One of the first steps to building wealth, is learning how to stop wasting money. Whether its food, clothes, travel, pets, home expenses, tech, or anything else, you might be surprised how much money is slipping through your fingers each month.
The good news is, if you take a hard look at your finances, and do your best to eliminate wasteful spending, you will be amazed at the money you can save. And when I say “save,” I literally mean, “money that you get to put into savings.”
My goal for this post, is to address the root of wasteful spending in the many areas of your financial life. When I started planning this post, I didn’t want to just list 50 items you can save money on. Instead, I wanted to provide you with unique, actionable ways to eliminate financial waste in the most common areas of life.
So, let’s get started.
What Is Wasteful Spending?
I think it’s important for you to understand that spending money, and wasting money are two very different things. Spending money is a part of life, and it is ok. There are things you need to spend money on, like: groceries, car insurance, living expenses, and so much more.
Wasting money comes into play when there is an excess of spending, when there is no reason for it. For example, if you spent $50 on gas when you could have gone to a different gas station and spend $35, you just wasted $15. You needed the gas; you didn’t need to spend $50 on it.
Also–and you will see examples of this throughout the article–sometimes the cheaper option is the wasteful option. Often, buying a quality product or paying for a better service will serve your finances better in the long run, therefore avoiding waste.
Ok, now let’s get down to brass tacks.
General Tips To Stop Wasting Money
Get On a Budget
If you want to eliminate wasteful spending, you need to set goals, plan, and track your expenses. It doesn’t matter which area of your finances you are working on; cutting out wasteful spending always starts with a budget.
Stop Using Credit Cards
If you have spent any time on Be The Budget in the past, you probably know how much we despise credit cards. There is nothing more wasteful than paying interest on something you should have saved up and paid cash for.
Plus, credit card purchases are often made in haste, which almost always leads to wasteful spending.
Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
It is amazing the influence other people can have on your finances. Just because somebody else buys a new car, does not mean you have to. This is often referred to as ‘Keeping up with the Jones’.”
The problem with comparing yourself to others, is that you don’t know their financial situation. They might be drowning in debt, and you don’t want to go down that path. It’s not only a waste of money, but a waste of time too.
Set Meaningful Financial Goals
Have you ever sat down and put some financial goals on paper? Do you have a net worth goal for the next 5, 10 or 30 years?
If you don’t set some goals for your finances, how will you know when you get off track with your finances. Set some financial goals as soon as possible, because when you are working toward a big important goal, you are much less likely to waste money.
Find An Accountability Partner
Have you ever had a workout buddy?
This is a really common thing in the fitness world, but not so common in the financial world. It’s like people would rather stand naked on a scale at the gym than tell a close friend that they are struggling with debt.
Accountability partners work, so step outside your comfort zone, and build your financial fitness with a partner. You will be amazed at the results. (Maybe you should take some before and after photos of your net worth… just sayin’)
Save Money First (In an Inconvenient Place)
One of the most important things you can do to avoid wasteful spending is limit the amount of money available to you. The best way to do this, is to put money into savings before you spend a dime on anything else. You will be amazed how fast this process with will transform your habit of wasteful spending into creative saving.
Important side note: Make sure to set up your savings account at a different bank than your checking account. This way, it will be harder to cheat, and transfer money out of savings. Also, make it a money market account, or a savings account that keeps up with inflation. For more on this, check out our earlier post, 15+ Good Money Habits.
Build An Emergency Fund
If you were to lose your income today, would you have enough money to support your lifestyle for the next six months, or would you be forced to live your life on a credit card?
If you want to eliminate wasteful spending, you need to build up an emergency fund that can support you in times of need. An emergency fund is the barrier between you and financial struggle, so start building one today.
Get Out Of Debt
If you are in debt for anything, you are not only wasting money on interest payments, you are wasting money on interest you aren’t earning by investing it. Debt is a financial double whammy, and an extremely wasteful way to spend your hard-earned money. So, get out of it as soon as possible.
If you need a little debt-free motivation, check out our post that answers the question: What is it like to be debt free? Getting out of debt has eliminated so much wasteful spending in our life, and it will for you too!
