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The 30 Biggest Ways People Waste Money Without Realizing It

We often overlook subtle ways people waste money, which can quietly drain our finances. In our comprehensive guide, we reveal savvy strategies to curtail unnecessary spending without sacrificing the things we love. Embark with us on a journey to smarter spending and enhanced financial awareness.

Shopping for Groceries When You’re Hungry

Have you ever gone grocery shopping when you’re hungry? If so, you might have noticed you’re far more likely to buy everything in sight, list or no.

Long grocery receipt with products purchased visible on the table

Hunger means cravings for food, which means you have less control over yourself when you’re around it. Many grocery stores set themselves up to ensure you walk past aisles with nothing you need just to entice you to see what’s there.

When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to do that, which means you’ll buy more than you intended. That includes junk food like potato chips and sweets. You might also buy ingredients for recipes you’ve seen but don’t have much intention of trying.

You can save a lot of money on your grocery bill if you eat something before you go. Make sure it has enough substance to sate your appetite so you can stick to your list.

Strictly Following Expiration Dates

Many grew up taking the expiration dates on food as gospel, and throw out anything past its expiration date.

Egg shaped timer

Some foods that look like they’re going bad or are just past their expiration dates are still useful as ingredients in recipes, particularly those requiring cooking. Of course, you don’t want to cook anything that’s obviously rotten, but things like milk that’s just past its expiration date can work well.

You can also keep and eat other foods past their expiration dates, including uncooked rice and pasta, certain canned foods, and food like cereals. If you freeze fresh meat, you can keep it for longer, too.

You don’t want to eat anything that expired years ago. And despite the best efforts, sometimes end up with canned or boxed goods that just sit in cupboards forever.

The bottom line here is that many foods just past their expiration dates are still edible, whether they require cooking or not. This can also save you money on your grocery bill.

Tossing Leftover Food

If you already eat your leftovers, awesome! Eating leftovers is probably one of the best ways to save money you can find. Some people don’t like leftovers, though, but you’re not doing yourself any favors tossing them out.

Pan with chicken, rice and brocolli

Find ways to spice them up. Maybe add some cheese, or put sauce or extra spices on your leftovers. True, some leftovers don’t reheat well and don’t work well cold (anything with alfredo sauce comes to mind). However, many leftovers reheat and taste just fine the next day.

If you enjoy cooking, you can also use your leftovers as ingredients in recipes. Even if they don’t reheat well or taste as good straight from the refrigerator, they can work well as parts of other meals.

Regardless of where they come from, whether from your kitchen or a restaurant, eating your leftovers will save you a lot of grocery money.

Buying Brand-Name Products

It’s a popular opinion that brand-name products are better than their generic counterparts. Sometimes, that’s true. But in many cases, it’s not.

Closeup of a person wearing white sneakers

Consider over-the-counter medicine. For instance, brand-name painkillers usually have the same active and many of the same inactive ingredients as their generic counterparts. You might find the same is true of things like canned goods.

If you want to stick to brand-name products, you’ll find many in which a premium product has the same ingredients in equal amounts as another from the same manufacturer. OTC migraine medicines are a perfect example of this.

Brand-name products are quite possibly one of the most significant ways you nickel-and-dime yourselves. Do some comparison shopping and see if you can save some money buying generic or store brands.

Making Price Comparisons

I just discussed how brand-name products often cost more than their generic counterparts. It sounds simple, but it’s not quite that black-and-white. There are times when a brand-name product is cheaper because it’s on sale or you can get a discount.

Several logos displaying the Sale up to 50% sign

Comparing prices can be time consuming. It takes some time and effort, and when I go to the store, I often want to get in and out. Because of that, I tend to buy my favorite things without even considering comparing prices.

The same is sometimes true with online shopping. Finding the best prices for anything can take research across multiple online stores.

Comparing prices is among the best ways to save money, especially when you’re grocery shopping. Sometimes, the brand-name product is on sale while the generic is not.

