Five Ways You’re Probably Wasting Money

Five Ways You’re Probably Wasting Money
Image: Getty Images

Sometimes we waste money on things we don’t need without even realising.

It can be difficult to spot things that are wasting cash because an item’s affordability is subjective based on situation and personal preferences. Here are five things that may be a waste of your money.

People often talk about personal finance in terms of large money decisions, like deciding whether to buy a home or creating long-term savings goals. But over time, the little financial decisions, many of which occur on a daily basis, matter too. And it can be hard to know where to draw the line between needs, wants, and wastes.

When it comes to purchases, waste is anything that you don’t get any benefit from or use, Jennifer Faherty, a New Jersey-based certified financial planner, told Business Insider. According to Faherty, you can avoid wasteful purchases by doing the following:

  1. Figure out how much money you can allocate towards discretionary spending
  2. Make sure each purchase fits into your spending plan
  3. Ensure you need and will use each purchase
  4. Determine the value each purchase would provide you, given personal preferences and lifestyle

To help you find and fix money drains in your spending habits, here are five things Faherty says are common wastes of cash:

1. Duplicates

Image People often mistakenly spend money on things that they already have in the house.

“Oftentimes people spend money on things that they already have in the house,” Faherty said. “It happens more than you think, especially with couples who are just starting out.” This could be small items, like food or cooking implements, or something more expensive, like clothing. It happens because people aren’t organised, she said.

Periodically going through your closet and storage areas and checking the pantry before you leave the house to go grocery shopping are key to saving money.

2. Anything that’s overpriced

Image It could be a waste if you could have gotten the same item at a lower cost.

According to Faherty, you may be wasting your money if you could have gotten the same item at a lower cost just by shopping around. But it depends on your situation.

Calculating the financial value of your time can help you decide whether it’s worth it, for example, to visit several different stores looking for the best price on an item. How much is that extra hour of driving/shopping worth to you?

Sometimes it’s fine to skip shopping around, “because time is money,” Faherty said. “But if you can infuse some planning into it, then you can save on some costs.”

3. Brand-name groceries

Image If you find value in name-brand groceries, then this is up to your discretion.

Faherty said this is up to your discretion, provided that you derive some value out of using brand-name groceries and can afford to buy them.

Some people are very brand-loyal when it comes to their favourite cookies or yogurt, but will buy store-brand canned goods or frozen veggies.

Just make sure that you have your top financial priorities, like a retirement savings plan and paying down debt, in order before regularly splurging.

4. Single-use or short-term use items

Image It may be time to upgrade to reusable items.

If you have items that constantly need to be replaced, like disposable cups or cleaning supplies, it may be time to upgrade to reusable items.

Similarly, if you have things you need now, but that you won’t need long-term (like baby onesies), it makes sense to limit those purchases to avoid overspending.

5. Banking fees

Image Bank account fees, like overdraft and maintenance fees, can often be avoided through organisation.

According to Faherty, many bank account fees, like overdraft and maintenance fees, can often be avoided through organisation.

Do some research when picking a bank account to ensure that you meet the bank’s requirements to avoid a maintenance fee (like a minimum balance or required monthly direct deposit). Automate your bills so they come out of your account right after your paycheck hits, so you don’t get hit with an overdraft fee.

“I think it’s easy for people to get overwhelmed, but many of these things take less than 10 minutes to do, and you don’t have to do all of these at once,” Faherty said. “The key is to make it consistent and bite-sized so it doesn’t get overwhelming.”

It’s not a waste of money if you’re meeting your goals and the item is worth it for you

Image As long as you can afford it based on your discretionary-spending budget, you’ll be on track with your finances.

Savvy spending is about knowing your finances and staying on track with your budget.

“Sometimes people don’t like the idea of budgeting because it feels so restrictive,” Faherty said. An alternate approach is making sure you’re able to easily afford your essential items, like living expenses, debt repayment, and saving for the future, and leave the rest for discretionary spending.

Faherty calls this wiggle room “planned spontaneity.”

As long as you make sure each purchase has value, you actually use it, and you can afford it based on your discretionary-spending budget, you’ll be on the right track with your finances.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • If you are serious about living better, read The Barefoot Investor. We’ve changed banks and home loans saving us tens of thousands in the long run. In the process of switching super.
    We have so much money left over a week so we are hammering our home loan down.
    Best decision we made was ‘pocket money’. Wife and I both get a set amount to spend on whatever we want with no bitching from the other party. She can go and get coffee with friends a bunch, I can buy video games or weird stuff online. Money runs out? You stop.

  • We do “allowance” but the same thing. Every pay, it gets transferred along with everything else so it is automated. I have one personal card as does she and no one cares what that money is spent on. I also track my budget for months into the future so I can monitor what a dollar today does to our Xmas holiday savings. I also work off a “zero-sum” budget which means that every dollar is accounted for and try to use cash for everything that is not transferred ie fuel and groceries. The spare cash is in the grocery tin and if it is gone, we live from the pantry.

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