To err is human; to make budgeting mistakes, totally human as well.
Most people are not aware of the little budget traps we get caught in, because life is so busy that it's hard to keep track of the smaller money details. But being careless can rack up higher bills. Pretty soon, you might be wondering where your money is going — you don't spend that much every month, but your bank seems to be emptying itself on its own.
Here are 13 things you need to watch out for:
#1. Buying things that are not on sale: Most items generally go on sale if you wait for it. Whenever I buy greatly discounted items at a big annual sale like Black Friday, an outlet mall, or on some flash sales site, I wonder why I ever bought items at full-price.
#2. Not preserving your groceries: Even if you're good about saving on your groceries and avoiding the items that are greatly marked up in the supermarket, those savings will be worth less if you don't know how to properly preserve your groceries. If you're throwing away food, you're wasting money. Do things like only cutting fruits and vegetables when you need them, putting your bread in the fridge or the freezer, and making perishable items more visible in your fridge. Here are even more tips for lengthening the life of your groceries.
#3. Never checking your bills for mistakes: Monitor your receipts, bills and statements to see if there are any mistakes being made. Get into the habit of giving your receipts a quick once-over as soon as you receive them. This may save you money, and it'll definitely save you the time and effort of having to go back to the store or calling them to deduct the mistaken charges. Now that big banks are trying to slip in more fees to the unsuspecting customer, you have more reason to monitor your statements. Be a responsible consumer — the sooner you catch on to suspicious fees, the more chances you'll have of getting your money back.
#4. Leaving your electronics plugged in: It's easy to be lazy and leave your electronics plugged in because you figure you'll be using them soon, but electronic items still suck power even when they aren't turned on. In fact, they draw five percent of the energy in American homes, according to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The amount of energy wasted is equivalent to the output of 18 power stations!
#5. Buying brand-name instead of generic: Sick of personal finance experts telling you to buy generic, buy generic, buy generic? Well, embed that into your brain, because buying generic will save you a boatload of money. Health bills are already as expensive as it is, and switching to generic medicine will save you a ton. The FDA says consumers will be saving 80 to 85 percent by going generic. (Read this to find out about the safety of generic drugs.) Generic medicine aside, you should also consider skipping out on brand-name goods when grocery shopping or buying everyday items. Many taste tests have proven that generic goods taste just as good and sometimes even better than brand-name products.
#6. Not negotiating for lower rates: There's a quote that says "Success in life is directly proportional to the number of awkward conversations you're willing to have." People shy away from negotiation because they feel like it's uncomfortable, but if you don't ask, you don't get. The worst thing that will happen is the answer "no." Negotiate interest rates at your bank, a better plan for your cell phone bill, accidental overdraft charges, better terms on your loan payments, and more.
#7. Living by yourself: Splitting the apartment rent with roommates or renting out all the rooms in your home can greatly ease your living costs. Be aware that there can be situations in which an irresponsible roommate can cause a lot of headaches, so make sure you create a roommate agreement before anyone moves in. Splitwise is a great website to use when you're trying to calculate how much rent each roommate should pay.
#8. Not refinancing your mortgage or car loan: Make an effort to contact lenders about monthly rates. You may be able to find a plan that lets you pay less for your debt payments without greatly increasing the total cost of your loan. Make sure you do your research to see if refinancing is right for you.
#9. Sticking with your big bank: You might want to stick with your big bank because you like having all your accounts at one place, or you think it's a hassle to move your money around. But make sure that you are getting the best interest rates for your money. High-yield savings accounts are getting harder to find, but they do still exist!
#10. Not automating: Automate all of your accounts to cut down the time it takes to manage your finances and to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. If you don't pay your bills on time, you might be charged late fees. Make sure you're eliminating that risk by automating. Furthermore, you don't have to rely on willpower when you're automatically sending your money first to your retirement and savings account before spending it on the less necessary items.
#11. Making do with less energy-efficient bulbs: Replacing your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs is an easy way to save the environment and money. Be sure to do your research before buying (or ask for help from a salesperson) because energy-efficient bulbs can differ greatly in how much they will help you save.
#12. Not investing in a programmable thermostat: A programmable thermostat is a good investment because you're able to save energy by programming the thermostat to control the heating and cooling when you're away from home or asleep. There are programmable thermostats for about $35.
#13. Subscribing to cable: With all the major shows live-streaming episodes soon after they air, there seems to almost be no need to subscribe to cable. Local channels will suffice, and if you're ever itching to see a show you can't access on your TV, check out the websites of the TV networks to view the episodes. (Bonus: Many will offer additional clips that often aren't featured on the show.)