Nearly everyone has spending holes, but a small leak can quickly add up to big bucks. The trick is to find the holes and plug them so you can keep more money in your pocket. Here are 25 common ways people waste money:
1. Carrying a balance. Debt is a shackle that holds you back. For instance, if you have a $1,000 balance on a credit card that charges an 18% rate, you blow $180 every year on interest. Get in the habit of paying off your balance in full each month.
3. Keeping unhealthy habits. Smoking costs a lot more than just what you pay for a pack of cigarettes. Adding in the increases in the cost of life and health insurance, homeowners insurance, auto insurance, and various other expenses, the true cost of smoking adds up: $86,000 for a 24-year-old woman over a lifetime and $183,000 for a 24-year-old man over a lifetime.
4. Using a cell phone that doesn't fit. How many people do you know who have spent hundreds of dollars on fancy phones, and then pay hundreds of dollars every month for the privilege of using them? Lots of people pay too much for cell phone contracts and don't use all their minutes. Go to BillShrink.com or Validas.com to evaluate your usage and see if you can find a plan that fits you better.
5. Buying brand-name instead of generic. From groceries to clothing to prescription drugs, you could save money by choosing the off-brand over the fancy label.
6. Keeping your mouth shut. Many stores will match or beat their competitors' prices if you speak up. It doesn't hurt to ask.
7. Buying beverages one at a time. If you're in the habit of buying bottled water, coffee-by-the-cup or vending-machine soda, your budget has sprung a leak. Instead, drink tap water or use a water filter, brew a homemade coffee, or buy your soda in bulk and bring it to work.
10. Being disorganized. It pays to get your financial house in order. Lost bills and receipts, forgotten tax deductions, and clueless spending can cost you hundreds of dollars each year. Start by setting up automatic bill payment online for your monthly bills to eliminate late fees and postage costs. Then get a handful of files to organize important receipts, insurance policies, tax documents and other statements.
12. Paying late fees and missing deadlines. Return those library books and movie rentals on time. Mail in those rebates. Submit expense reports on time for reimbursement.
14. Shopping at the grocery store without a calculator. Check how much an item costs per ounce, pound or other unit of measurement. When you comparison-shop by unit price, you save. For example, if a pack of 40 diapers costs $13, that's 33 cents per diaper. But if you buy a box of 144 diapers for $35, that's 24 cents per diaper. You save 27%! (Of course, buying more of something only saves money if you use it all. If you end up throwing much out, you wasted money.)
15. Paying for things you don't use. Do you watch all those cable channels? Do you need those extra features on your phone? Are you getting your money's worth out of your gym membership? Are you taking full advantage of your Netflix, TiVo and magazine subscriptions? Take a look at what your family actually uses, then trim accordingly.
20. Making impulse purchases. When you buy before you think, you don't give yourself time to shop around for the best price. Take the time to compare prices online, read product reviews and look for coupons when appropriate.
Make it a policy to give yourself a cooling-off period in case you're ever tempted to make an impulse purchase. Go home and sleep on the decision. More often than not, you'll decide you don't need the item after all.
21. Dining out frequently. Spending $10, $20, $30 per person for dinner can be a huge drain on your wallet. Throw in a $6 sandwich for lunch every day and you've got quite a leak. Learning to cook and bringing your lunch from home can save a couple hundred bucks each month.
24. Buying new instead of used. Talk about a spending leak -- or, rather, a gush. Cars lose 20% of their value the moment they're driven off the lot and 65% in the first five years. Used models can be a real value because you can get a car that's still in fine working order for a fraction of the new-car price. And you'll pay less in collision insurance and taxes, too.
25. Procrastinating. Time is an asset money can't buy. Start investing for retirement as soon as possible. For instance, if a 40-year-old saves $300 a month with an 8% return per year, he'll have $287,000 by age 65. If he had started saving 15 years earlier at age 25, he'd have more than $1 million.