Save money easily: 9 ways you're wasting cash and don't even realize it
Millennials work hard for their money: young workers clock longer hours than any previous generation, with 73% of millennials reporting work weeks exceeding 40 hours and close to 25% working more than 50 hours a week. Yet despite all this effort, 53% live paycheck-to-paycheck and 35% rely on family help to get by, according to a Better Money Habits Millennial Report from Bank of America.
While there's lots of big reasons younger Americans struggle financially (high student loan debt, for one) there are small ways to tamp down on wasted money that can add up and save you big. Think: hundreds of dollars a year.
Here are nine ways you currently spend your cash — that you could easily eliminate to save more, ranked from more modest to more generous savings.
9. Name-brand food and personal products
Companies spend millions to drive brand loyalty so you'll pick up that pricier condiment or that hair product with a fancy label. But should you fall for their marketing tactics that suggest name brand is better?
Often, the answer is a big no. "The store brand or generic brand almost always costs less, and usually tastes the same. In fact, they often use the very same ingredients," according to Oregon State Extension. Next time, try the generic.
One comparison of generics vs. brands for 16 different items — including waffles, spaghetti sauce, soup, cheese and yogurt — showed savings of about $15 by switching to store brands, according to Three Thrifty Guys. If you don't like the generic, you can go back to the name brand next time.
8. Unnecessary cleaning products
P&G is in a panic, according to Fox News, as millennials have rocked the $1.3 billion fabric softener market by opting out. "Sales of Downy's liquid softener have fallen 26% between 2007 and 2015, pushing the entire U.S. liquid softener category down 15%."
This is bad news for P&G but good news for millennials who don't waste their money on a product that just adds chemicals to their clean laundry. And there are many other unnecessary cleaning products you're likely buying, too.
From disposable disinfectant wipes to dusters you throw out after a few uses, you're best not bothering with most of these wasteful items. Keep it simple with traditional rags and basic household cleaners or — better yet — make your own simple, cheap, non-toxic cleaning products. Vinegar can work magic and save you more than $15 per half gallon as a replacement for dishwasher fluid.
7. Razors that cost more than they should
Razors are expensive, with a package of replacement blades costing about $45 for some major brands. People who shave may wish to change to a straight razor, which provides a closer shave and lasts for years.
Cheap generics like Dorco razors could also be a lower cost option and are even cheaper than Dollar Shave Clubs, according to Time.
Women should consider switching to a generic brand, or better yet, just using men's razors — to combat the "pink tax": "Razor cartridges and razors cost more for women than men by an average of 11%," according to Marketwatch's report on a study of similar women’s and men’s products. Unless you really need your razor to be pink, save by shopping in the men's aisle.
6. Unnecessary utility costs
Do you adjust your thermostat — down during the winter and up during the summer — when you leave for work or go to sleep? If you don't, you're wasting money and hurting the planet.
"You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°F to 10°F for eight hours a day from its normal setting. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates," according to Energy.gov.
Also, don't fall asleep in front of the TV. This habit could cost you $55 per year if you have an older set, according to Clear Energy.
5. Prepared food items
From pre-cut carrots to fully prepared meals, there are a lot of products out there designed to cut your cooking time. You pay a price for this convenience though, and may not actually save that much time.
Rely on boxed salad? Buying pre-washed lettuce, as opposed to a head of lettuce, can cost $2.90 more, The Simple Dollar found, and a head of lettuce takes just three minutes to wash and prepare.
If you buy a head of lettuce instead of a box or bag 20 times a year, you'll spend around an hour washing and save $58. Not a bad hourly rate for standing at your sink. Plus — as with many of the items on this list — what's good for your wallet is also good for the planet, since you cut down on packaging waste when you opt-out of pre-prepared.
4. Neglecting your car — and speeding
Do you speed when you drive? We all do. Unfortunately, if you have a typical sedan, each 10 MPH over 60 MPH that you drive is basically the equivalent of gasoline prices going up by $0.54 per gallon, according to CNNMoney.
Having a lead foot makes gas mileage worse because of friction: Traveling at highway speeds or higher makes it harder for your car to push the air around it to maintain its speed. For a typical vehicle getting 25 miles per gallon — driven the average 13,470 miles per year — that $0.54 loss in fuel economy costs more than $290 annually.
And when was the last time you changed the air filter in your car? Yes, you really do have to do that. "Replacing the dirty air filter will increase MPG on the car up to 10% and also generate a fuel savings of close to $0.15 per gallon at the fuel pump," according to ProCar Mechanics.
3. Buying bottled water
A year's worth of tap water will cost you $0.48 while a year's worth of bottled water is $346 a year, according to Consumer Reports. Buy a refillable bottle or two and do something good for you wallet and for the planet.
2. Bank and overdraft fees
In 2016, 626 big banks made $8.4 billion in fees due to overdrafts and insufficient funds, according to a report from U.S. Public Interest Research Group. There really is no reason to make big banks richer than they already are. Follow this Mic guide to avoiding the five worst bank account fees and learn how to fight overdraft fees in this guide.
1. Food you buy but don't eat
The average American household throws out between $1,350 and $2,275 in food each year, according to Natural Resources Defense Council. That's because we throw out as much as 1/4 of all food and beverages we buy.
It's a horrifying statistic at a time when 13% of households are food insecure, according to Feeding America. Don't let this happen in your household.
Plan your meals in advance, make a shopping list, only buy what you will eat, eat your leftovers and use up the food you have in your house before it goes bad. Consider sharing with roommates — payment apps like Venmo make splitting grocery bills a snap — or freezing portions you can't finish for later in the week or month.
Sign up for The Payoff — your weekly crash course on how to live your best financial life. Additionally, for all your burning money questions, check out Mic’s credit, savings, career, investing and health care hubs for more information — that pays off.