Mindless Habits That Are Wasting Your Money

Experts share the small spending habits that add up.
Mindless purchases add up.
Artem Varnitsin / EyeEm via Getty Images
Mindless purchases add up.

“How did I spend so much?!” is a fairly common reaction to a monthly credit card bill. It’s usually followed by the realisation that some things need to change.

Cutting back on spending might involve big life changes, like moving to a less- expensive area or skipping out on an annual group holiday. But it can also involve a reexamination of the smaller things that add up, like the spending we do without much consideration.

From monthly subscriptions that should’ve been canceled long ago to that impulse to buy products simply because the deal is so good, there are many mindless spending habits that waste money. Below, personal finance experts share 16 common ones and their tips for breaking them.

1. Buying Things Just Because They’re On Sale

We all love a good sale, but too many of us get caught up in the trap of thinking we should buy something simply because the price was reduced, not because we actually need it.

“‘It was such a great deal I couldn’t pass it up’ can end up costing you a lot of money for clothes and items that will go unused,” said “The Joy of Saving” author Jeanette Pavini. “Shopping for bargains on things you need is good, but getting in the habit of making purchases just because it’s a deal ends up costing you.”

2. Ordering Food Delivery Through Apps

“If you weren’t already someone who ordered food delivered to your home using services like DoorDash, Uber Eats, or Postmates [or Deliveroo, in the UK], the pandemic probably forced you to make the switch,” said Chris Browning, host of the “Popcorn Finance” podcast. “Because it is so convenient, it’s easy to ignore or dismiss the high fees that are tacked on to your food order.”

On top of standard delivery fees and tips, service fees and other random charges tend to appear in the total.

“This is in addition to the fact that restaurants often have to charge higher prices to account for the fees that they are being charged by these delivery services,” Browning added.

He suggested ordering delivery or pickup directly from a restaurant by checking the website or calling to cut back on costs.

“Even though UberEats, DoorDash and GrubHub are super convenient, it is definitely not for your bank account.”

- Tomeka Lynch Purcell, financial adviser and founder of Credit to Close by PMG Worldwide

3. Engaging In Microtransactions

“You might download a game app on your phone, and then get swept into repeatedly purchasing upgrades and extras through so-called ‘microtransactions,’” Margaret Price and Jill Gianola, authors of the upcoming book “Single Women and Money: How to Live Well on Your Income,” told HuffPost in an email.

Microtransactions generally involve virtual goods or points that can benefit players who don’t necessarily have the time or skill to earn them in the game. There’s been controversy regarding microtransactions among children, but plenty of adults have also faced trouble with overspending in apps.

“The costs of these small purchases add up quickly,” said Gianola and Price.

4. Not Keeping Track Of Subscriptions

“Many of us are hitting subscription fatigue with the increase in number of streaming services and the shift to subscription business models versus flat fees for many services,” Browning said.“Typically the problem starts with free trial offers that convince us to try out a new service that we inevitably forget to cancel. With so many transactions coming in and out of our bank accounts it can be easy to miss a new monthly charge, especially if it’s not very large.”

And it’s not just streaming services. Think about those monthly wine subscriptions you signed up for after a few too many glasses at a vineyard or the clothing rental service you joined for wedding season, but no longer need.

“Keep track of your subscriptions,” advised personal finance coach Pattie Ehsaei. “Every month, you should view all your monthly subscriptions like apps, streaming services and magazines to make sure you’re not paying for any subscriptions you did not purchase and cancel the ones you do not use.”

5. Constantly Updating Your Wardrobe

“An issue I see with consumers and mindless spending is unnecessarily updating their summer and winter wardrobes every year,” said Tomeka Lynch Purcell, a financial adviser and founder of Credit to Close by PMG Worldwide.

The world of fast-fashion and influencer hauls has given people the idea that we need to constantly buy new clothes and prioritise quantity over quality. Consumers are also forgetting the value of wardrobe staples and layering.

