40 Mindless Ways You're Burning Through Your Paycheck

04/07/2015 03:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015

burning through paycheck

By Morgan Quinn, Feature Writer

Many budgets are like leaky buckets -- they are full of holes. Most holes are small and hardly noticeable, but those little drips can add up over time. Well, it's time to patch up your leaky budget and start saving a greater chunk of your paycheck. Here are 40 ways you're mindlessly blowing through your hard-earned money every day.

1. Paying Too Much on Housing

Since housing is likely your biggest monthly expense, this is where you can really make or break your budget. Personal finance experts recommend spending no more than 30 percent of your income on housing. You can spend even less and save more by getting a roommate or moving to a different neighborhood or a city where it's easier to save money.

2. Spending Too Much on Car Costs

Aside from housing, transportation is likely your next biggest expense. Buy a reliable and affordable used car, try to live close to where you work and consider taking public transportation to cut down on gas and maintenance costs.

3. Wasting Energy

Utilities can eat up about 7 percent of the average U.S. household's budget, reports Lifehacker. You can lower that number by conducting an energy audit on your house to find energy leaks such as old windows or water heaters. Even renters can improve their energy efficiency by using insulating curtains and unplugging appliances. Every little bit counts.

4. Buying Movie Theater Popcorn

Movie theaters don't actually make the bulk of their profits from movie ticket sales -- concession sales are the real moneymakers, reports Yahoo Movies. Eat before you head to a show. Or if you're a little more daring, sneak in your own snacks.

5. Not Planning Meals Ahead of Time

Keep your grocery budget under control by planning out your meals and shopping accordingly. One of my favorite meal-planning apps comes from It combines meal planning and money saving all in one app.

6. Grocery Shopping Without a List

Maintain a running list of what you need to pick up at the grocery store to avoid making any unnecessary purchases. You'll know exactly what needs replacing, and you won't have to do any guesswork.

7. Buying Coffee

America's love affair with coffee shows no signs of slowing down. A 2012 survey found that the average American worker spends about $1,100 a year on coffee. Break this habit, learn how to make your favorite coffee drink at home and watch your savings soar.

8. Carrying Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is one of the most expensive types of debt you can carry. Those minimum payments might seem low now, but they can cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars in interest. If you have credit card debt, make a debt reduction plan. For example, try transferring your balance to a low-interest credit card, and commit to paying it off for good.

9. Paying for Cable

Now is a great time to cut the cable cord. There are plenty of online streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, which cost a fraction of the standard cable service price. To save even more money, share a Netflix or Hulu account instead of getting an individual account for each streaming service.

10. Buying Brand-Name Products

Consumers find comfort in using brands they know and love, but oftentimes generic brands work just as well as their brand-name counterparts. Step away from brand names, and try a few generics. For example, you can save money by buying store-brand medications and Kroger breakfast cereal.

11. Running the Thermostat All Year

There's no reason to keep your thermostat running at the same temperature all year long. Ideally, you'd only turn it up a few degrees in the summer and down a few degrees in the winter. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours during the day can save you 5 to 15 percent a year on your heating bill.

12. Ignoring Your Phone Bill

Check your phone bill to make sure you are not getting charged for services you don't use. You might be paying for things such as unlimited data, texting and other features you don't really need.

13. Drinking Bottled Water

In 2013, Business Insider reported U.S. consumers were spending on average $1.22 per gallon on bottled water, which was 300 times the cost of tap water (though the number could be even higher). If you're still drinking bottled water every day, consider buying a water filter to save money.

14. Using Regular Light Bulbs

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) might not be the most flattering bulbs out there, but light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs are surprisingly beautiful. They are also incredibly energy efficient. There are some upfront costs, but LEDs tend to last longer than traditional light bulbs, which can help you save money in the long run.

15. Smoking Cigarettes

This little habit can cost you big bucks. Quitting smoking can save you more than $8,200 a year -- just think of what you can do with all that extra cash.

16. Buying Lunch at Work

You've heard it before, but buying lunch at work is a huge waste of money. Buddy up with your co-workers, and try "brown bagging" it at work. You can end up saving a good chunk of cash.

17. Eating Out for Dinner

Having dinner at a restaurant is a great luxury, but it can wreak havoc on your finances. Be mindful about how often you eat out. Even something as simple as eating dinner earlier in the evening can help you eat less and save more.

18. Ordering Appetizers

Restaurant portions are huge, so why order an appetizer when the entrée is already going to be more than enough? Eat a light snack about an hour before you eat out, which can help you resist the urge to order a starter.

19. Using Out-of-Network ATMs

When you use an ATM that is outside of your network, your bank and the ATM might charge you a fee. Find a bank that has plenty of ATMs in the places you frequent or a wide network of partners.

