I’ve been working on a product that will help families and individuals control their finances better, and it has caused me to look inward into ways I save and waste money.  Reading several articles, and from experience, both personal and professional, I’ve created this list of common ways people waste money. I hope you find it valuable.

How people waste money?

  • Buying brand names – everyone wants the Coach bag, Air Jordan’s or the Boss wallet, and everyone knows that you can save a ton of money if you buy alternatives to big brand names like this.  This principle can be applied to many different areas. Beauty products, groceries, vitamins and many other products with established brands have to compete with store brands that are significantly cheaper.  When manufacturers have extra capacity, they take contracts to manufacture store brands. This means that your “No Name” Ketchup might come from the same plant as the “Heinz” Ketchup. A surprisingly small number of consumers take advantage of this, and although the savings aren’t significant, they can certainly add up.  Buying store brands instead of name brands can save a few dollars on every grocery trip. If you go to the grocery store once a week and save $3 per trip, that’s over $150 per year saved. In fact, if you have a family, this can be even more! Of course, savings can be greatly amplified if you use Price Matching offered by many of the larger retailers.  Price Matching can sometimes get you a better product for the same price – it’s worth considering.
  • Buying when it’s convenient – Retailers have become very smart in the ways they encourage consumers to buy things.  Candy bars and magazines are near the check-out counter, priced at a significant mark-up, and encourage impulse purchases.  How many times have you popped into the grocery store for one item and left with five? Have you noticed that you have to walk to the very back of the grocery store to get milk, making you walk past many, many other products?  Similarly, buying at convenience stores, restaurants and gas stations can be devastating to the wallet. Gatorade at full price at the gas station can cost over $2 per bottle more than when purchased in bulk at the grocery store or Costco.  Eating at a restaurant, even a cheap meal, can often cost more than 300% more than if you had prepared the meal yourself. Usually, these convenience purchases are made because we failed to plan, and are hungry or thirsty, and have nothing with us to satisfy those cravings.  A little bit of planning can go a VERY long way when you’re trying to save money.
  • Paying for simple tasks instead of doing them yourself can save significant sums of money.  For instance, changing your snow tires yourself, cutting your own grass, shoveling your own snow or cleaning your own home instead of paying someone else to do it can literally add up to thousands of dollars per year.
  • Vehicles can be a major source of pride or status.  Men can be particularly bad for this, buying a sleek, sexy vehicle that the ladies like and their friends envy, instead of one that suits their minimal needs.  Buying the car is often just the beginning, because once they have the car, it has to be customized cars with fancy fenders, exhaust systems, rims, decals and the like.  I know of one instance where a gentlemen, who made a significant income, had almost nothing left at the end of the year because he kept pouring money into his car. He raced (legally) and the wear and tear on the car required him to be working on it every weekend – so  he was saving on labour costs – but he was still spending a fortune on brakes, tires and so on. Vehicles are negative cash-flow assets. In other words, your vehicle, although it has value, typically doesn’t earn you anything, and incurs regular costs to keep on the road – be it gas, oil changes, or customization.   In general, I encourage clients to identify their minimum necessities and buy the vehicle that will cost them as little as possible on an annual basis – preferably used – and keep it well maintained. Falling behind on your oil changes or not keeping your tires properly inflated can cost you extra gas or unnecessary repairs.
  • Paying for subscriptions you don’t use or need.  Whether they are magazines, cable or mobile phones, keeping your subscriptions (and mobile purchases) in check is a key way to save money.  Magazines can be a huge culprit. How many times have you thrown out a magazine that you haven’t read? I know of one instance where a gentlemen still continues to buy the Chatelaine subscription he bought his mother for her birthday – even though his mother passed away 3 years ago.  Last year, about 160,000 cable subscriptions were cancelled, and how did the cable companies respond? They increased prices to the remaining customers to make up the difference. Read about it here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/crtc-cord-cutting-cable-1.3676769.  Review your subscriptions annually to see where cuts can be made – it can be surprising how much they add up.
  • Banks are not your friend.  Listen to bank commercials about the “Advice” they provide.  Usually, it’s to borrow more money from them at a low introductory rate that disappears after a few months.  Besides lending, insurance that is often overly restrictive and not actually useable has become a product that the banks have been pushing.  They can collect a regular income from the premiums the consumer pays with little or no risk of paying out a claim. Watch for a clause that nullifies the insurance should you have another source of insurance to avoid these products – commonly in travel and mortgage insurance.  Using credit cards and debit cards regularly makes it harder to understand just how much you’re spending – and makes it easier to make impulse and convenience purchases. Fees from the use of debit cards can really add up as well, and allowing your account to go under the minimum balance (or worse, into overdraft) can result in significant monthly fees.  A little bit of planning and review can help you understand how much your bank is charging you, and how you can keep those charges to a minimum. Recently, there has been a trend for free Apps from the bank. These are not really free – they allow the bank to gather more information about you and your spending habits, and allow them to target you for more lending.
  • Your home can be a money pit.  Not keeping the home well maintained can cause you to use extra energy in heating or cooling resulting in higher hydro and gas bills.  Spending a little money to make your home energy efficient can result in thousands of dollars of savings down the road. Simple practices, such as turning off the air conditioning when you leave, can save thousands of dollars.  Taking it a step further and unplugging everything when you go on vacation to prevent “Phantom draw” can result in hundreds more. Decorating the home can be very expensive. It’s easy to buy new furniture or new appliances because “they’re a good deal” even though you may not need them.  I have seen clients spend tens of thousands of dollars on renovations, and then move a few months later and not recover what they spent. Renovations can add to the value of your home, but only certain renovations are proven to have positive returns on your investment. Renovate to enhance your enjoyment of the home, not as an investment.  When you renovate or decorate your home, you are spending money that will likely earn you little to know return.
  • Irresponsible saving can add up.  Wait, what!?  Isn’t saving responsible?  In general, saving has a positive effect on your financial future, however, there are instances that it doesn’t really help you.  Sales are everywhere, and often retailers advertise sales that really aren’t that good. When you find a good deal, do you buy dozens of the item or one?  Recently, I came across a case where a family was cleaning out a relative’s home after they had passed, and ended up throwing out dozens of tins of tuna that had been bought on sale back in the 70’s.  A deal is only a deal if you need, want and use the product you’re purchasing. If you don’t need it, it’s probably not a deal for you.
  • Not paying attention.  Hands down, the main reason most people end up in financial difficulty is by not paying attention to their finances.  Have you ever forgotten to pay a bill on time and been charged interest or late fees? Do you have a list of bills you need to pay, the amounts and due dates?  Planning these things out helps immensely. Get organized and make a plan – remember, not planning is planning to fail. You cannot get your finances in order without a plan.