June 29 2010|08.00 AM UTC

Jonathan Rivers

Stop Wasting Your Money on These 25 Things

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There are many ways that people overspend on a regular basis. They include costs that could easily be avoided, or reduced, by customers willing to do some market research, shop around, or plan ahead. In a downward economy, these useful tips can markedly help consumers reduce their unnecessary expenses. The following is a list of 25 things that many people commonly overpay for, and it most likely includes at least one thing that every person is guilty of spending their hard-earned money on from time to time.

Pseudo-Health Products

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There are a number of products marketed specifically to people trying to live healthy lives. They are often presented as “low fat,” “all natural” or even as being “high protein.” But some of these products may actually be full of other non-healthy ingredients, and can be high in sugar. As a result, “protein bars” can end up just as unhealthy as candy bars, while costing up to five times as much.

Brand New Technology

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Buying brand new technology is one way to spend more than is necessary. It is well documented that technology prices come down considerably once new products have been on the market for several months to a year. Additionally, waiting allows time for other companies to release competitive technology, presumably leading to better overall products becoming available in the marketplace.

Bottled Water

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This is probably the most overpriced of all regularly consumed products. Over 2/3 of the world is covered in water, and filters to covert ‘tap water’ into filtered water are readily available for under twenty dollars. However, millions of people choose to $1-2 on this convenience item each day.

Individual Cups of Coffee

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Individual cups of coffee purchased anywhere, whether from restaurants, gas stations, or coffee shops, are invariably priced high. Especially when compared to what one could buy and prepare coffee for in bulk at home.

Prepackaged Food

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Buying prepackaged food items such as sandwiches, sliced apples, or desert cups is one way of overspending on products that are relatively easy to make. They also often cost several times more than if one were to prepare these items and store/serve as single servings.

Premium Audio Equipment

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Premium audio equipment often costs a considerable amount more than mid-range electronic equipment. And, the disparity in quality is often confused with a matter of taste, or it may not be discernable to the everyman.

Apple Brand Accessories

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Apple has built a cult-following over the past decade, and they are able to demand premium prices for many of their aftermarket accessories. There are, however, a number of manufacturers that make products that are compatible with their mp3 players and other products, available for a fraction of the cost.

Sending a Fax from a Business Center

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There are a number of free web-based fax services, for which you only need an email address and a scanner. This process can be even easier with an editable PDF file. Sending faxes from places such as Kinkos can cost $1 per page for local, and $2 per page for long-distance faxes.

Car Maintenance at The Dealership

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Unless a car is under warranty, going to a dealership for a repair is one sure way to overspend. Car dealerships often prey on the fear of car owners and promise that certain work can only be done by authorized dealerships. Dealerships are also less-inclined to negotiate prices, something that should be done with any type of auto maintenance.

Music

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Customers now have the ability to compartmentalize the purchase of music to the individual song level. No longer must consumers purchase entire albums that they may be uncertain about. There are also new services like Pandora.com that offer a dynamic way for people to consistently listen to new music, with the only stipulation being that the listener does not own a hard/digital copy of the music.

Buying a New Car

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Buying a new car is a well-documented, poor use of money. Little else need be said about an investment that regularly looses up to 30% of its value within 24 hours of purchase. Add the price of financing a portion or the entirety of the vehicle, and you have the recipe for one of the most illogical purchases on earth.

Package Phone Deals

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Most regularly, phone companies sell customers ‘package deals’, which include certain local and long distance services, as well as several other add-ons, such as call-waiting, call-forwarding or caller ID. Many customers do not know they may choose a solitary service such as local calling only. Many DSL customers have land-lines only because it is necessary to operate their DSL – for these customers, especially those that have mobile phones, the objective should be to get their land-line expenses as low as possible.

