Some money-saving tips are obvious, like flying coach, cutting back on eating out, or ditching expensive bad habits like smoking. Some ways are uncommon enough to be impractical for consistent savings like choosing cheaper hotels on vacation or buying a used car rather than a new one — great advice, but it’s not going to help keep your monthly expenses in check.
In fact, you may be wasting money in extremely common but often overlooked ways. Here’s a list of 25 things you probably didn’t know you could save on and how you can stop wasting your money one them.
1. Buying brand name products
Store and generic brands have to be one of the most underused ways to save money across a range of products. From food, to skincare, to over the counter medicine, chances are your local grocery or drug store has a store brand for them or sells a generic version. Check the labels; in most cases, the ingredients are pretty much identical, but you don’t have to spend money on the big brand names.
Also, if you have prescriptions, you can sometimes ask your pharmacist for the generic version of your medications. They work just the same as the brand name, and can save you quite a bit of cash if your co-pay is high.
2. Paying someone else for simple car repairs
Basic car maintenance is something fewer and fewer of us learn, perhaps due to our increasingly busy lives and the preference for someone else to do maintenance work. But, assuming you own a car, money is flying out your wallet if you take your car to a shop for every little complication. Several of the simpler car problems don’t take a professional mechanic to fix, and even routine maintenance tasks can be performed at home. The great thing about the Internet age for car-owners is that there are all sorts of easy and helpful instruction videos out there.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can just start whacking at your engine with a socket wrench, but you definitely have more ability to tune up your car for cheap than you think you do. Start here.
3. Grocery shopping when you’re hungry
Or when you have all the time in the world. Avoid these two scenarios when taking a trip to the grocery store at all costs. If you shop for groceries when you’re hungry, even just kind of hungry, you’re more susceptible to buying extra stuff you don’t need or that you’ll waste later. Same goes for a leisurely grocery trip. If you make your trip when you have other errands to do and only a certain amount of time to do them, you’re less likely to spend time exploring all the isles and picking up more food than you originally planned on buying.
4. Buying a snack at the gas station “every now and then”
The quotation marks are there because “every now and then” usually means you just don’t keep track of all the little snack purchases you make on the go. All those bottles of soda and chip bags you pick up when you’re filling up the tank or making a stop at the drug store add up. Make a rule that you have to track all of those little snack purchases and you only get a small allowance of them per month. Get in the habit of bringing plenty of fluids and a snack or two with you whenever you go do errands or anything else that might bring you near convenient snack-filled temptations.
5. Taking expiration dates as law
For some of the more perishable foods expiration dates hold more authority, but you can usually tell this by the funky smells or colors that develop when they start to go bad. But an expiration date on a food item isn’t the be all end all, assuming they have been stored in a cool, dry area. The most obvious case of this is pretty much any dried good, such as cereal, uncooked pasta, and dried beans.
Several foods that usually go bad when their labels say they will, such as raw meat or bread, can be stored in the freezer before their expiration date if you don’t think you’ll make it in time and be perfectly fine when you thaw them again. You can also use online databases to look up the actual shelf-life of certain foods and compare it to what the label says.
6. Paying for cable
Cutting the cord might seem like something only super savvy Millennials and tech whizzes can do without sacrificing a few of their favorite shows. But there are a bazillion TV and movie streaming services and other non-cable options out there now, the quality and variety of which will only keep growing in the years to come. Pretty much any streaming service is cheaper than paying for cable or dish, and you don’t get stuck with all the extra channels you never watch yet still have to pay for.
You can’t sit there and surf channels aimlessly any more, of course, but it’s not like doing that made your TV experience fantastic anyway.
7. Only using credit/debit cards
Convenient? A bit. Ignorant bliss? Definitely.
If you almost exclusively use your card to pay for things, it’s a lot easier to spend more than you intend to because you aren’t seeing the money. You just press some buttons and boom, purchase made. You might not be so liberal with your funds if you had to watch the cash leave your wallet. If you use mobile banking or money management apps to keep on top of your finances while still using your card, and it’s working, keep doing your thing. For the rest of you, you might want to consider weekly or bi-weekly trips to your bank or ATM and withdrawing a fixed amount of cash for your spending.