How To Stop Wasting Money on Food
Avoid Fast Food
Fast decisions are rarely good for your finances, so fast food, is a bad idea if you want to cut out financial waste. I mean, it has ‘fast’ in its name, come on! If you are prone to turning into a fast food joint on your way home from work, it might be time to find a better route.
Talk about trimming your waist! Bad pun? Sorry.
Plan Your Meals
If you want to win the war of wasteful spending, you are going to need to start planning your meals. This strategy alone saves us an extra $500 per month.
Though, it isn’t enough to just plan your meals, you have to stick to your meal plan. So, to combat the occasional overspend on groceries, check the price of every item on your grocery list online. Then, only bring enough cash to cover that amount.
Planning your meals will eliminate so much waste in your finances. Just be sure not to waste your leftovers!
Allow Time For Cooking
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when planning your meals and eating out less, is not allowing yourself enough time to cook your meals. Cooking your meals often takes more time than you think, so plan accordingly.
You don’t want to spend the time planning your meals, only to underestimate your cooking time, and give up in place of ordering a pizza.
As a guideline, however long a recipe claims it will take you to prep and cook, double it. They never account for finding all the ingredients, distraction, second guessing yourself during the cooking process, or clean-up.
Change Your Grocery Shopping Routine
If you are the kind of person to go shopping just because you don’t have anything in the fridge tonight, you are setting yourself up for wasteful spending. There is nothing worse for your day-to-day finances than the combination of a grocery store and a growling stomach.
Instead, plan one or two grocery trips a week, and make sure to go after eating a big meal. Your mind will be clear, you won’t be desperate for food, and your fridge will never be completely empty.
Pay Cash For All Food
As I mentioned before, if you struggle with overspending on groceries, or ordering too much at restaurants, it’s time to pay cash. There is just something about paying cash that makes it hurt a little more to spend money, and that will help you cut down on wasteful spending.
Consequences don’t just work on screaming little kids that are throwing a temper tantrum, they work on adults too. The only problem is, you need to have the discipline to enforce them on yourself.
If you find yourself wasting money on food, a good consequence is to pull the overspent money from your fun money. Everybody likes fun, and if overspending on food means less fun, I’m willing to bet you will stay right on budget.
If you want to learn more about fun money, and all it’s awesomeness, check out our post, Budgeting Tips – Fun Money.
Separate Your Food Budget Into 2 Categories
When you have one big fund for food, we have found that it is actually harder to stay on budget. So, we recommend you separate your monthly budget for food into two categories: Groceries and Restaurants. This way, you know exactly how much money you have to work with every time you go to the store, or sit down for nice dinner out. It’s also much harder to waste money when you divide it into smaller categories.
How To Stop Wasting Money on Clothes
Take a Full Clothing Inventory
If you are the kind of person that tends to waste money on clothes, try taking every single article of clothing you own, and pile it on your bed. I mean everything. Socks, shirts, pants, winter coats–everything. I think you’ll be surprised how big the pile gets.
Now, take a photo of the pile, print it, and keep it in your wallet and next to your computer. That way, whenever you hear yourself say you ‘need’ new clothes, and you go to make a purchase, you will see the photo and gain a little perspective.
Be More Consistent With Laundry
Buying new clothes is often a symptom of bad laundry habits. When you constantly put off laundry duties, you will always feel limited in your clothing selection. And when you feel limited, you might convince yourself that you need more clothes. In reality, you just need to be more consistent with laundry.
Buy It Nice, or Buy It Twice?
This might seem a little contradictory,but sometimes it’s better to buy nicer clothes instead of cheap, low-quality clothes. If you spend more money on a high quality piece of clothing, you will take good care of it, you will wear it more often, and you won’t grow tired of it as quickly.
For example, for years, I would only buy cheap sunglasses. I just didn’t see the point of spending hundreds of dollars for something I could get for $40. But every year I would end up buying one or two new pairs of sunglasses because they would either break, or I would lose them. I just didn’t place a high value on them, because they were cheap, and I knew it.