Take some time to compare prices. You don’t have to take long, but you can save the most money and get the best value when you compare prices, even if you don’t do it every time you shop.

You can also get an app that will help you do price comparisons at home or wherever you are.

Finally, don’t forget online searches for products, and even cheaper airline fares you ordinarily get in the physical shops. You might find even better deals online than you could ever find in a store, especially if shipping is free.

Too Many Personal Care and Beauty Products

Regardless of how you identify, you might have a lot of personal care and beauty products you never use. For instance, how many hair brushes do you have, and how many do you use?

Person with a face full of face pain

What about makeup? Buying an extensive, multi-color eyeshadow palette might save you more than buying twenty little color-coordinated palettes.

You might also find yourself spending more on pricey face, hand, and eye creams that don’t do what they promise. Lots are picky about hand lotions, so buy what you like best there. But you probably aren’t getting a good value for your money if you’re buying expensive, exotic eye creams when less expensive face creams will do.

Do you have multiple deodorant sticks with different scents to fit your mood? Think about your favorite scent, and stick to that one. You can always try out new scents, but choose one and stick to it until you find a better one.

There are so many ways to save on personal care and beauty products without really sacrificing much. This, too, is more about value than it is about the products you’re using.


You might already take advantage of one of the most common ways to save money: Coupons. The problem is that you have to do it properly. Couponing is so much more than just clipping coupons for products out of the paper and value mailers, and finding discount codes online.

Smartphone with a banner text "Coupon Code"

What happens is a lot of people buy things they don’t need merely because they’ve found a coupon for it. They may think they’ll need it in the future, or, like gym memberships, they’ll use it because they spent money on it.

That’s not often the case. A coupon for five dollars off something you wouldn’t ordinarily buy isn’t that great a deal. In fact, it still adds unnecessary money to your purchase because you’re purchasing a virtually useless item.

When you coupon, look for coupons for things you buy regularly and only use those. Also, make sure to check the fine print. Some coupons are only valid under certain circumstances, and all of them have an expiration date.

Using Baggies for Food Storage

Baggies make convenient food containers. The problem is that you have to keep buying them. One of the best ways to save money is to buy reusable containers instead.

Green beans inside a clear plastic bag

If you worry about chemicals in plastic containers, buy glass ones. They’re becoming popular again because of the potential dangers of plastic, plus they last longer, and you’ll save money over baggies and plastic food containers.

You don’t have to quit buying baggies entirely. However, you’ll save money you don’t realize you’re spending if you use food containers instead. You’ll also reduce the amount of plastic you toss into the trash.

Using Paper Towels for Everything

There are things for which paper towels are good and stuff for which they aren’t. If you blast through your paper towel supply because you use them to dry your hands, dust the house, or even give things a quick wipe-down, you can save a lot of money switching to rags.

Two rolls of paper towels

Even better, you probably won’t have to buy rags. Old t-shirts and socks make excellent dust rags. You can reuse kitchen towels, which helps save on paper towels, and you can wash them with your other linens.

You don’t have to stop buying paper towels, though. In fact, you should keep them around to clean up things that really ought to go in the trash, like food spills that can cause problems in your washing machine, your drain, or might rot.

Too Many Cleaning Products

With a few exceptions, such as carpet, upholstery, and wood, you don’t need many different cleaning products. Several multi-surface cleaners work well on everything from counters to stovetops to windows and mirrors.

Five bottles of spray cleaners

You’ll also find cleaners that work on most types of sinks, bathtubs, and showers. Full-strength bleach works better for mold in your toilet than toilet bowl cleaners. Chances are good you already have bleach in the house for other things.

Ovens have self-cleaning cycles that turn all the burned-on food inside into ash that you can wipe away. Even most pet-cleaning products work on multiple types of stains.

Take a look at all the cleaning products you have, and consider testing each one out in different places. You might just find that you only need a fraction of what you have.

Furthermore, not only is this one of the better ways to save money, you’ll also save yourself a lot of space. You can then use both the extra money and space for other things.