8. Your bank in general
Banks and everything to do with them are just money-vacuums in general. Take a look at your accounts and card fees and see if there are any better options than what you currently have. Try your darnedest to use ATMs for your bank only, as using another branch’s machines typically racks up unpleasant fees.
Better yet, ditch the bank altogether. Try a local credit union instead.
9. A drafty living space
If you pay heating and cooling bills, you might be paying more than you need to due to inadequate insulation. If you can afford it, you can install more airtight windows and maybe a door or two as well. But effective insulation can be achieved without entirely replacing your windows in most cases. Start here and here.
10. In-game purchases
As a semi-recovering Candy Crush addict, I know how hard this habit is to break. But those $1 or $5 purchases here and there WILL add up, and you’ll suddenly be looking at your bank statement with a whole lot of shame and regret. Remove your credit card info from any sites or apps where you play games, and if you get really frustrated by a level you just can’t seem to beat, Google a how-to guide. (After finding some really effective ones for Candy Crush, I feel really dumb about buying those power-ups.)
11. You don’t keep your tires properly inflated
Yes, some tires with a little too much wiggle room can actually worsen your car’s gas mileage. Keep your tires properly inflated and you’ll save money on gas you didn’t even know you were losing. Set up a regular alert on your phone or write them down in your calendar so you don’t forget to check.
12. Couponing (irresponsibly)
Coupons save you a little money, yes, but if you’re couponing just for the sake of it, or convincing yourself you were totally going to buy those things on that discount site, you’re still wasting money. Don’t use coupons as an excuse to buy things you normally wouldn’t, even if it’s just an extra $5 to your usual purchase. You’ll end up doing it a lot more frequently than you intended, when you could be focusing on coupons and discounts when you actually need them.
Stick to coupons for the things you already buy. The exception to this is if you’re making an expensive but necessary purchase that you don’t regularly have to make, such as a car repair you absolutely can’t fix yourself, and you’re able to find a special coupon or discount for it.
13. Paying full price for clothes
Some cities have really great thrift stores or, for the pickier people, consignment shops. If there aren’t any near you, you can find plenty of sites that sell gently used, good quality clothes, as well as let you sell your own. Plus, by buying better quality clothes that have been gently used instead of cheap new clothing, your stuff will probably last longer. Cheap clothes break and tear, and then you have to buy more.
If you insist on buying clothing or shoes brand new, you still don’t have to pay full retail price. Chain stores usually mark up the price of the clothes they sell so that you pay significantly more than what it cost to make the items, giving the stores a hefty profit. Rather than paying the full price, find the items you really want and keep an eye on them. They’ll eventually be discounted or the store will have a sale that includes the item, allowing you to buy it at a better price. This is also a good way to weed out things you don’t actually love enough to buy, since you’ll have time to think about whether or not you really want the item while you wait for a discount.
14. Skimping on health and hygiene habits
You think it won’t happen to you, but it will. Your dentist isn’t just having a power trip, you really do need to maintain your teeth’s health or you’ll be paying for dental work in the not too distant future, and that can get painfully expensive. Not washing your hands, alcohol and junk food habits, and just not taking proper care of yourself in general will all come back to bite you, no matter how invincible you think you are. Weigh the potential medical bills against the temporary inconvenience of adjusting to new habits and make the smart choice.
15. Pricey personal care products
We think we’re savvier consumers now, yet many of us continue to buy a bunch of chemical-filled crap to slather on our faces and bodies in the hopes that it will fix wrinkles (excuse me, “fine lines”), firm our skin, or brighten our complexions. I know it doesn’t work, you know it doesn’t work, so stop buying into it. Do you even know what you’re rubbing on yourself anyway? Take a look at the ingredients lists on your personal grooming products. I bet you can recognize maybe four or five if them without using a search engine. Opt for products with less ingredients that you can actually pronounce — and own up to the fact that some of your own habits are contributing to your skin/hair/body odor issues.