Then, one day, I bought a pair of $225 Oakleys. They were slick, high-quality, and looked awesome! That was 5 years ago, and I still wear them every day. And, do you know how many pairs of sunglasses I have bought since then? Zero.
So, stop wasting money on crap, and buy something of quality. It’s worth it in the long run.
Budget For Clothes
Spending money on clothes in and of itself is not wasteful. And sometimes you actually do need new clothes. So, just budget for it every month. Give yourself a clothing allowance in your budget, and stay within that limit. As long as you pre-planned it into your budget, you can be confident it isn’t wasteful.
Watch Out For Social Media
This is along the same lines of not comparing yourself with others. If you spend all day on social media, watching influencers talk about clothes they love, chances are you are heading down a path to wasteful spending. Be careful of social media. It can turn into a spending trap.
Plan Your Weekends Better
If you’re like most people, you probably buy most of your clothes on the weekend. Without work, school, and other weekday activities demanding your attention, it’s easy to find yourself passing time in a department store, or shopping online.
So, break the mold, and fill your weekends with more productive activities like: working out, grabbing lunch with friends, or going for a hike. If you plan your weekends better, shopping will become an interruption, not a distraction.
Make Yourself Wait
If you really want to combat wasteful spending, force yourself to wait an entire week whenever you go to make a clothing purchase. You will be surprised how often you end up losing interest, finding something better, or just decide it isn’t actually worth your money.
Sell or Donate Clothes Whenever You Buy Clothes
This is what I refer to as having a river of clothes–when new clothes flow in, old clothes must flow out.
If you have to sacrifice old clothes whenever you want to buy new clothes, it adds a little bit of tension to your purchase. And with that tension, you will have to decide if giving up clothes is really worth your new purchase. This is one of our favorite tactics to keep from wasting money on clothes.
How To Stop Wasting Money On Travel
Save Before You Start Planning
Vacations are a lot of fun, but the fun of vacation planning can actually lead to overspending.
So, instead of planning a vacation, and then saving up to pay for it, try saving a set dollar amount, then planning a vacation around the money. After putting in the work to save up all that money, you are much less likely to spend it frivolously.
Book Vacations The Old-Fashioned Way
If you want to keep from wasting money on travel expenses, try booking your trip through a travel agent. It might seem pretty old-school, but travel agents know their stuff, and are great at keeping your trip on-budget.
Spend More Time Researching
Whenever you are planning a vacation–or a trip of any kind–force yourself to slow down, and do more research. Don’t just book a trip after 20 minutes comparing prices online. Instead, do your research over the course of a few days, or even a couple weeks. Remember, wise decisions are rarely made in haste. And when it comes to something as expensive as travel, an unwise decision can cost you a lot of unnecessary money.
There’s nothing worse than buying a really cheap plane ticket, only to be charged an arm and a leg on checked bags. So, next time you are traveling, try to fit your trip into a carry-on. It will lighten your load both physically and financially.
Book Flights At The Right Time
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to travel, is booking your flight too early. SkyScanner did a study on the matter, and determined that the best time to book domestic flights is 2-3 weeks in advance, while international flights should be booked 5-6 months ahead of time. Also, they determined that the best time and day of the week to book flights is at 5AM on Tuesdays.
Be Flexible Whenever Possible
Sometimes your plans have to be rigid, but if you have room for flexibility in your travel take advantage of it. Simple acts like changing your travel dates by one or two days, or flying a different airline, can take a lot of pressure off your bank account. Flexibility is the enemy of waste.
How To Stop Wasting Money On Cars
Don’t Lease Or Finance
Leasing or financing a car is the most expensive way to operate a vehicle. So, if you want to stop wasting money, don’t do either. Save up and pay cash instead. It takes more discipline to buy a car with cash, but it will serve your finances significantly better than paying interest for the next 5 years.
Buy A Used Car
New cars lose nearly 50% of their value in the first 3 years (source). So, if you really want to avoid wasteful spending, buy a used car that’s at least 3 years old. Plus, there are a ton of really nice, well-taken-care-of, used cars out there. There is no need to waste your money on a brand new car.
