Instead of cutting back on the things you love, what if you could find and plug the money leaks that you might not realize are sapping your budget?
Saving money does not come easily for many of us—it’s a skill that can take years to accomplish… but it doesn’t have to. In fact, just a few slight changes can fix major money woes (and help you build a bigger bank account) without sacrificing the things you love—like your morning coffee runs.
You might not even realize half the things that are sneakily draining your money supply. When’s the last time you actually watched cable on your TV? Time to cancel that cost. Are you still paying for a gym membership even though you haven’t been in weeks? It’s easy to get stuck in a rut paying for various subscriptions you no longer use, but taking a few minutes to end your subscriptions can save you big bucks—usually all it takes is the click of a button or a quick call.
Another money-mishap that’s avoidable is making late payments. It’s easy to forget about a bill or two, but the repercussion of having to pay more than the original amount is an undesirable burden. The quick fix for this is setting up automatic payments—that way everything will be repeatedly paid for on time. This method can help you save over $100 annually (seriously!).
Paying with credit and debit cards is super convenient, but you’re ultimately more likely to spend more on impulse purchases when you use your card instead of cash. Keep a stash of cash with you for nights out so you don’t overspend—your bank account will thank you.
Read on for more tips on how to fix those money leaks that are sapping your budget.
Money Leak: Having Subscription Apathy
That free wellness-coach trial you signed up for (and forgot to cancel). The credit-monitoring service you keep meaning to ditch. The gym membership gathering dust. That monthly beauty box you’re no longer into. Sure, no single subscription or membership is going to break your monthly budget, but in sum those commitments can quickly hit triple digits each month. These “gray charges” (as they’re known in the industry) may collectively be costing us $14 billion a year. “Companies know how to bank on people’s apathy,” says Emily Guy Birken, a personal-finance expert and the author of End Financial Stress Now ($10; amazon.com).
You can zap those recurring charges by periodically reviewing your financial statements or outsourcing the task to a free, AI-powered app, like Trim or Truebill. Both securely sync to your bank and credit card accounts; Trim sends you a text message listing your recurring charges each month, then cancels any unwanted subscriptions on your behalf.
Fix it and save: $215 a year (the average amount of gray charges Americans incur).
Money Leak: Rarely Checking in on Your Accounts
If you glance at your bank balance only when you fear that funds are dipping low, consider this: Real-time financial info may supercharge your saving instinct. Researchers found that people using a finance app checked their account 12 times a month but logged on to their accounts’ desktop version via website only twice a month. And app users cut spending by nearly 16 percent overall—shelling out about 20 percent less on both dining out and groceries. Mint has been the budgeting app gold standard for some time (and it’s free), but if you prefer a bare-bones answer to how much you can spend at any moment without wrecking your budget, check out PocketGuard.
Fix it and save: $2,536 a year on groceries alone if you shave 20 percent off the average $1,057 that a family of four spends at the supermarket each month. Plus over $600 a year if you shrink the household average that’s spent on dining out by 20 percent as well.
Money Leak: Making a Late Payment From Time to Time
“I’ve been guilty of this myself,” says Annie Logue, an investing and money expert. But most late payments are met with a fee. And if you’re significantly overdue, your late payment could also ding your credit score. That means that in the future you might pay a higher interest rate on, say, an auto loan. To avoid this, Logue suggests putting everything on automatic payments. Nervous about hitting a cash-flow crunch? Auto-charge bills to one credit card and then put a reminder on your calendar for that one due date each month.
Fix it and save: $141 a year if you nip a quarterly late payment in the bud.
Money Leak: Clinging to Cable
The average cable bill is now more than $100 a month, according to the Leichtman Research Group, but you can cut the cord—and still watch sports and live news—for far less. We all know about binge-watching fave shows on Netflix ($8) and HBO Now ($15), but fans of live TV are flocking to Sling TV (starting at $25 per month) and Hulu with Live TV ($40 per month).
Fix it and save: $708 a year if you swap cable for a combo of Sling TV, Netflix, and HBO Now.