Buying Additional Warranties for Electronic Products

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The typical lifespan of electronics products are 3-5 years. A warranty that last five years may protect you from having to buy a new DVD player after four years. But, with the rate at which technology develops and its price deflates, it is unreasonable for a warranty to cost up to 50% of the item’s purchase price. It is seldom worth the extra cost for something that many customers will upgrade before the needs for repair or replacing.

Late Fees and Overdraft Fees

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Paying late fees on credit cards and bills, and overdraft fees on bank accounts can be a disheartening use of one’s hard-earned money. Especially when a minimum payment on a credit card of $15 is missed, resulting in a late fee that can be as high as $39 (and perhaps result in an APR% increase). Overdraft fees can also add up, especially when they are made in quick succession, resulting in fees for each transaction made while an account is overdrawn.

Non-Bank ATM Fees

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ATM Fees can add up. They can also be slightly misleading; it’s not unusual for ATM convenience fees to cost $2.00, and for the card-issuing bank to charge up to an additional $2.50 as a non-bank ATM Fee. As a result, it may cost up $4.50 to withdraw $20.00.

Parking Tickets

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Often times, parking tickets are the result of either laziness or a failure to pay attention. Depending on the city, they can range anywhere from $39 to $99 for a basic parking ticket, and the price can continue to go up if the ticket is paid late.

Subscriptions to Print Publications

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With the increased popularity of online publications, print media is becoming less of an worthwhile expense. Most print publications’ online counterparts offer the same articles and features, and it’s usually entirely free – often with archives too.

DVDs

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For the first time since their introduction, DVD sales are slumping. This is a result of there now being many alternatives for individuals to watch movies without having to purchase them. Netflix offers unlimited monthly rentals, and websites such as Hulu.com, enable users to watch thousands of its titles for free.

Film

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Except for use by photographers, film has become all but irrelevant. Digital cameras allow users to view photos immediately after taking the picture; the decision can be then made to delete the picture, or to save some form of it – either digital, or a print, or both.

Home Fitness Equipment

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It seems that most people who to purchase home fitness equipment rarely use it. Paying for this type of equipment can often equate to several years of gym membership dues. And, for example, with a treadmill, the equipment is often not useful for a full body workout, such as what one would have access to at a gym.

Gambling

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Most people gamble with a vague sense that they may one day strike it rich. Others, play for entertainment. It cannot be denied that – especially at a casino – the odds are stacked against most gamblers. In any case, gambling is often the source of grief and frustration – presumably, at the thought that any money lost could have better been used by depositing it into one’s money market account.

Paying Full Price

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Perhaps a silver lining to a downward economy is that many types of products are now being sold at either discounted prices, or vendors are more willing to consider price negotiations. Even if this were not the case, there are a multitude of websites where customers can do price comparisons, or find deals on overstocked brand name or high-end products that vendors and manufacturers are desperate to get rid of.

Impulse Buys

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TV infomercials are constantly trying to convince people that the advertised product is absolutely necessary. A number of obvious and subliminal marketing methods are used to sell these products. Consumers should try and make a point to research before they buy, and not fall prey to aggressive solicitation – whether it is from television ad, or from a door-to-door salesman.

Designer Clothing

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With the increased popularity of department store brands such as Zara and H&M, designer style clothing is becoming increasingly accessible. Stores such as these offer prices much more affordable than the design houses that inspired their wares. For those who are not as concerned with fashion, there are a number of ways to cut costs in this area such as buying second-hand, or shopping at stores such as Target and Wal-Mart.

Flowers From a Florist

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Flowers are often overpriced, especially at florists, and always around the holidays. Grocers often offer flowers at a fraction of the cost than gift-related specialty shops. This alternative is definitely worth considering given that the lifespan of flowers – once cut – is only several days.

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{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

Valdese August 26, 2009 at 5:57 pm

These tips are a great start to get the proper mindset and help prioritize what’s truly valuable in life. Our dollars reflect our values more than anything else. Currently, our values seem to be convenience and image. That way of thinking certainly leads to lots of extra money spent with little to show for it except some snazzy duds/gadgets and quick meals.

