Have you ever wondered where your money disappears to each month? You work hard; you know you make it—yet it seems as though you never have any, or at least not as much as you think you should after you pay your bills (and Uncle Sam takes his portion). It's like it goes into some giant universal dryer that only spits out part of what you put in—obviously stashing the rest of it away in that secret place where the matches to all of your socks are sent.
While there may very well be a money-sucking cosmic dryer somewhere out there, the real culprit behind our missing dinero often comes down to wasteful spending. In fact, it is estimated the average household wastes behind 10 and 15 percent of their income each month. So if want to reclaim that cash, take a hard look at some of the following subtle ways you may mindlessly be blowing your budget.
Using ATMs That Aren't Your Banks
As someone whose bank has very few branches locally, I am all too familiar with the "this institution charges a fee for non-members" screen. When you're in a hurry and/or your bank is out of the way, an extra couple of dollars doesn't seem like much. But, over time, it really adds up—especially if the fee is on the higher end, like the $3 every ATM in my city seems to charge. And P.S., if you haven't noticed already, you might be getting hit double with each transaction—once with a fee from the ATM's operating bank, then one from your own.
Not Keeping Track of Your Change
While we're on the subject of money, let's talk about change. Let's say you go through a drive-through, and you get a handful of change consisting mainly of pennies, nickels, and dimes. What do you do with them? Toss them into the bottom of your purse to jangle until you need money for a parking meter? Find yourself collecting loose change all over the house on cleaning days? Those methods aren't as wasteful as throwing your change away (I've seen it happen!), but you could get smart instead: By picking a single designated spot for spare change and sticking with it, you could save up hundreds of dollars up by year's end.
Letting Food Spoil
Here's an astonishing statistic for you: The U.S. wastes 1,249 calories per capita per day. That's over 100 billion pounds of food per year or, to put it in monetary terms, roughly 160 million dollars' worth. That's money out of your pocket too, my friend. Cut back on food waste in your home by only buying as much fresh produce as you can realistically consume, as well as keeping a close eye on expiration dates.
Forgetting to Follow Up on Rebates
If you had a dollar for every time you forgot to mail-in one of those mail-in rebates stapled to a receipt, well... you'd have a lot of dollars… especially coupled with the actual rebate money you're basically throwing away by not sending off for it. It's alarming how easy it is to forget about these suckers, which means you probably don't want to know how much money you've misled yourself out of over the years. Make a vow to make it stop.
Racking Up Late Fees
A few dollars here, a few dollars there—late fees aren't that bad, right? Actually, yeah, they are. If you total up the average amount you accrue in late fees over a 6-month period, you may very well be shocked. This is one of those things we all kind of shrug off for convenience's sake—and yet pointlessly paying extra money for a product or service certainly isn't convenient to your bottom line.
Paying for Idle Memberships
Yes, I'm talking about that gym membership you haven't used in months. Or how about your Hulu account? How often do you really log in and watch Law & Order: SVU? I'm about to let you in on a little secret—I recently cut out all of the monthly memberships I barely (or never) use, and I saved myself $58 per month. Gulp.
Buying Name Brands
While you should certainly find your favorite products through personal trial and error, chances are you could easily swap out a few name-brand products for the generic version and never notice a difference—with the exception of some extra moola in your bank account each month. Generally, the generic versions of name-brand products boast nearly identical ingredient lists.
Drinking Bottled Water
Sure, investing in an at-home filter for your tap water will cost more upfront than buying a flat of Fiji bottled water. However, you'll recoup that cost easily within a few months if you buy yourself a good reusable bottle to fill up at home. Bonus? It's way better for the environment.
Not Inflating Your Tires Properly
Never, not once in my life has someone told me that not keeping my tires inflated to the optimal level can save me money at the pump. So here I am, doing you the solid that was never done for me: According to FuelEconomy.gov, keeping those tires pumped properly can improve gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent. Mind blown.
Buying Fancy Coffee Beverages
Every time I plunk down four dollars for my oh-so-beloved iced caramel macchiato at the local 'Bux, I tell myself it's no biggie. However, a 2013 survey by Accounting Principals found that the average American spends over $21 per week on their coffee fix. That means that cutting out your Starbucks runs could save you—are you ready for this?—more than $1,000 per year.