The Shocking Ways American Households Waste Money

Close to 75% of Americans will die with debt and for many, that debt will begin as soon as they reach adulthood. This debt can be the result of unforeseen circumstances and unpreventable mistakes, but it also results from a lifetime of waste. 

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American families waste unfathomable amounts of money on expenses that could and often should be avoided.

Wasted Energy

Experts suggest that as much as a third of the energy in your home is wasted. By making a few simple changes you could reduce your energy bills and save thousands of dollars over a 10-year period. 

Solar panels and insulation are two of the biggest and costliest improvements, but while they will earn back the initial cost after a 5 to 10-year period, it’s a cost that very few consumers can afford.

Instead, look into some simpler energy-saving solutions for your home:

  1. Swap old lightbulbs for new, energy-saving options.
  2. When old appliances need to be replaced, buy energy-saving alternatives.
  3. Fix leaky faucets.
  4. Patch gaps allowing air into your home.
  5. Fix and insulate old garage doors.
  6. Wash unstained clothes with cold water and detergent.
  7. Use dryer balls in your tumble dryer.
  8. Always fill your washing machine and dishwasher to capacity.
  9. Use a more efficient showerhead.

Coffee

Coffee is America’s favorite hot drink, but it’s also a costly one, with the average consumer spending in excess of $1,000 a year on coffee bought from coffee shops. These prices are on the rise and within 5 years that spend could pass $2,000. What’s more, caffeine addicts are likely to spend much more over the course of the day following several visits to their favorite store.

To make matters worse, consumers are spending hundreds of dollars on premium coffee blends to be drunk at home. By purchasing a simple thermos, you can make the coffee at home and then take it to work with you. Even if you do this just for your first coffee of the day, it can save you several dollars every working day, adding up to hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. 

Food

More than a third of the groceries we buy are thrown away. A lot of this is fresh food that simply rots away, but we also cook much more than we will ever eat and pay too much attention to “best before” labels. 

The “expiry” date is the only one that matters. Anything beyond this date suggests that the food might not be safe to eat. 

Many households can benefit from reducing in their grocery bill, which is much easier to do if you write a detailed shopping list before you leave the house and only buy what you need and what you will actually eat.

It also helps to reduce your portion size, to freeze the food that you don’t eat, and to find creative ways to use the items that remain in your fridge at the end of the week. For instance, you could make sandwiches and other treats and take your family on a picnic; you could make stews and other one-pot dishes and then simply freeze the food for the next day. 

Dining

Americans spend anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 a year eating out, depending on age and income. The older you are, the more likely you are to spend money in restaurants, while younger men and women are more reliant on takeout and home cooking. In any case, this is an expense that can be avoided.

There are many ways you can save on this expense without giving up entirely. By taking picnics, for instance, you can still enjoy some quality time with your family and even use-up some of those leftover groceries, but without spending a small fortune.

If you have a big family, it may help to plan a regular date when you can eat out and to choose a restaurant that will be within your budget. For instance, if you discover that you’re eating out 20 to 25 times a year and spending close to $5,000 in total, consider arranging just one day a month where you’ll dine at a budget restaurant. 

It’s a good idea to let a different child choose the restaurant each time. Not only does this make things more exciting for your kids, but if they’re like 99% of American children, they’ll choose cheap and cheerful locations over fine dining options, allowing you to feed everyone for a fraction of what you usually pay.

Unclaimed Money

The United States government is sitting on billions of dollars owed to its citizens. This money is held by banks, employers, credit unions, and the IRS, and is sent to an unclaimed property/money fund. 

To claim this money, you just need to send some basic information to the state, including proof of ID, and you can make a claim. Millions of Americans have money that is owed to them and is just waiting to be claimed, but unless they come forward, it will remain there.

Clothing

This is an expense that you can’t avoid entirely, but one that you can decrease with a few sensible decisions. The trick is to avoid designer clothing that will break the bank just to provide you with something that you’ll wear a few times and then forget about. It’s even worse with children. 

Many parents insisting on buying their babies designer clothing and accessories that will only be worn once and then discarded when the child is too big. That’s a massive expense for something that the wearer can’t even appreciate and something that will probably have vomit stains on it by the end of the day. 

There is no shame in wearing cheap and unbranded clothes. You can still get very good quality apparel if you shop around, and without the famous logos plastered across the front you could cut your clothing spend by 90%.

Smoking

In the 1970s, roughly 40% of Americans smoked. Today, that figure is closer to 14% and dropping. However, vaping is on the rise and while it’s considered to be a less damaging alternative, as far as your wallet is concerned it can be just as costly.

Smokers spend close to $200 a month on cigarettes, equating to nearly $2,500 a year. Vapers, on the other hand, spend just over $1,100. It’s less, but it’s still a lot of money to spend on something that harms your health.