Buying Doggie Poop Bags

Say what?! Yes, I’m talking about those poop bags that you use to pick up your dog’s poop. They come on rolls, they’re smaller than regular shopping bags, and you can buy a ton of them for seemingly very little.

Puppy lying down on a rug

When you shop, do you get plastic shopping bags? If so, do you save them, and do you have a whole huge bag or box filled with them? Many people do that because they make great bags for small garbage cans and other uses.

Even though reusable shopping bags are becoming more popular, not all stores accept them, and you still get single-use plastic shopping bags at many places.

These bags make great substitutes for doggie poop bags, especially if you don’t go through many bags each week. They’re free, and save you money on poop bags and space in your plastic bag collection container.

Indeed, you may still need to buy poop bags, but you won’t need to buy as many as often if you substitute your plastic bags for them.

Buying in Bulk

If you have a family, buying some things in bulk (like non-perishable food and dry goods you blaze through regularly) will save you a lot of money over more standard buying.

Spices in large containers displayed on a market

The thing is, many people develop a belief that buying in bulk is always one of the best ways to save money. It’s not. If you live alone or have a small household or buy things in bulk that you wind up tossing because they expire or take up too much space, stopping that habit can save you money.

Look around your house and ask yourself: What things are you always running out of or never seem to have enough of? Those are the things for which bulk purchases will save you some money.

Otherwise, you’ll save yourself more money if you don’t buy in bulk.

Magazine Purchases

Do you pick up the latest issues of the same magazines at the checkout counter? Some people pick up the same magazine’s newest issues week after week when they’re standing in the checkout lines.

Opened pages of magazines on top of each other

You may have started doing that because you noticed a particular publication tends to have things inside that interest you. Eventually, you may have even developed a habit of just tossing it into your basket when you go to check out at the store.

The truth is that a magazine’s cover price is considerably higher than a subscription. If you don’t regularly read that particular magazine but pick one up because you noticed something interesting, that’s one thing. You’ll spend more on a subscription for a one-off or occasional thing than you will by picking it up at the store.

However, it’s another thing to keep picking up the newest issues of the same magazine regularly.

If you like particular magazines and want to read them regularly, not only is a subscription cheaper, but you also don’t have to look for a new issue at the store. If you’re looking for ideas on ways to save money, a subscription to your favorite publications will help with that, plus you’ll get better value out of it.

Not Planning Major Purchases

If your refrigerator or heater breaks, you need a new one, and it doesn’t matter what time of year it is. You’re going to pay what you have to pay in whatever way you can pay it.

Steering wheel of a Mercedes Benz

You don’t need to do this with all major purchases, though. Everything from electronics to appliances to sporting gear to cars has a specific time of year in which it’s cheapest. While you won’t save a ton of money every month this way, you will save money on these big purchases that you can put toward something else.

If you’re considering buying something along these lines and have some flexibility with your timing, take some time to see when its price is its lowest. You might find yourself amazed at how much you save this way.

Purchasing Extended Warranties

You might think getting extended warranties is one of the most important ways to save money because you might not have to pay for repairs or replacements when something breaks. However, there aren’t as many circumstances under which extended warranties are worth it as you might think.

Opened laptop on a table

This one’s a little tricky because you need to decide whether you’ll get good value for your money, which means looking into the warranty and seeing what it covers in addition to what it costs.

If you’re only looking at costs, though, think about it this way: A $40 extended warranty on something that costs $100 probably isn’t worth it. An extended warranty on a car probably isn’t worth it, either, unless you can find one that covers everything the standard warranty covers.

Generally, you’re better off not buying extended warranties at all.

Late Fees and Overdraft Fees

You’ve most likely paid bills late and ended up also paying the resulting late fees. Sometimes, late fees are only a couple of dollars, but sometimes they run more than $20 or $30.

Vintage hourglass on top of sand

The same is true of overdraft fees. The average American family spends roughly $250 per year on late fees and overdraft fees. That’s about $20 per month, and while that might not sound like a lot, consider the added cost of hurting your credit rating. That can run you an additional $300 per year in higher interest rates and penalties.