“We have transitioned into the fall season, but don’t put away your summer clothes just yet,” Lynch Purcell said. “This is the time to add a few new pieces as opposed to an entire new wardrobe. Purchasing a sweater, blazer or tights is ideal for the chilly weather and definitely more wallet-friendly.”

Kara Stevens, founder of The Frugal Feminista and author of “Heal Your Relationship with Money,” noted that people also do a poor job of taking inventory of their wardrobes.

“I think sometimes when we don’t wash our clothes enough, we don’t realise how many outfits and options we have,” she said. “We end up thinking we have nothing to wear and go shopping. Having a laundry schedule and just generally being organised helps us know what we have so we don’t wind up with duplicates and triplicates.”

6. Food Shopping Without A Plan

They say you shouldn’t food shop hungry, but you also shouldn’t show up without a list or a sense of what you already have at home.

“Most people who go to the store just to pick up a few things never stick to just those few things,” Talaat and Tai McNeely of His and Her Money told HuffPost in an email. “They usually walk out with way more than they intended and it’s probably something they didn’t even need at the moment, which all leads to wasting money.”

Grocery shopping without a plan leads to wasted money and food.
d3sign via Getty Images
Grocery shopping without a plan leads to wasted money and food.

In addition to costing extra money, this mindless practice can also lead to additional food waste. So it’s important to have some sort of structure, even if it’s just keeping a list on your phone when you remember grocery items you need.

“Fine-tune your grocery shopping habits and start meal planning to reduce the amount of food you buy and ultimately stop wasting it,” said money and budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “Also freeze leftovers and opt for frozen produce over fresh so that you avoid the chance of these foods going bad before you have a chance to eat them.”

Furthermore, grocery shopping with purpose will help you cut back on extra spending on restaurant meals or delivery.

“We have to spend more time cooking, rather than eating out,” Lynch Purcell said. “Create a sensible monthly budget for grocery shopping and plan out what you want to eat for the week. That way you are prepared and not feeling the anxiety of what you will eat that day. Even though UberEats is super convenient, it is definitely not for your bank account.”

7. Failing To Pay Bills On Time

“By nature, many people are procrastinators, even when it comes to paying bills on time, including credit card bills,” Pavini said. “We get in the habit of setting the statements aside until the due date draws near and end up forgetting to pay on time. This habit leads to late fees, interest and, potentially, damage to your credit score.”

Get in the habit of paying your bills when you get them or setting calendar reminders if you need to wait a bit.

“On average, 35% of people report missing a bill simply because they forgot about it,” said Michelle Young, a private wealth advisor with Ameriprise. “Sign up for online bill pay with your household bills to potentially save money. It may help avoid late fees or the fee some companies may charge to send you a paper bill. It’s always good to ask your carriers if there are any discounts with online bill pay.”

If you engage in online billing, make sure to check your spam folder periodically just in case.

8. Buying Aspirational Clothes

“A lot of us purchase more workout clothes than we need,” said Marsha Barnes, founder of The Finance Bar. “This could be motivation to get our exercise in more frequently, but what it does is push us to spend unnecessary money to improve our physical health while sometimes taking away from our financial health. If we’re all being honest, how often do we budget for more workout clothes?”

On the flip side, you might be someone who wears athleisure most of the time, so purchasing a lot of dressier clothes might be wasteful.

“Be conscious of your lifestyle and buy clothes to fit that rather than something aspirational,” Stevens advised. “You may see something cute, but don’t buy it if you don’t know what you’re going to pair it with or the setting to wear it.”

“When we allow our triggers to take control of our actions, that can lead us to make financial decisions that feel good in the moment but aren’t worthwhile in the long run.”

- Kara Stevens, founder of The Frugal Feminista and author of “Heal Your Relationship with Money”

Of course, it’s fun to try out different things, but don’t forget to return the items that don’t work for you.

“Don’t buy clothes online that don’t fit or aren’t ‘you’ and then neglect to return them for a refund ― or return them so late you only get a partial credit,” Gianola and Price advised.