Forgo The Accessories and the Technology
Car accessories are pretty cool these days, but for years and years, people drove cars without them just fine. You don’t need a navigation system. You don’t need a backup camera. You don’t need a killer sound system. If you want to stop wasting money, ask yourself this question when it comes to car accessories and technology: “Will the car work without it?” If the answer is yes, then buying it is probably a waste of money.
Shop For Less Expensive Car Insurance
When is the last time you shopped for car insurance? If you haven’t taken a look around in awhile, I suggest you do so. With so many insurance companies competing for your business, there’s a good chance you can find a better rate than you are currently paying. Who knows, you might be just a couple calls away from saving hundreds of dollars per year.
Don’t Be Cheap When It Comes To Maintenance
When it comes to car maintenance, there is a fine line between finding a good deal, and being cheap. It is much more cost effective to spend a few hundred dollars a year on car maintenance with a professional mechanic than thousands of dollars on car repairs because your neighbor knew a guy that would work on your car for half the price of any other mechanic. Don’t be penny-wise and dollar-dumb.
Be Consistent With Car Maintenance
In addition to paying a professional for car maintenance, you need to be consistent. Consistent car maintenance will save you thousands of dollars in the long run. So, find a good, honest mechanic, and take your car in every 5,000 miles (maximum).
Buy Gas at Wholesale Clubs
If you live near a wholesale club like Costco or Sam’s, buy a membership. The gas saving you can get from one of these places will pay for the annual membership fee multiple times over when compared to buying gas at a normal gas station. We personally pay about $15 less per-tank at Sam’s than we would at any of the other gas station nearby.
How To Stop Wasting Money On Pets
Shop for Coupons
Before you buy anything for your pet, do a search online for coupons. You will be amazed at the kind of deals you can find for pet supplies online.
Get Your Pet Some Exercise
If you want to avoid costly pet ailments, be sure to get your pet some exercise. Long walks, running around a dog park, or throwing a ball to your dog can do wonders for your long-term financial well-being.
Stop Buying Chew Toys That Fall Apart
Don’t spend $25 on a toy that your dog is going to chew up in a couple days. Rather, buy a couple of ultra-durable chew toys, and then, if you want to mix things up a bit, go find a stick and let your dog play with it. Remember, if you buy a toy that your dog can chew up, you are literally wasting money on crap.
Groom Your Pet At Home
Another great way to stop wasting money, is to groom your pet yourself. Go buy a bottle of pet shampoo, some grooming shears, turn on the hose, and get to work. If you need a few tips, search for some how-to videos on YouTube. Everything you need to know is at your fingertips.
Consider Pet Insurance
Pet illnesses and injuries can get expensive, so if you want to avoid large vet bills, you might want to look into buying pet insurance. For certain dog breeds prone to costly diseases and ailments, this could save you thousands of dollars in the long run. It’s at least worth your consideration.
Don’t Buy Poop Bags
If you are spending money on poop bags, you are wasting money. I know we aren’t talking about a big waste of money, but still, why would you spend a couple bucks when you don’t have to. Grab a grocery bag instead.
How To Stop Wasting Money On Home Expenses
Cut Back On Utilities
This isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, but utilities can be a major waste of money. So, turn off your lights, turn down the heat, shorten the length of your showers, turn down the air conditioning, yada yada yada. Sorry, I had to include that one.
Keep a Clutter List
Next time you declutter your home, keep a list of all the things you are getting rid of. That way, you know exactly what to stop wasting your money on in the future. I call it a clutter list, but you could also call it a ‘Do Not Buy’ list.
Save For Renovations
When it comes to remodels, additions, updates, landscaping, or any other home renovation project, be patient, and save enough money to pay cash for it. Emergencies like burst pipes, busted water-heaters, and broken furnaces should be taken care of with an emergency fund and insurance, not debt. You should save for everything else well in advance.
Get Rid Of PMI
If you are paying Private Mortgage Insurance, you need to get rid of it as fast as possible. Throwing a few hundred dollars away each month because you have less than 20% equity in your home is a big waste of money, and it will be a giant relief when you get to stop paying for it.