16. Unnecessary laundry junk
Dryer sheets? Toss ’em. Fabric softener? Throw it out. You need neither; in fact, you might not even need that toxic goop you put in your washing machine either. Plenty of cheap and easy homemade laundry detergent recipes can be found online, as well as replacements for dryer sheets such as reusable dryer balls. Or better yet, skip the dryer as much as possible, line-drying works just fine.
17. Energy drinks
If you have an energy drink habit, it’s time to kick it if you want to save money. Those things aren’t cheap, and chances are you eventually have to start drinking more than one a day to keep the buzz once you begin to tolerate them. If this habit is due to poor sleep, think of the money your sleep habits are costing you as an extra motivator to change them.
If you get a normal amount of sleep but still feel exhausted enough the next day to require energy drinks, make an appointment with your doctor. There are a number of health issues that could be causing you to feel drained, and one trip to the doc will be worth it if you can find out how to fix it.
18. Disposable razors
Disposable razors lose their sharpness pretty quickly (or get too clogged up with deodorant and other product residue), so you end up buying them pretty frequently. However, there are non-disposable razors that don’t cost a ton and once you’ve purchased it you only need to replace the blade itself, which you can usually buy in bulk online for super cheap but excellent quality. They are a little bit sharper than disposable razors because they’re designed to last more than five days, but don’t worry, these aren’t the long single blades you see in old-timey barbershops in films and TV, they’re the same shape you know just minus the whole disposable part.
And ladies, these razors are labeled and marketed for men, but they’re not gender exclusive. The companies are just marketing them as an old-fashioned manly-man thing rather than a save-money-and-the-environment thing. Don’t be fooled, you can totally use them.
19. Not carrying a re-usable coffee cup
Some places (maybe even most) add the cost of the disposable cup to the price of their drinks, since after all they don’t get those cups for free. If you’re a frequent coffee or other beverage purchaser, invest in a reusable to-go cup. You’ll typically get a “discount” for using it, when in fact you’re just not paying extra for the paper or plastic cups.
20. Buying individual coffee drinks in general
Get yourself a decent coffee-maker and make the coffee yourself to save big bucks over time. A lot of coffee machines now have the ability to preset your brew, so you can program it the night before to start brewing your coffee before you even wake up. Now you can’t claim it’s too much work!
21. Making more than one trip to the grocery store per week
A good way to make yourself stick to a grocery budget is to not allow little trips to the store throughout the week because you ran out of one or two items. Chances are you’ll end up getting something extra half the time, and a routine of more than one grocery store trip per week indicates you’re not properly tracking your grocery consumption and adjusting what you buy and when you buy it to fit your habits.
22. Buying several different cleaning products and wipes
With a couple exceptions like wood and certain upholstery materials, you don’t need to buy a specific and often pricey product for every different surface in your home. It’s easy to find recipes for DIY all-purpose cleaners on the cheap like this one, as well as homemade cleaning products for specific surfaces if the need does arise.
23. Not taking advantage of qualifying discounts
This is especially good money-saving advice if you’re a student. Student and college discounts abound, they just might be hidden. Just because a company or establishment doesn’t explicitly advertise student discounts doesn’t mean they don’t have any; ask an employee, or, if you’re making a purchase online, use a search engine to see if there are any student discounts or programs you weren’t aware of. This goes for other person-specific discounts, such as military or senior discounts.
24. Pre-sliced or individually-packed anything
Your pre-cut meat and cheese are likely costing you way more than if you just bought these foods whole and cut them yourself. And really, individually packaged food in general is usually more expensive than making something similar yourself. Even things like snack bars aren’t difficult to make, and the bulk ingredients will feel like a steal for the amount you can make with them.
Being disorganized has cost you money at some point. Losing chargers and cables, misplacing expensive jewelry, forgetting where you left your keys and having to pay a locksmith to get into your house or car. If the mess itself hasn’t motivated you to declutter and get organized, link back on all the times you lost or misplaced something and ended up spending money in some way because of it. Then think of how many of those times you ended up finding the missing item later and realizing you spent that money for nothing. Yeah, I thought that might get your attention.
Featured photo credit: Throwing Money Away/Bruce Evans via secure.flickr.com