You’re not taking three-week long trips to Bali and you replaced your Starbucks habit with Dunkin’ Donuts—so you’re doing pretty well financially, right? Wrong! These seemingly innocuous habits will sneak in and murder your budget in the night.
1. Too Many Small Grocery Store Trips
Stephanie R. Caudle, freelance writer and creator of a micro jobsite called the Black Girl Group, a platform created to help businesses struggling with hiring diverse freelance talent:
“The one thing that I personally believe is killing my paycheck are frequent visits to the grocery store/Walmart. I have a really small family and I also work from home, so we tend to buy very little on our trips to the grocery store and have often been guilty of buying groceries when we need them vs. before we need them. This often leads to impulsive trips to the store, and while at one point, I was confident it was saving me money vs. spending hundreds at one time, I have found I actually spend more when I grocery shop sporadically instead of when I shop with a plan.”
2. Not Accounting for Cash
CharlesScott, Pelleton Capital Management in Scottsdale, Ariz.:
“What kills budgets? When you’re truly trying to stick to your spending plan (budget) and you hit the ATM for some cash and then it simply falls in the miscellaneous category because you didn’t keep track of what you actually spent the cash on.
“Take the time to write down where the cash goes, even on the receipt the ATM prints out, and after this happens a few times, you will find yourself becoming much more aware of your patterns of cash spending and won’t be caught not knowing where it’s gone. This will go a long way to keeping you on track and sticking to your plan.”
3. Feeling Entitled to Nice Things
Phil Risher, founder of YoungAdultSurvivalGuide.com, who paid off $30,000 in student loans in 12 months while making $48K/year and later bought his first house with cash at the age of 25:
“Entitlement: This is not really a tangible expense, but what I have found is that I felt entitled to the same lifestyle my parents had because (sarcastically) I was a college graduate. I urge my peers to not get into this mindset because lifestyle inflation will consume your finances.”
4. Pricey Gym Memberships
Max Robinson, Jumpstart Tax Specialists:
“Nobody ever buys a gym membership at full price—they usually wait until there is a deal or discount available and then decide to take one out. But if you’ve ever read the small print of these gym memberships, the deal usually only ever lasts for a couple of months, then you’re back into paying full price. The problem is that you had to take out an annual membership to get the deal in the first place!
“There’s a few ways to avoid this mishap. Firstly, never join a gym during a promotion. They never last, and there is always a catch (like having to sign up for an entire year to get the full discount). Look for gyms that are affordable all year round. Also, join local, independent gyms or gyms owned by the council rather than large chain gyms. These smaller gyms won’t change their prices dramatically at any point, they usually don’t require any membership to join, and they will reward loyalty with much more than just a bit of money off your bill for one month.”
5. Cable TV & Internet Bills
Chris Brantner, founder of CutCableToday.com, the largest cord-cutting resource on the web:
“The average cable bill sits at over $100 per month. And with so many people getting bundle deals with internet and phone, they often don’t realize (or feel trapped) when their deal ends and their rate goes up.
“The truth is that there are a number of good cable TV alternatives out there now that can replace cable at a fraction of the cost. Services like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue allow you to stream skinny bundles of pay-TV channels at a much lower price with no contract.
“Of course, you still need internet service after cutting the cord. So the ISPs will try to win back some of the money by convincing you to upgrade to the fastest speeds. However, streaming video doesn’t require top speeds—5 mbps per stream is sufficient. So don’t feel like you have to upgrade too much.”
6. Eating & Drinking Out
Ryan Frailich, financial coach and planner for Deliberate Finances, LLC:
“No surprise, but eating and drinking at restaurants is the number one budget killer. I always ask people who don’t track their spending to estimate what they spent on restaurants last month. Ninety-five percent of the time, their estimate comes in under the real numbers. This happens across income levels, and even when a person identifies it and says, ‘Oh wow, I know we spend a ton going out to eat,’ they still usually guess under that amount.
“As part of building a values-based budget, I work with clients to identify all of their goals and then make sure their spending aligns to those goals. More often than not, this means re-allocating some (not all) of their restaurant spending to bigger, longer-term goals, such as retirement or travel.”