I know that there are times when you can’t avoid paying a bill late or overdrawing your checking account. Even people who are very good at managing their money run into these problems sometimes.

If you regularly overdraw your checking account, you might think that overdraft protection will help you save some money. The truth is a lot less clear, however. Without the protection, you’ll pay overdraft fees, but with it, you still pay a fee and it’s sometimes higher than what you’ll pay without it.

Go through your bills and look at when they’re due. Perhaps all you need to do is call those companies and ask them how to change your billing date so it’s due at a different time of the month.

You can also set reminders for yourself to pay your bills, especially if your main problem with timely payments is forgetfulness.

What do you do if you can’t pay a bill? The most important thing you can do is call the company to which the bill is due and ask them for an extension or a way to break up the payment. Some companies are just glad when you actually call to discuss your situation rather than just quietly not paying the bill.

Other companies might give you a hard time, but if you call to talk to them, at least you find out what your options are. Making these phone calls is better than letting the bill slide, especially if you let it go for so long it ends up in collections.

Paying for Apps

Nearly everyone has at least one smart device, and most have multiple devices. Mobile apps are necessary, but some apps cost money and others charge for in-app features, even to the point where you can download it for free, but then require you to pay for all the features that make the app worth using.

Woman tapping to open her phone

You fritter a ton of money away on apps and in-app purchases. Think about how much value you’re getting for those purchases and whether you really need them. You might discover you’re spending a lot more money than you thought.

If that’s the case, look for free alternatives to the apps for which you pay and those that require in-app purchases to unlock their most useful features.

Services Available on Your Smartphone

Years ago, you had to buy a GPS device to use in your car because your cell phone didn’t have one. If you traveled a lot, free websites like Mapquest were useful, but if you needed to do some detailed mapping, you might have had to pay for that.

Satellite radio is terrific with all of its channels, but that, too, costs money.

Your smartphone can handle many of these things today for free or cheap. It has a built-in GPS, free mapping apps that allow you to map almost any trip you want to take, and you can use radio services like Spotify to stream music. Also, you can build your own library of music to listen to.

Besides that, you can download and listen to many podcasts for free, or at least, for much less than you’ll find via a satellite radio subscription.

Go through all the services for which your smartphone has the capability and figure out what devices and subscriptions you can drop.

Your Gas and Electricity Bills

Nobody likes having to turn their heat down to 68 in the winter or keep their air conditioning at 82 in the summer just to keep their utility bills low. If you have children, you’ve probably also noticed just how hard it is to keep lights off in rooms nobody’s using.

Graphic image of a lightbulb drawn with mechanical feet and hands, pulling the plug of its own cord

Have you thought about putting solar panels on your roof? If you have, you’ve also researched the cost. Sure, that will save you money in the long run, but can you afford to spend thousands of dollars on that? If not, solar panels might seem like a pipe dream to you.

Take heart, though. You don’t need solar panels to save money on your electricity and gas bills. Energy-saving power strips and new weather stripping on your doors and windows can go a long way towards reducing your costs.

Also, switching out all your bulbs, from incandescent or CFL to LED bulbs, can save on electricity. You could both live a more green lifestyle and save a lot of money.

Instead of turning your thermostat to what you believe is a money-saving temperature, buy yourself a programmable thermostat. They’re not terribly expensive or difficult to install, and they make your heating and air conditioning more efficient than merely setting the temperatures to run them as little as possible.

Want to go even further? Here is the rabbit hole you’re looking for.

Cable Television

Do you have cable TV in addition to streaming services? Even if you don’t have streaming services, you’re probably paying for hundreds of channels you never watch with cable service.

Child seen watching TV

Your cable bill is even higher if you have premium service. Cable TV is a fantastic way to waste money, especially if you only watch a few channels from the hundreds you get.

You can ditch your cable entirely and switch to an HD antenna, or you can research your cable company’s cheapest packages to see what channels you’ll get. You can even call them and ask what their most basic package is.

