charged 20 percent annually, although some people face even steeper rates. If you carry $25,000 in debt, paying 20 percent on it will cost you a whopping $5,000 annually—just in interest. To avoid paying extra money for old debts, try the snowball method. Pay off the card with the lowest balance first, then move on to the next one.

RELATED: 19 Personal Finance Tips You Were Never Taught

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Rack with clean clothes on hangers after dry-cleaning indoors
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Dry cleaning

A typical trip to the cleaners for your pants and shirts can cost you more than $10. With a weekly visit, that could add up to more than $500 per year. To save that money, clean your shirts in the delicate cycle in your washer or hand wash them.

RELATED: 10 More Creative Ways to Save money

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Group Of Friends Eating Lunch Together In Restaurant
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Eating out

Going out to dinner with the family can be a nice treat, but doing it regularly really adds up. The average American household spends more than $3,000 a year on eating out. Instead of buying your lunch every day, save money by packing it. And before you go out, look for specials like coupons or happy hours or get appetizers instead of full meals.

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Shopping for a refrigerator
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Extended warranties

Getting an extended warranty on that refrigerator or car you bought sounds like a good idea. But according to the FTC, most extended warranties aren’t worth the money. Why? The fine print may not include likely problems, or you may be buying duplicate coverage. A better plan? Open a savings account and sock away money for any repairs that might come up.

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Contactless food delivery. Paper bag with food in the hands of a courier.
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Grocery delivery

Many of these delivery services tend to offer free trials. But, once that trial is over, you could spend upward of $100 per year to continue the service, depending on where you live and which service you select. There are also up-charges for the groceries. And you really ought to tip the delivery people.

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Man buying food products in the supermarket shopping

Impulse buys

According to a recent survey, five out of six Americans admit to making impulse purchases. And that’s not just at the grocery store: some of those purchases can cost in the $1,000 range. Spur-of-the-moment buys can cost you more in the long term, because you may not really need them, or you haven’t shopped around for better deals. Really want something? Take a 24-hour breather and see if you still do.

RELATED: Savvy Shopping Tips

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Name brand medicine

Name brands

Brand names can be tempting when it comes to consumer products like cereals and soaps. But the generic versions work just as well. And when it comes to medications, generic versions can cost between 30 and 80 percent less than brand-name drugs. Ask your doctor to specify on the prescription that generic medications should be substituted for name brands.

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Many plugs plugged into electric power bar
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Phantom electricity

Everyone wants to make sure their electronic devices are charged. But keeping your laptop and phone plugged in once they’re at full power is costing you. Phantom electricity adds up to $19 billion per year in the United States. That averages out to about $20 to $30 extra a month on an average electricity bill. To save money, make sure to power down your devices when you’re not using them and use a power strip to easily turn off several electronics at once.

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Phone service

It’s time to cut the landline. Fortunately, Voice Over Internet or VoIP plans can keep you connected while saving you $20 to $25 a month. And if you find yourself paying more than $100 a month for your family cell phone plan, look into switching to a less expensive carrier, such as MetroPCS or Cricket Wireless.

RELATED: 56 Almost Effortless Ways to Save Money

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House that has been SOLD
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Private mortgage insurance

Investing in a home can be a smart financial decision. But homebuyers who put down less than 20 percent typically have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). The insurance can cost up to 1 percent of the loan, so on a $200,000 loan, you’d pay $2,000 in PMI each year. A better idea? Hold off on buying a home until you save the 20 percent down and avoid PMI altogether.

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No Vacancy Hotel/ Motel Sign Downtown City
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You might think it’s a good idea to wait for last-minute deals, but procrastinating can cost you in the long run. Plane tickets and hotel rooms can get more expensive the closer to the date. And procrastinating on saving money will mean less down the road.

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Car key on a wooden background

Rental car insurance

Rental car insurance also sounds like a reasonable precaution to pay for. It costs between $20 and $40, but that’s money you can likely save. Your own auto insurance and health insurance should cover liability and health care costs in the event of an accident. So before you agree to rental insurance, be sure to check your own policies.

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Police officer writing ticket
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Rushing to get somewhere may be tempting, but it can also add up. On the highway, speeding can decrease your gas mileage by up to 30 percent. That’s not counting what it will cost you if you get stopped for your leadfoot or hit another vehicle. So slow down and save.

RELATED: 10 Ways to Make Money Fast

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Smiling Young Woman Opening A Delivery Box In The Living Room
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Subscription boxes

The average subscription box costs between $10 and $40 per month, which means you could be spending well over $100 a year—on just one service. Think about whether you’re really using (and enjoying) the majority of the items in the box on a regular basis. If not, it might be time to cancel your subscription.

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Papers with 401k plan and book on a table.

Unclaimed 401(k) matches

Saving for retirement is important. But one in four employees didn’t invest enough in their 401(k) plans to earn the full match from their employers, according to a 2015 study. In the long term, you’re missing some serious cash. Over 30 years, the average unclaimed employer match with a return of 8 percent could add up to $151,000.

RELATED: Money-Saving Tips from Self-Made Millionaires

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Asian sport man doing sit-ups on the floor in gym. man exercising in fitness gym for good health. Athletic young man exercising equipment at gym, workout in fitness center.

Unused Memberships

You signed up for that gym membership with the best of intentions, but if you’re part of the 67 percent of people with a membership who never set foot in the gym, you could be wasting more than $700 a year. And if you’re a member of one of the fancier gyms, you’re wasting even more. By scaling back from a gym that charges $100 per month to one that’s only $25 per month, you’ll save $900 each year.

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Tax reform concept with tax preparation forms for standardized deductions and mortgage interest deductions

Tax deductions you’re missing

Earned income tax credits were designed to help keep money in people’s pockets. But 20 percent of people who qualify for the deductions don’t take advantage of them. To make sure you get the deductions you’re entitled to, use an online tax program or hire a professional.

RELATED: How to Save $1,200 a Month

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closeup of a young caucasian man throwing the leftover of a plate of chickpea stew to the trash bin

Wasted food

A trip to the grocery store may cost you money in more ways than one. Because of lack of planning, impulse buying, and cooking too much food, as much as 40 percent of food in the United States goes to waste. To save, make a plan before you go shopping, don’t go to the store hungry, and eat your leftovers.

RELATED: Tiny Splurges That Are Costing You More Money Than You Thought


Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery covers money, tech, products, health and safety for Reader's Digest and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.