9. Paying Unnecessary Bank Fees

In addition to late payment fees, there are a number of other unnecessary bank fees that people wind up paying on a regular basis, including ATM fees, account fees and overdraft fees. While these may seem small in isolation, the bigger picture feels more wasteful.

If your account balances tend to be low, pay attention to your bank’s overdraft protection policies to avoid fees.

“Sign up for overdraft protection, so you don’t wind up spending extra money when you overdraw your checking account,” Stevens advised.

10. Letting Your Mood Dictate Your Spending

People do many things mindlessly when they’re dealing with difficult emotions, including spending money. That’s why they call it “retail therapy.”

“When we allow our triggers to take control of our actions, that can lead us to make financial decisions that feel good in the moment but aren’t worthwhile in the long run,” Stevens said. “A lot of times when we’ve had a particularly bad day or great day, then we swipe our cards more.”

She recommended monitoring any moments or triggers that led to a spending spree, whether it’s a bad day at work or a conversation with a toxic person. Then, find an alternative way to cope with the emotions that don’t involve shopping.

The ease of buying things today can lead to mindless spending sprees.
Nina Vartanava / EyeEm via Getty Images
The ease of buying things today can lead to mindless spending sprees.

11. Forgetting To Use Gift Cards

Sure, sometimes we have trouble redeeming a gift card if it’s for a brand or restaurant we don’t particularly enjoy or have easy access to. But a lot of the waste stems from forgetfulness.

“Companies are saving when we don’t use and enjoy our gift cards,” Stevens said “We’re also spending money that we don’t have to it if we used a gift card that either has money on or is a gift card to a business we already patronise.”

12. Not Making Your Own Lunch Or Coffee

Young pointed to people’s day-to-day spending going out for coffee or picking up lunch, rather than making it at home.

“A lot of people don’t realise how much grabbing a coffee in the morning and going out to lunch adds up to over a month,” she explained. “What they are doing out of convenience can really add up, even if lunch is just fast food.”

Making your own lunch or coffee at home can also cut down on the use of single-use takeout containers, so there’s an environmental benefit as well.

13. Going On Sprees

In the age of credit cards and Apple Pay, it’s all too easy to get carried away buying things online or in person. Studies have even suggested that the brain releases dopamine when you shop, which can lend an addictive element to the process.

“Using credit cards mindlessly is a habit that should be broken,” Pavini said. “For many consumers, it’s too easy to pull out the plastic on everything from a cup of coffee, to a shoe shopping spree.”

She suggested using cash or your debit card more often to cut back on your spending sprees. The same goes for social experiences that involve spending money, like getting drinks at a bar or restaurant.

“Don’t order another drink over dinner in a restaurant just because your companions are having another round,” Gianola and Price advised.

14. Never Taking Change

In our increasingly digital society, more people dislike dealing with change. That’s part of the reason for the recent coin circulation problem.

But your coin aversion is likely also costing you money. The McNeelys explained that always saying “just keep the change” when paying cash can really add up.

“We always tell people that if you walk into a store of any kind and your total is one penny over what you have in your pocket to pay, that store will not give you the item just because you don’t have enough change. Why? They know that it all adds up, and if they adopted that practice it can literally all add up to bankruptcy. You should treat your household finances the exact same way. Don’t be ashamed to ask for your change.”

15. Forgetting About Peak Hours

Utility providers often charge higher rates during certain peak hours of the day when more people are using their services, so if you have a flexible schedule, reconsider when you use a lot of electricity or gas.

“Mindlessly turning up the heat or running appliances at peak hours only adds to your gas and electric bills,” Pavini noted. “Be aware of turning your thermostat down a few degrees or washing laundry off-peak and watch your bills go down.”

16. Tossing Receipts

“Paying your bills and not checking receipts can cost you,” Pavini said. “We all get in the habit of buying something and tossing the receipt, or not reviewing our monthly bills... It only takes a few minutes to make sure you are not being overcharged or dinged with a fee that doesn’t apply.”

Fortunately, many businesses offer digital receipts now, so you don’t have to worry about wasting paper or carrying around extra items. Just take a minute to check your online receipt before deleting that email or text.