A better approach is to look quality and value. Sometimes that means paying full price for a premium product if it’s something you use frequently and need to rely on (Apple products). Sometimes that means knocking off pricier items (H&M) (oh, by the way, I AM concerned with fashion and find awesome FASHIONABLE items at second hand stores and Target FYI). Sometimes it just means getting off your duff and planning ahead (shopping at the grocery store and preparing meals in advance for busy times).

Saving money just means being a little premeditated and figuring out what’s truly worth your hard earned money.

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Misty James October 27, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Awesome article. Such simple things that make so much sense! I especially love what you said about bottled water. It is crazy that we spend more on a gallon of water then a gallon of gas. Great writing!

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Joe January 2, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I think the bottom line is not to force feed these changes to those already comfortable purchasing mac products, or any other suggestion. I think the idea is to get the consumer to start thinking for themselves and not allow the media, their neighbors, or any of the marketing campaigns out there lead us like lambs to the slaughter. To establish an intelligent dialogue on how to better use ones resources. As with any situation some things will apply others won’t, some work, some won’t. Shades of grey exist everywhere when it comes to this stuff. It’s hardly an on or off, black or white issue. Shit I rinse off tinfoil and re use that if its sanitary, yet I own an Ipod!

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judy January 16, 2010 at 3:07 pm

A note about electronics warranties: For most small electroncis, they are not really a great deal. However, for desktop and laptop computers and netbooks, that extended service plan may well pay for itself. Manufacturers’ warranties seldom cover things like a broken screen on a laptop, and that is the most expensive part to repair.
True story: Hubby used to work at a computer store. One customer bought a high-end laptop, and refused the service plan, referring to it as a ‘scam’. On the way out of the store, after he had paid for it, he dropped the laptop and broke the screen. Store management could do nothing because he had already paid and did not have a service plan. He wasted about 2 1/2 grand on that thing.
For most of us, a computer is a sizable investment, and protecting it will save money in the long run. The trick is to only get a service plan for as long as you will need one. If you will be getting a new model in 2 years, don’t buy the 5 year plan. It’s a no-brainer.

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Richard March 26, 2010 at 4:51 am

We had been wasting $85 per month on Comcast Cable when we decided that the next time it went up even one cent we’d drop to basic service. In March, 2010, we made a guess that it would go up so we downgraded to basic for about $15 per month. Sure enough, we got a letter 3/25 that they were raising what had been our old rate by $3 per month. We were thrilled to have beat them to the punch.

I’m an attorney for a boutique private bank. I’ve seen the habits of people who are worth millions and have learned from talking to them how they got there. They got there by not wasting a dime, foregoing short term pleasures for long term gain, by investing instead of spending. You can never make money by spending it.

Over a lifetime, you don’t lose $1 million by misplacing it. You lose it $50 at a time, buying things you don’t need and will throw away. Or by paying Comcast for worthless programs peppered with commercials and reruns of the same films. Cancel or downgrade cable today and invest the money in your retirement plan. You can bet that’s where Roberts and the other Comcast executives put the money they drain from you each month.

Good Luck. Change your habits today and don’t wake up one day at age 50 or 60, having earned a lot of money, with nothing to show for it but old Comcast bills and a bunch of receipts from restaurants and bar rooms.

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Dee Dee April 2, 2010 at 4:00 am

I have one suggestion that i can’t believe was not mentioned, stay away from convenient stores!!!!! ( 7=elevens, Circle K’s, Thrifty marts, etc.., ) While it may be convenient for us to be able to run in, and run out quickly, we pay twice, sometimes triple the amount it would cost at a big chain store. I couldn’t believe how much money i was spending at these stores, without even realizing it!