Related: 12 Reasons You’re Poor
7. Gift Giving
Nicole Cooley, money coach for Money With Moxie:
“My clients always think eating out is busting their budget, but more often it is sneakier expenses that fly under the radar, like gift giving. Gifts and appreciations are harder to predict when you sit down to do your budget and is an area people overspend because they want to be generous to others. Sticking to your gift giving budget and getting more thoughtful, creative gifts to spend less will help improve your budget month to month.”
8. Car Inflation
Lyn Alden, founder of Lyn Alden Investment Strategy, which provides market research to individual investors and financial professionals:
“One of the biggest and most common killers of budgets over a lifetime is car inflation, which is when someone gradually keeps getting nicer and more numerous cars as their income rises. For most of us, our cars are the biggest depreciating assets we own. And naturally, when people start making more money over time, they start getting nicer cars. But this pattern of buying a newer, nicer car every five to 10 years can absolutely destroy a budget.
“If someone spends just an extra $1,000 on car expenses per year, from buying more upscale models, or paying higher insurance premiums, or buying additional cars for various purposes, or trading in for newer cars more frequently than necessary, it leaves the person with over $100,000 less in retirement than they would have otherwise had, after adjusting for inflation and investment gains.
“This is not to say that people should never buy nice cars. But a key method of building wealth is to live below your means, and one huge way to do that is to at least make sure that your car expenses inflate more slowly than your income grows. Transportation is the second largest category of spending today after housing, so even small adjustments in that category have disproportionate effects on a family’s budget.”
9. Fluctuating Utility Bills
Kendal Perez, savings expert at CouponSherpa.com:
“Expenses for heating, air conditioning, and even water use fluctuate throughout the year, and unexpected hikes in use can create strain on your budget. Review your historical use and costs to better budget for increases in these expenses throughout the year. Also consider ways to reduce your utility usage including using a programmable thermostat and swapping thirsty plants for native ones.”
10. Expired Food
Andrea Woroch, Nationally Recognized Consumer-Saving Expert:
“According to the National Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of food in the U.S. gets tossed in the trash and Americans waste $165 billion a year on uneaten groceries. Keep in mind, overbuying at the grocery store can lead to waste if those fresh foods go bad before you have a chance to eat them.
“While planning meals for the week can help you eliminate excess grocery purchases, don’t get hung up on expiration dates, either. Consumer Reports says the date printed on a product’s container is not the expiration date, and those items can be safely consumed for a period after, while saving you $529 per year.”
11. Monthly Subscriptions
Kevin Michels, CFP® and partner at a financial planning firm in Draper, Utah, called Medicus Wealth Planning:
“Probably the most sneaky thing that kills budgets are subscriptions. Last year I sat down with a family who had a major problem with subscriptions. We sat down and itemized everything they had subscribed to:
- Netflix: $8/month
- Dish: $80/month
- Amazon Prime: $16.66/month
- Five Four Club (monthly package of new clothes): $60/month
- Pandora Plus: $4.99/month
- Blue Apron: $70/month
- Car Wash: $30/month
- Total: $269
“They spent $269 per month in subscriptions on some things they didn’t use much. Because they had Dish, they hardly used Netflix. They subscribed to Amazon Prime for free two-day shipping but weren’t ordering things more than a few times a year. Their closet was drowning in clothes from getting a monthly package from Five Four Club; in some cases, they hadn’t even taken the tags off the clothes yet.
“They could live with listening to a few commercials while using their Pandora app. They found that Blue Apron was much more expensive than going grocery shopping and not worth the convenience, and they definitely weren’t washing their car enough to justify having a subscription.
“By cutting out these expenses, this couple was able to save almost $3,000 per year in additional savings, which went to pay down unnecessary credit card debt.”
12. Seemingly Insignificant Everyday Habits
Andrew Schrage, founder and CEO of MoneyCrashers:
“Even something as simple as a daily morning stop at a convenience store can have a significant financial effect. Avoid that by brewing your coffee at home, stocking your car with healthy snacks, getting your news fix online instead of buying a paper, and eliminating buying lottery tickets.”
Surely this isn’t a comprehensive list of undercover budget killers.
Let me know what you’ve identified as throwing a wrench in your finances!