20. Requesting Faster Shipping

It's hard waiting for your online purchases to arrive, but paying extra for expedited shipping is a waste of money. Patience is a virtue, but if you really just want everything now, sign up for a service such as Amazon Prime, which includes free two-day shipping on most items.

21. Withdrawing Too Much Money at the ATM

Overdraft fees cost customers $225 a year, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Track your finances daily, or consider switching to a bank that doesn't have any overdraft fees at all. (Yes, those do exist.)

22. Paying Unnecessary Bank Fees

Banks are desperate to get new customers in their doors. Shop around, and compare the offerings -- you'll likely find better and cheaper banking services somewhere else.

23. Collecting Stuff You Don't Need

Does your baseball card, comic book or Star Wars collection add value to your life, or would you find greater value in cashing out? Even just trimming down a valuable collection can reduce clutter and give your bank account a boost.

24. Spending More Money on Snacks

Nielsen data showed Americans spend more on snacks such as protein bars, chips and beef jerky than they do on real food. If you plan your meals and shop with a grocery list, then you won't need to fill up on unhealthy and expensive snack foods.

25. Signing Up for a Gym Membership

Once January hits, many of the treadmills at the gym are usually occupied, and the Zumba classes are bumping. But just a few months later, the place looks like a ghost town -- what a waste of money. Skip the pricey gym membership, and try joining an exercise club. Or, download a cheap fitness app to get in shape.

26. Throwing Your Child a Huge Birthday Party

Your child will forgive you for not throwing them an expensive birthday bash. Many children don't need a lavish, over-the-top birthday party. If you're strapped for cash and still want to plan an unforgettable birthday party for your child, research creative DIY tips on how to build a cake, make party favors and more.

27. Shopping Impulsively

If you are considering making an impulse buy, wait 30 days and ask yourself if you still want or need that item. You might even forget about the item completely, which pretty much answers the question for you.

28. Buying Books

Paper books are definitely something to be cherished, but if you burn through books faster than a California wildfire, consider using a service such as to cut down on the costs. You'll get to swap your collection with others online and get new titles mailed to you for free. You'll just have to pay for postage for the books you send out.

29. Driving With a Dirty Air Filter

Did you know that driving around with a dirty air filter can reduce your gas mileage by 7 percent after 5,000 miles, which can cost you at least $100 a year? That's according to, and it's recommended that you look at your car's manual to learn how to clean the air filter yourself.

30. Buying "New" Instead of "Used"

Thanks to the internet, you can find pretty much anything you need in good, used condition at a fraction of the price. Not everything should be purchased used, but pricey items such as sporting equipment and furniture are great used buys.

31. Skipping Breakfast

Eating breakfast gets your day started on the right foot and can keep you from buying a huge, expensive lunch. Try cheap breakfast foods, like oatmeal or eggs, which will likely keep your stomach (and wallet!) full.

32. Paying Multiple Student Loans

Interest rates are still relatively low, so it could be a good time to consolidate your student loans. By consolidating, you might even be able to lower your monthly payments and extend your repayment period.

33. Ignoring Your Credit Reports

A good credit score can help you save money on everything from personal loans to a mortgage. Use a credit monitoring service to keep an eye on your score, and work toward building your credit.

34. Not Using Your Benefits Package

Some employers offer awesome benefits, like discounts on car insurance, free tickets to events, education reimbursement or personal improvement seminars. You work hard, so make sure you are reaping all the benefits you are entitled to.

35. Driving Around With Flat Tires

It's advised that you read your car's manual to find the recommended PSI and fill up your tires at your local gas station. The attendant can usually help if you need assistance.

36. Manually Paying Your Bills

A big piece of money-saving advice that many people don't follow is automating your finances. Put your bills on autopilot to avoid any late fees or dings on your credit report.

37. Hitting the Bars

According to NPR, out of every $100 American consumers spend, about $1 of that goes to alcohol. Most of that money is spent at bars and restaurants, but the number could be far less if you host happy hour at your house instead.

38. Throwing Out Leftovers

In 2012, Americans threw out 35 million tons of food, which was nearly three times more than what they discarded in 1960, reports The Washington Post. Keep your food waste to a minimum by learning to use your leftovers. Or better yet, bring them to work for lunch the next day.

39. Buying Basic Items at the Grocery Store

Many warehouse clubs will give you the best bang for your buck on staples such as toilet paper, trash bags, laundry detergent and diapers. Bulk items usually offer better prices per unit -- you'll just have to figure where to store 140 rolls of paper towels.

40. Paying Too Much for Auto Insurance

Auto insurance companies are constantly offering new ways to save on coverage, so do an annual audit of your policy and shop around for better rates. Just like that GEICO commercial always says, "15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance." 

This article originally appeared on 40 Mindless Ways You're Burning Through Your Paycheck

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