Money Leak: Not Telling Your Insurance Company About the Security Cam You Bought
If you installed smoke detectors and an alarm system to keep your house and loved ones safe, your insurance company might pat you on the back by lowering your premiums by up to 15 percent. Allstate, State Farm, and Nationwide all offer home-protection discounts.
Fix it and save: $176 a year if you qualify for a 15 percent discount and pay $1,173 in premiums, the national average according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Money Leak: Losing Your Flex Health Care Dollars
Workers with flexible spending accounts (FSAs) lose an average of $172 a year because they don’t spend those pretax dollars before their company’s deadline of December 31 or March 15. Set a calendar reminder to stock up on staples, like bandages, or buy a spare pair of glasses. FSAstore.com stocks thousands of items guaranteed to be covered, so you can shop without spending a bunch of time researching the rules. Check your FSA’s policies, since some plans may allow you to carry money over or give you a grace period to spend it.
Fix it and save: $172 a year.
Money Leak: Defaulting to Name Brands
For times when you don’t have a particular label you love, opting for a no-name product can keep 25 percent more of your grocery budget in your wallet, according to Consumer Reports’ research. Many name-brand foods and drugstore products contain the exact same ingredients as their generic counterparts, says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. For an online option that makes generic the default, check out Brandless, which sells everything for $3—from peanut butter to toilet paper, face cream to quinoa—minus the so-called brand tax.
Fix it and save: $3,171 a year if the average family of four trims 25 percent off its grocery bill.
Money Leak: Paying the Bank to Hold Your Money
“Many people have no idea if their bank is nickel-and-diming them each month,” says Erin Lowry, founder of Broke Millennial. Chase, Citibank, and Bank of America, for instance, can charge checking-account holders $12 in service fees each month. Signing up for direct deposit and maintaining minimum balances are usually enough to get the fees waived. And some banks charge more when you use an out-of-network ATM. The average ATM surcharge hit a record high of $4.68 last year, according to Bankrate, and in some big cities consumers pay more than $5. Use your bank’s app to find an in-network ATM or swing through a convenience or grocery store and opt for cash back (for free!) at checkout.
Fix it and save: $256 a year if you’ve been paying checking-account service fees and you hit an out-of-network ATM twice a month.
Money Leak: Carrying a Credit Card Balance
The average household with debt pays nearly $904 in interest a year, according to personal-finance site NerdWallet. And, like a snail eating its tail, paying that interest can make it harder to chip away at the principal, which means, well, more interest. A no-fee balance transfer can give you an annual percentage rate of 0 percent for up to 18 months, so you can make headway on your debt—and save money while doing so.
Fix it and save: An average of $904, assuming you’re able to pay off the balance in full during the no-interest introductory period.
Money Leak: Having More Auto Insurance Than You Need
A $3 tire gauge may have a return on investment of over 30 times its cost: A survey by Edmunds found that keeping your tires properly inflated could save you $112 in gas money. While you’re in the glove compartment double-checking the ideal tire pressure for your vehicle, take a peek at the expiration date on your auto policy. Drivers who stick with the same insurer for more than eight years could save nearly 19 percent by switching, one study found. But most drivers renew without even getting quotes from competitors. If the Kelley Blue Book value of your car is less than 10 times your premium, it may even make sense to drop some coverage. The Insurance Information Institute suggests that comprehensive and collision coverage don’t make sense when a car’s value dips below that threshold, a move that could save you as much as $800 or more a year.
Fix it and save: $912 if you pump up your tires and downsize your coverage on an older car.
Money Leak: Using Plastic for Impulse Purchases
Credit and debit cards may be convenient, but when it comes to mindful spending, cash seems to reign supreme. “When we surveyed people leaving Starbucks, 80 percent who paid with a credit card couldn’t recall how much they’d spent,” says Grant Donnelly, PhD, an assistant professor of marketing at Ohio State University in Columbus. So if you’re regularly overspending in one area, try stashing cash in your wallet for those occasions.
Fix it and save: $540 a year if you trim 10 percent off the average $5,400 that consumers spend on impulse buys, according to a survey by Slickdeals, an online coupon and sale site.