Regardless of what you decide, cable plus streaming services mean a huge television bill, and if you have premium cable, you may well spend a couple hundred a month for services you don’t use.

Saving on Gas

I get it. Walking, riding a bike, taking public transit, or even carpooling will probably save you money, but may not work for you. Perhaps you live in an area where public transportation is impossibly inconvenient or flat-out nonexistent. You might live too far away from your job to walk or ride your bike.

Silhouette of a woman holding a bicycle when the sun is going down

You might be able to find an inexpensive car share, but as for carpooling, that only works when you and several of your co-workers live in the same area.

You might also have other considerations, such as dropping your kids off at school or daycare on your way to work. Society is built around cars, and for many, not driving is simply not an option.

You can still save money on gas without buying a new car or even making much of a change to your driving habits. You’ll also save yourself quite a bit of inconvenience because you won’t have to rearrange half your life around your transportation methods.

You can choose from several apps to help you find stations in your area with the cheapest gas prices and is possibly one of the easiest ways to save money. Will you save thousands? No. But you will save a little money, and little bits add up.

Simple Car Maintenance

You probably took one look at this and thought, “But I need to get my oil changed regularly,” or even, “I don’t know how cars these days work. I hope you’re not telling me to learn to do my own maintenance.”

Gas meter gauge of a car

While doing some of your own routine maintenance, such as oil and filter changes, tire rotations, and other things along those lines, will save you quite a bit of money, there’s one thing you may not have considered: Proper tire inflation.

If your tires are over or underinflated, you’re not just harming them; you’re hurting your fuel economy, so you’re spending more money on gas than you realize.

Remember to regularly check your tire pressure and add air as necessary (you don’t even need a compressor for this; you can use a foot pump and get some exercise while you’re at it). Your car’s owner’s manual should tell you how much pressure you should have in summer and winter.

Ignoring Preventive Care

I understand this is a very touchy subject. Medical care is ridiculously expensive, and so is insurance. You might be skipping out on preventative care, like semi-annual dental cleanings and annual physicals, because you have to pay too much out-of-pocket for them, even if you have insurance.

Man wearing surgical scrubs

Prevention is necessary to identify and address potential problems early before they become potentially serious and expensive problems.

Getting your teeth cleaned twice a year doesn’t just help prevent things like tartar buildup and gum disease. Your dentist can identify things like surface cavities and fill them while it’s still cheap to do so because it’ll be long before you need something like a root canal.

Let’s be real: Nobody likes the idea of having to get a root canal because a problem went on for too long. The same is true of annual physicals – your blood tests, for instance, may reveal a problem in its earliest stages when it’s easiest and cheapest to treat.

Mammograms, prostate exams, and other preventive care do the same thing. Try to make and keep appointments for preventive care as much as possible. It’s one of the most significant ways to save money you can find.

Employee Discounts

If you work for a company that provides products or services you need and has an employee discount, consider using it for those instead of going elsewhere.

Hangers on a coat rack

Many companies also have military and law enforcement discounts, and some offer discounts to any government employee.

When buying certain services or products, there’s no harm in asking about discounts, especially if you work for the government. You may find that you can save a significant percent on your total bill just by using such a discount.

Using Third-Party ATMs

If you like to carry cash with you, you might find it easiest to get some quick cash out of any ATM available.

Person inserting their card on an ATM machine

The problem is that, if that ATM is not your bank’s, chances are you’re paying a lot of money in fees. Those fees cost you a few dollars per transaction, which add up quickly.

Now, if you only get cash from third-party ATMs occasionally, who cares, right? But if you make a habit of not paying any mind to the ATMs you’re using, you could spend a lot of extra money just on fees. Avoiding those fees is one of the best ways to save money there is.

You can try and plan your budget and schedule to include a trip to your bank’s ATMs, look for fee-free ATMs, or make a note to get cash back whenever you use your debit card. Like paying for gas, you won’t save thousands this way, but small amounts always add up.