Cannabis smokers may spend even more, especially if they combine regular cannabis purchases with vaping products and/or cigarettes. In all instances, it’s an expense that can be avoided and one that is only going to do harm.

New Electronics

Electronics are one of the biggest unnecessary expenses, costing consumers thousands of dollars a year. That brand-new iPhone that costs even more than a laptop may seem like a great idea now, but in a few weeks the screen will be cracked, it will be covered in a bulky, gaudy case, and there’ll be something new that makes it look like an outdated brick.

We’re not saying that you should avoid technology altogether, that would be insane. Instead, focus on last year’s tech and look for refurbished models instead of new. A refurbished phone from last year could cost up to 70% less than a brand-new phone from this year, with only a handful of minor changes to the hardware.

Phones are like cars. If you buy them new, they lose a significant chunk of their value as soon as you walk out of the shop, and by purchasing a used one, you’ll benefit from that depreciation.

You should also consider selling the phones that you no longer need. A phone that is a couple of years old can still fetch a good price if you sell it through eBay, Amazon or Facebook Marketplace. However, if you sell it through a phone kiosk or trade it in to get a discount on a new phone, you’ll be offered peanuts. They rely on you choosing convenience over cost, but in doing so you could be getting two or three times less than the device is worth.

The same applies to video games. If you play it, finish it, and no longer need it, then sell it. Many used video games sell for just a few dollars less than their brand-new counterparts, because as far as the buyer is concerned, the only difference is the lack of plastic wrapping.

Speeding

Roughly 15% of Americans receive a speeding ticket at least once per year, costing them up to $200 on average. If you’re fined for speeding in a construction zone or school zone, that cost could increase significantly and if those fines keep coming, the expenses will as well.

Responsible driving will reduce this risk and save you money. It can also save you in other areas, as fewer fines could lead to cheaper premiums on your car insurance and even your life insurance.

Alcohol

Recent statistics suggest that adult Americans are spending roughly 1% of their gross income on alcohol. That’s a huge sum of money to spend on any expense, let alone one that isn’t necessary, doesn’t build your net worth, and harms your health.

Of course, many will argue that alcohol is necessary for relaxation and during social situations. But if you’re in debt and struggling to pay the bills, it’s an expense that you need to think twice about. Spending just a year or two could save you a small fortune and may also improve your health and your productivity.

And if you really can’t give it up, look into some alternative ways to keep your habit going. For instance, you can make wine in your own home for just a few cents a bottle. All it takes is a few basic ingredients, including sugar, a flavoring, and some chemicals designed to sanitize and clear.

Unused Gift Cards

Every year, over $1 billion in gift cards goes unclaimed, with the money returning to the retailer or the state. They’re often touted as being the perfect gift, one that allows the recipient to choose what they want while the sender doesn’t have to resort to gifting cash. In actual fact, they’re often wasted and are rarely well-received.

Always check the expiry dates on any gift cards that you receive. If you’re not going to use it at that time or the date is rapidly approaching, consider selling it. Sites like GiftCash, GC Spread, and countless others allow you to sell gift cards and get close to the face value. 

You’re selling them to other consumers and the sites take a cut, so you’ll never get the actual value, but it’s better than nothing and will ensure the card doesn’t go to waste.

Gambling

The house always wins. It’s true, and while you might win a few bucks here and there, if you keep gambling and are not a professional poker or blackjack player, you will lose in the long-term.

Americans spend close to $300 on lottery tickets on average and much more is spent on casino games and sports betting. Of course, this isn’t true for all states, as gambling is much stricter in some than in others, but it seems that gamblers will always find a way.

Subscriptions

How many times have you said to yourself, “It’s only $5 a month, I might as well”? It’s an attitude that costs the average American close to $250 a month. What’s more, 84% underestimate just how much they spend and how many subscriptions they have. There are so many different payments leaving their accounts throughout the month that it’s hard to keep track.

Many of these subscriptions may seem small and insignificant, but they all add up. $50 for the gym, even though you only use it once or twice a month; $12 for Hulu, even though you already have Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV; $5 for that subscription you no longer need but can’t be bothered to cancel.

Stop seeing the subscription in terms of its monthly cost and start thinking about it in terms of how much it will cost over a year or 2. If that doesn’t work, calculate how much it has cost you thus far. That $5 subscription that you can’t be bothered to cancel may not seem like a big deal, but if you’ve had it for 2 years, that’s $120 you’ve spent on absolutely nothing.

Start Auditing; Stop Wasting

If you ask the average American how much they can save on their monthly bills, they’ll tell you that it’s impossible for them to shave any more money off their expenditures and that every cost is essential. Only when they take a close look at their budget do they understand just how much case is being frittered away pointlessly.

An audit is needed. Take a close look at your finances, check where every cent is being spent, and get rid of the things you don’t really need. You could save thousands of dollars a year, money that can be put towards clearing your debt, funding your child’s education, making a down payment on a home or just saving for a rainy day.