It's been a rough few years. Unemployment woes, foreclosure fears and economic uncertainty rule the headlines. It's a time where being frugal has become chic and "tightening our belts" de rigueur.
With this in mind, and inspired by reader submissions to our Biggest Money Wasters message board, we've compiled our list of ways we waste money in 2010.
Read through our round-up to see popular places we drop unnecessary dough and get tips on how to cut these costly wallet-drainers from your life. Some of these may seem like common sense, but if you are still making these money mistakes, a refresher may be in order.
No. 1: Bottled water
Reader Wakkila says: "I think we spend way too much money on bottle water. When what we should do is just buy a sport bottle and fill it up with filter water from our faucet or our refrigerator."
WalletPop says: The tide finally seems to be turning on our bottled-water obsessed nation. Whether motivated by the desire to be more "green" and stem the flow of plastic bottles piling up in our landfills and being burned in incinerators — or — by the realization that many bottled water companies are simply bottling filtered tap water, bottled water appears to be suffering a backlash. Jump on the bandwagon, if for no other reason than to improve your bottom line. Use a safe refillable container and fill your own bottles right from your tap. Your tap water not up to snuff? Over at Amazon, you can purchase a Brita home-filter pitcher or sink attachment for less than a case of Evian.
No. 2: Energy drinks
Reader farenc says: "Rockstar, Red Bull, Monster ... and so many more. Maybe if people would get off the Internet, stop text messaging incessantly, and go to bed at a decent time of the night, they wouldn't need energy drinks every day to keep them going, which then end up keeping them awake late into the night yet again and causing a vicious cycle. Not to mention the high levels of caffeine are addictive, so people get completely hooked. I know many people who drink 2-3 energy drinks a day at $2-3 each. That's $4-9 a day."
WalletPop says: In a recent newsletter, Duke Medicine's fitness and nutrition expert Kara Mitchell put it this way: "The central ingredients in most of these drinks are caffeine and sugar. Forget those B vitamins some drinks tout as their secret weapon. There is zero research supporting that these will boost energy — it's just the caffeine." So, get some sleep, and if you need a little caffeine pick-me-up, have a cup (or two) of some home-brewed coffee for about a dime each, depending on your brand.
No. 3: Speaking of coffee...
Reader Isisreptiles says: "Coffee at the high-end coffee chains is a huge waste of money, IMO. Some of their coffee drinks can cost upwards of $5.00 each. I admit, I do go there as a special treat on a very occasional basis, but to go often really adds up and is not worth the money spent."
WalletPop says: We know, we know. You've heard this one a million times before. But then why are you still standing four-deep in line waiting to tell the barista you'll have your "usual?" If you must get your coffee on the go, stick to a gas station or convenience store (like Sheetz, Wawa or 7-Eleven) to lessen the daily blow to your bank account. Or skip your daily "drive through" or "rush in, rush out" and only visit a premium coffeehouse when you have time to sit and linger. This way, the money you are spending is not just for the drink, but for the experience as well.
No. 4: Using 'super' in your tank
Reader AMBROOK ECHO says: "Why waste money on higher priced gas? It has no effect on the efficiency of your engine."
WalletPop says: Many drivers assume using a "premium" gasoline will make their car perform better. Not true. Never use a higher octane gasoline than your owner's manual recommends. You won't go faster, get better mileage or run cleaner — no matter what the terms "super," "premium" or "plus" imply.
No. 5: Oil changes every 3,000 miles
Reader DIPMASTER9 says: "Most people religiously change their oil every 3,000 miles. There is no advantage to this, except spending your valuable money. Oil changes at 7,000-8,000 miles using SAE grade oil have done a great job for me over the years. My cars have lasted over 160,000 miles in highway and city driving. When I got rid of them, it was never ever due to engine failure. Transmission fluid changes at every 30,000 miles has worked out for me over the years also."
WalletPop says: Why are you changing your oil every 3,000 miles? Because your father did? Because the quickie-oil change place put a little reminder sticker on your windshield? Before you get another oil change, stop! Check out your owner's manual and you may be surprised to see your car's recommendation to be between every 5,000 to 7,000 miles, potentially cutting your annual need for oil changes in half. Money in the bank.
No. 6: Cigarettes
Reader RGouge says: "Just this morning, I was thinking about the fact that I smoke two-plus packs per week, down from a pack a day. Where I live, it averages $6.00 per pack. That adds up to $312.00 per year. At least it isn't the $2,184 per year it would have been at a pack a day..."
WalletPop says: As the University of Maryland Medical System website states, "Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in our society. In fact, nearly one in five deaths in the United States results from the use of tobacco." If that's not enough to make you quit, use the Cost of Smoking calculator to see the monthly and yearly toll your deadly habit is wreaking on your finances. (Keep in mind, that's not including the inevitable health-related expenses you will most certainly incur.)
No. 7: Brand-name products
Reader Sapkovski says: "We constantly purchase brand names, and I don't mean clothing. Food and medications, just to mention a few. Food brands add marketing and advertising costs ... Is Bayer or Advil so much better than "I-don't-know-this-brand" aspirin and ibuprofen. Sometimes it is, but very rarely. Marketing and advertising don't make products taste or work better they just add to the final price of a product."
WalletPop says: It would appear, to some extent, that Consumer Reports agrees. In Sept. 2010, it conducted 21 blind taste tests comparing name-brand and store-brand grocery products. The verdict: Store-brand foods were often at least as good as their name-brand counterparts. (See the individual results of all 21 taste-offs).
No. 8: Children's birthday parties
Reader MRSpoodledoodle says: "What happened to everyone coming over for cake and ice cream? Why must we spend hundreds of dollars on 'Build a Bear' (Because we don't have enough plush toys?) and other nonsense like inflatable jumping rentals! To heck with what the 'Joneses' say. They will be bankrupt if the main breadwinner ever loses his or her job."
WalletPop says: We too mourn the loss of the home birthday party — the one with a homemade cake, some backyard games and no flashy goodie bags. Flash forward to the present, when a two-hour party for 10 kids at the local "bounce house" will cost you $200 (before cake and parting-gifts), and you know it's time to put on the brakes. We say: Go old school. This is especially true with the under-8 set, who enjoy pretty much anything that involves sugar and running around with their pals.
Buy an inexpensive pinata filled with penny-candy, make your own pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey using Internet templates, make a few batches of cupcakes with fancy sprinkles and when it comes time to leave, hand each kid a Hershey's Giant bar (you can frequently purchase them at grocery or drug stores on sale for a buck a piece) — and watch their eyes light up as they walk out with the gargantuan treat. (Editor's note: My kids always add one of these as a present topper at each party they are invited to, and it usually gets more oohs and aahs than many of the actual gifts.)
No. 9: Eating out on lunch breaks
Reader BloNdAtHrt78 says: "Packing your lunch is not only a healthier choice, but also saves you a good amount of money that could be spent elsewhere. If you're eating out every day, spending about $7 a day, you could save around $700 a year, just by packing your lunch two times per week."
WalletPop says: This is another one that begs repeating. We all know that brown-bagging is an instant money-saver, but many of us still fall prey to eating out far more often than we can afford to. If you can't commit to taking your lunch every day, we suggest considering altering weeks. One week bring a sack-lunch, one week eat out. This way, the deli-meat and other perishables you bought will have less chance of going bad, and your morning routine will be more consistent.
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