Pay Off Your Mortgage Faster
Can you imagine a life without a single debt payment? If you really want to experience financial bliss, pay off your mortgage as fast as possible. Throwing a few hundred dollars toward your principal each month, can keep you from wasting tens-of-thousands of dollars in the long run.
Sell Your Home
Sometimes, owning a home is more financial trouble than it’s worth. So, if you feel like you are drowning in debt, be willing to sell your home. Renting, or buying a smaller, less expensive home can drastically improve your quality of life. What’s the point of owning a home, if it is ruining your financial life? Your homes should be a blessing, not a curse.
Create a Seasonal Expenses Budget
With each new season, comes new expenses, and if you want to avoid wasting money, you need to prepare for them. Each month, set a little money aside for the upcoming season. This fund will end up paying for things like gardening and landscaping expenses in Spring, or Christmas lights in Winter. No matter what though, you will have a set amount of money to spend on seasonal expenses, and as long as you stay within that amount, you can be sure you aren’t wasting any money.
Stop Paying For Pest Control (Gasp!)
If you have the stomach to handle spiders, mice, and insects, why would you waste money on a pest control service each month? Go buy yourself some indoor/outdoor bug defense spray from Home Depot and get to work. This could reduce your financial waste by a couple hundred dollars per year.
Know When to DIY Vs. Hire a Professional
Small projects make a lot of sense when it comes to DIY, but know your limits. Sometimes it’s more cost effective in the long run to just hire a professional.
How To Stop Wasting Money Online
One of the sneakiest ways to waste money, is through online subscriptions that are automatically charged each month. If you want to trim the waste in your budget, do a sweep through your bank account and cancel any unnecessary subscriptions.
Invest In Learning New Skills
If you are set on spending money online, why not spend it on learning a new skill. I am a firm believer that investing in learning new, marketable skills is not a waste of money, as long as you dedicate yourself to it, and don’t go into debt to learn it.
Do An Email Cleanse To Eliminate Temptation
One of the biggest culprits in online spending is your inbox. How are you supposed to maintain a solid financial situation when your whole day is spent scrolling through emails about sales and great new products you have signed up to receive?
Take some time to go through your email and unsubscribe from the email lists that most entice you to waste money. Eliminating theses “spending triggers” can stifle your wasteful spending long into the future.
Use CashBack and Rewards Apps
Just be sure to use these apps on purchases you were already going to make. Don’t go spend money just to get cashback rewards. That would be very wasteful!
How To Stop Wasting Money On Tech
Don’t Buy Extended Warranties
The reason companies offer extended warranties, is because they make a lot of money on them. And the reason they make a lot of money on them, is because they know the chance of you actually needing or using the warranty is slim. Extended warranties in most cases are a waste of money.
Buy Used and Refurbished Devices
If you are in need of a new computer, phone or tablet, don’t be afraid to buy a refurbished device. The only real difference between refurbished, and new, is their cosmetic appearance. If a few scratches on the bottom of a laptop can save you a couple hundred dollars, don’t waste your money on new one.
Stop Upgrading Your Phone
If your phone isn’t broken, don’t go buy a new one just because you are due for an upgrade. Phones will last much longer than two or three years if you take good care of them. Plus, even the latest and greatest technology will lose its luster in a matter of weeks or months.
Don’t sacrifice your financial future for new technology. A giant bank account is much more fun than peeling that plastic cover off a new phone.
Sell Your Old Tech
Don’t just let your old devices sit in a drawer that you never open. Instead, sell them and put the money you make into investments. That way, instead of gathering dust for the next 20 years, they will be gathering interest.
In every area of life, there is an opportunity for waste. Whether you are spending money on food, clothes, travel, cars, pets, home expenses, online shopping, technology, or anything else, you have the choice to either blow your money, or grow your money.
You see, personal finance is really just a long series of small decisions. And if you have the wisdom to make choices that put your financial future ahead of your present desires, you will spend your life making the most of every dollar you earn. And that is how to stop wasting money.