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Meg April 19, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Re warranties on electronics: in general I agree with the advice that they are money-makers for the manufacturers and shops that sell the devices. However, I once purchased a small cassette recorder from Radio Shack and for some reason decided to pay 10-15 dollars extra for more of a warranty. Well, I ended up using the warranty TWICE–I was using the device heavily and the buttons would jam up or something. I was very glad I had saved myself the cost of replacements every few months.

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Julie April 26, 2010 at 12:25 am

Always get the insurance on your expensive cell phone (iPad, Droid, etc.) – if you drop it, and you will, you’ll sure wish you had it.

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bstr June 29, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Love the comment about Apple accessories. Their accessories are way overpriced, for sure, and their products in general are as well. The comment in this article has to do with the accessories however.

Apple makes consumer products and consumers are generally not very smart. Just look at Monster Cables!

@Julie, re: your comment about insurance, this is true in certain instances, but it doesn’t mean that the carrier’s deal is the best deal. Also, keeping the monthly plan over the entire life of the product is not a good idea. Verizon Droid insurance is $8/mo ($96/yr or $192 for 2 yrs) plus $50 deductible. For those smart consumers who are well disciplined, why not start a self-insurance fund?

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Ainsel July 14, 2010 at 9:36 pm

I disagree about getting flowers from a florist being a waste of money compared to a grocery store. Disclosure: I work for a flower shop as an admin. I see what goes into sourcing, pricing, storing, designing, and selling firsthand. Grocery store bouquets are often poorly put together (awful color choices), poorly cared for, and not as fresh as from a reputable florist. I have seen the ugliest, saddest, falling-apart bouquets at otherwise well-run grocery stores.

Your florist often gets fresh shipments bi-weekly of a vast assortment of flowers the grocer does not stock, and can handle special orders.

Florists are not always pricier than the grocer (my employer regularly beats Wal-Mart prices on loose flower bunches), and it’s true that you get what you pay for. A $10 florist bouquet should stack up very favorably to the average $10 grocer bouquet in looks & lasting power. If your flowers don’t last as long as you think they should have, the florist has customer satisfaction and replacement policies the grocer might not. Don’t waste money on a thirsty, bruised bouquet that lasts a few days; go to the florist & get flowers that can last up to a week or more. Your florist can advise you on the longest-lasting, freshest, seasonal flowers.

Your local grocer probably doesn’t deliver your flowers for you, nicely packaged, in the middle of a workday, to surprise your sweetie across town, or your Mom in another state like a local florist can (don’t use order-gathering websites – THAT’s a real waste – call florists directly). Don’t tell me delivery fees are also a waste; your time is valuable, and you can’t put a price on the surprise of an occasional floral delivery, especially to a workplace, where the recipient can show off how appreciated they are and how thoughtful their somebody is.

A decent grocer keeps cut flowers well away from the produce section to avoid ethylene gas exposure that hastens flower death, but often as not, produce and floral departments/buckets are right next to each other.

If you’re going to buy flowers from a grocer, the higher-end type places are usually a better bet, as they really care about their merchandise. If your grocer’s flower department is an actual department with a trained staff, you’re in luck. Some do a better job than others.

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JDawg August 19, 2010 at 2:56 pm

It is indeed very interesting that the way to get a million is not to spend it. Richard’s comment is spot-on, and I believe most of us are very indiscriminate about our overall ‘vanity’ spending.

We ‘lose’ a million $50 at a time over many years. But despite all this foolish bleeding away of cash, we are often ‘cheap’ about things that matter – whether spending money looking after people that should matter to us, or on a good instrument, or a travel adventure to experience some culture.

So we’re financial hypocrites, making terrible decisions where to Scrooge or squander. I can learn both lessons, spending what I need to experience a great life, and ceasing to throw away money like a fool. Maybe I can pull out of this nosedive yet!!