The Problem with Payday Loans

Payday loans might get you through a tight spot, but they’re bad little loans. Precious few regulations keep the payday loan industry in check, so it’s predatory. Their interest rates often rise higher than 400 percent.

Dollar bills on a table

People who take out payday loans end up in a vicious cycle of using their paychecks to pay back the loan plus all the interest and then needing another loan. The debt and interest pile up, and pretty soon, you’re in a black hole from which you can’t escape.

If you need quick money, you have options besides payday loans. You can try crowdfunding, borrowing money from friends and family, or using a credit card. Even credit card debt costs less than payday loans can.

Plus, payday loans can harm your credit rating, making your financial situation harder to control and improve.

If you follow many of these other suggestions, you might not even find yourself needing a payday loan.

Comparing Your Life to Others

Social media is bombarded with images of people who have seemingly perfect lives. Their houses are beautiful and always clean, and they have children who appear well-behaved. They themselves are well-groomed and well-dressed. They eat out at elegant restaurants and take exotic vacations.

Gray Mercedes Benz

The truth is that they might have the money to spend on those things, whereas you don’t, or you’re only seeing a tiny sliver of their lives and not the turmoil underneath.

Either way, you’ll make yourself miserable comparing yourself to others, and if you’re too concerned about it, you’ll spend more money than you ever thought possible just trying to keep up with them.

Try and make your life the best it can be instead of working to live up to someone else. You’ll find that this is among many other excellent ways to save money, and you’ll feel more fulfilled even though your life isn’t nearly as lavish as others’ lives.

Gym Memberships

Getting exercise is healthy and necessary, and many people buy gym memberships because they don’t know how else to make sure they work out regularly. And if you get a more expensive membership, you have access to classes you might like and even personal training.

Man exercising with dumbbells

I admit it, I’ve also thought that spending money on something would motivate me to use it. After all, if you’re spending money on it, you’ll use it, right?

The problem isn’t the gym membership. Lots of people have them and make good use of them. The problem is whether you’re getting a good value for it. If you’re spending a lot of extra money for classes and personal training and then not doing any of that, you’re throwing your money away.

You’re also throwing money away if you buy the membership and then realize you don’t like working out among other people, or that all the exercise you can do in a gym feels like a chore.

If any of this is the case, then perhaps you could drop the membership and find something else. Like riding bicycles? Do that for exercise. Find free YouTube videos that teach yoga, Pilates, or even a style of dance you’ve always wanted to learn.

If there are things you like doing at the gym, then keep the membership. Just make sure you have one that will give you the best value.

Playing the Lottery

Buying lottery tickets seems like the easiest way to get rich to never have to worry about money again.

Balls with numbers drawn on them

I like to think I’d invest it, live off the interest, or give it to friends and family in need and donate to charity. I even fantasize about having a huge house, a boat, a fancy car, and all the other trappings that come with having millions in the bank.

Perhaps the biggest fantasy involves never having to work again. Besides eliminating financial worries, I’d also get rid of work stress if I won the lottery, making my life easier.

The chances of winning the lottery are very low, though. I know, “You can’t win if you don’t play,” and someday you might be the lucky one who wins the jackpot.

However, since the chances of winning are so low, you could put the money you spend on lottery tickets towards other things like a savings account, credit card balances, or other necessary expenses.

YOLO Purchases

People go with the thought that “Life is too short,” which pushes a heap of purchases that are borderline unnecessary.

Case filled with dollar bills

You want to live your life as fully as possible. I get it. because I do it. But why buy something you don’t need and probably won’t use just because you can? You’re much better off using that money for things you do need or putting it away into a savings account.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to make considerable changes to your entire life to find ways to save money. You have all sorts of ways to save money right in front of you that only take a little extra effort or no extra effort at all.

Many are stuck on trying to avoid obvious things, like buying coffee, driving our cars, eating on the go, and buying things I could really do without and you might have been stuck on that for a long time, too.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about any of that in order to save a lot of money. Try incorporating some of these ideas into your life and see how much you save.