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21 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.


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.

ATM machinesanjagrujic/Shutterstock

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.

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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. Don’t miss these habits of people who are great at saving money.

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Cable TV

Access to hundreds of channels can add up to a monthly cable bill of $100. 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.

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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. Find out the money-saving secrets of grocery-store insiders.


Credit card interest

The average American household is carrying about $16,425 in credit card debt. That adds up to about $1,292 in interest each year. 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. Learn about the 19 personal finance tips you were never taught.

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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. Here are 10 more creative ways to save money.

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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. Here are 14 restaurant meals you’re wasting money on.

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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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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. Check out these savvy shopping tips.

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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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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. Don’t miss these 56 almost effortless ways to save money.

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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. Find out how these money-saving myths can make you poor.

No Vacancy Hotel/ Motel Sign Downtown CityZachary Byer/Shutterstock


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. Don’t miss these saving secrets of rich people.

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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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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. But don’t miss these 10 ways to make money fast.

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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. Here are the best money-saving tips from self-made millionaires.

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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. To cut back, look through your credit card statement for recurring expenses and ask yourself if you really need them.

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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. Here’s how to save $1,200 a month.

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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. Next, find out the tiny splurges that are costing you way more money than you thought.



Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, 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.