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Scott Strang August 29, 2010 at 6:26 pm

The fact that you had a picture of Bose speakers with the “premium audio” tag shows that either you’re:

1: stupid and didn’t do any real research for this segment.
2: deaf

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Ram November 18, 2010 at 8:00 am

I don’t understand Scott Strang. I never had issues with the inclusion of Bose. They are indeed sold as “premium”. And they are are positioned (by Bose’s marketing) at the high end of consumer market and they have huge price tags. A lot of people fall for that and expect a lot more than they get. It’s a big trap. Bose is crap, of course and that’s what the author seems to say… At least, to my understanding. Whadya mean, Scott?

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amina September 10, 2010 at 6:51 am

Eating at home- Problem is that the electric bill go up so high from cooking your own food at home so it may not be a good Idea to eat at home.

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BillShrink Guy September 10, 2010 at 11:21 am

That’s true enough if you have to cook for a large number of people per day. If you’re just cooking normal type of meals for a few people per day and the various electrical appliances make a noticeable impact on your utility bill, you may want to look into energy star efficient appliances. Electric stove does cost a bit more than a gas burner, but the electric oven is a bit more cost effective than a gas oven, so depending on the type you have, adjust usage accordingly.

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Ram November 18, 2010 at 7:56 am

Excellent. There are many more, of course. Most Indians and Chinese (I said “most”, not “all”) know these and more already. Ask them before you buy anything. You couldn’t get “cheaper” than them – I don’t mean that in a derogatory/negative way.

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tyler March 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Some of this is bs. Purchasing music and DVDs is not a waste of money. True,you can get a lot of free by using the internet,but that takes the fun out of it. Plus, CDs are so much better than downloading.
I also don’t see how purchasing a “new car” is a waste. Im not too sure what they mean by “new car”. New as in the condition? Or “new” as in….new. Purchasing a car all depends. Paying on a car note sucks,but it has its positives. Just thought I’d put my two cents in.Thanks.

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Alex Gutow March 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm

@Tyler For the extreme movie or music lover, these are definitely worth the cost. However, for the average guy who just wants something to watch on the weekends or listen to random music on the drive to work, these can end up being a huge money drain.

For the new car, we meant new new – never been driven new. You’re totally right that it all depends on the person but for most people, buying something that loses 30% of its value in 24hrs just isn’t worth it. It usually makes more sense to go for the cars that are in new condition and cost 30% less now.

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Derek March 27, 2011 at 5:54 am

I think we have a certain mentality in this country that we are “embarrassed” not to have certain items, because we are afraid of what others will think of us if we don’t. Just another way of keeping up with the Joneses, the competition never ends. I hope that is on it’s way out now that we are in a long-term recession. Maybe we could be a nation of savers again?

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Brandon October 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I love how they show picture of Bose when mentioning “premium” audio equipment.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s passable, but studio monitors are “premium”!

Take it from a guy with some Grado headphones and some studio monitors; DYOD.

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Henry Gardiner November 25, 2011 at 1:08 am

These are some solid tips for saving money and another one that comes to the top of my head is going out to dinner. Cooking at home saves a TON of money!! Going out to have dinner means you spend a lot of money on cocktails, gas, and other assorted expenditures, also the meal itself.

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Tom September 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm

It makes people feel good to waste money. Tobacco – you can’t pay the bills but you can afford to smoke? Alcohol – drinking beer at home is not good enough, $6 beers outside is a must. Premium cable package – so that you can watch idiot reality shows. Leaving the 65″ TV on to keep the cats company – oh yeah, poor cats. Their philosophy is to enjoy life, don’t be so serious. Then again I may very well be the prude because I’m not like them.

On a side note, another waste is people insisting on changing motor oil every 3-months or 3,000 miles. The 3-month is a scam especially if the vehicle is hardly driven. Example: If I put a mere 1,800 miles on a vehicle in 3-months, I ain’t worried and getting the oil changed. Ever see oil commercials where they claim that their oil provides the best protection, yet even the oil company recommends every 3,000 miles? It simply gives people the warm fuzzies because for some reason their vehicles are just more special than everyone elses’.

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