These 7 sneaky expenses are destroying your monthly budget
Sneaky expenses can suck the air out of your budget and send you into financial purgatory. The worst part is just how many of them there are, from the gym membership you never got around to cancelling to the round(s) of drinks you find yourself buying for friends.
This extra spending can feel necessary at times, but it's not to be confused with basic living expenses — like rent, transportation or groceries. A truly sneaky expense is money you're spending because of impulse (cool new threads that you got on a whim), sheer forgetfulness or good old FOMO.
What makes sneaky costs especially annoying is that they are almost always 100% avoidable — but to get them under control, you'll need some serious budgetary discipline and a little planning.
Here are some of the worst offenders, and how to take back control.
1. Monthly subscriptions for services you never use anymore
The problem: Subscribing to music or video streaming services, gym membership, food delivery or monthly beauty product delivery can be convenient, but they are also an enormous money suck if you aren't using them regularly. After all, that fresh produce from Blue Apron will go quickly — hello, Brown Apron! — if you don't move fast.
It's easy to let services pile up and spend (or waste) about $269 a month, as certified financial planner Kevin Michels found when he evaluated one family's monthly subscriptions. These included Netflix ($8), Dish Network ($80), Amazon Prime ($16.66), Five Four Club ($60), Pandora Plus ($4.99), Blue Apron ($70) and a car wash subscription ($30).
The solution: Cancel subscriptions you don't use every month. If you don't remember what you have signed up to use, review your bank statements for recurring charges. On the fence about whether to cancel? Take a hard look at which subscriptions are actually being used throughout the month.
2. Pesky bank fees you never noticed
The problem: From ATM charges to paper-statement fees, banks regularly milk customers for extras. The average U.S. household spends $290 a year on such annoying bank fees, according money transfer platform TransferWise. Some of the most sneaky include charges for talking to a teller, making a cash deposit and a returned mail fee, according to Bankrate.
The solution: Read disclosures for any account you open and steer clear of banks with an extensive fee list, Bankrate advises. If you still aren't sure about how fees are charged, ask questions. Also, consider banking with a community bank, online bank or credit union. Smaller outfits and digital banks tend to have lower overhead, and credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that pay some of the profits to members.
If you've been paying fees you disagree with, ask your banker to have them waived: "They'll usually waive fees the first time," Nessa Feddis, vice president, senior federal counsel and retail banking expert for the American Bankers Association told Bankrate.
Finally, check out Mic's guide to avoiding bank fees.
3. Being more generous with friends than you can afford
The problem: Celebrations should never be a problem, but when you are hitting wedding season or attending an endless string of baby showers, those expenses can become overwhelming.
"Who doesn't love a reason to celebrate?" Rachel Cruze, best-selling author and member of Ramsey Solutions, said to Mic by email. "Life is full of celebrations — birthdays, weddings, showers — but the costs associated with those happy times can easily sneak up on you if you don't budget. You have three birthday parties to go to that each require a gift or your bridesmaid dress costs almost as much as the wedding gown."
The solution: You don't have to cheap out or make hug coupons as a substitute for a tangible gift; however, you do need a budget and stick to it.
"My clients always think eating out is busting their budget, but more often it is sneakier expenses that fly under the radar, like gift-giving," Nicole Cooley, money coach for Money with Moxie said to BiggerPockets. "Gifts and appreciations are harder to predict when you sit down to do your budget, and it's an area people overspend because they want to be generous for others. Sticking to your gift-giving budget and getting more thoughtful, creative gifts to spend less will help improve your budget month to month."
In other words, find ways to personalize gifts — so they are still valuable without being very expensive.
4. Letting your phone own you
The problem: Cell phone fees are climbing and may not reflect the amount you agreed upon when you signed your carrier contract. Fees include the universal service fund fee, state taxes, state telecommunications excise surcharge, emergency response fees, regulatory and administrative fees, gross receipts and city taxes and fees, according to Time. Some of these fees are unavoidable, like taxes, but others can be negotiated, such as administrative fees.
The solution: Aside from reducing your cell phone usage (which may not be realistic), reduce fees by comparison shopping with carriers for the lowest plan. New activation fees can be high, but Good Housekeeping recommends buying your new phone through a third party like eBay or just trading in the old phone when you change carriers. If you opt for the trade-in, ask about trade-in discounts, which could result in a better phone — without the activation fees.
5. The dreaded late fee
The problem: Habitual late fees can be a few hundred dollars per month because late fees are applied to nearly everything, from movie rentals to credit cards. "We all love Redbox, but make sure you return that copy of The Girl on the Train because for each extra day you keep the rental, you'll be charged for another rental period plus taxes," Cruze says. "Lose the DVD, and you'll be charged $25 plus tax or more!"
The solution: Sign up for automatic bill payment to meet rent, credit card and any bill deadlines. That way you don't have to remember to pay the bill and the cash is automatically transferred on the day you schedule payment. For any pesky rentals, set up an automatic reminder on your calendar or cell phone the minute you rent the item, so you won't let the return date slip away.
6. Outrageous airline fees
The problem: Airline fees are constantly on the rise with rebooking and extra baggage fees increasing, according to travel app Hopper. But how can you discern between which fees are fair — and which are outrageous and negotiable?
The solution: Familiarize yourself with the airline's baggage and amenity policies before you commit, because every airline has different fee policies. That way you will be in the know about charges for an extra checked bag or choosing your seat. Also, make use of the 24-hour cancellation or change window, even on a nonrefundable ticket, according to Business Insider.
7. The FOMO factor
The problem: FOMO, otherwise known as the fear of missing out, is an emotional but real reaction to wanting to have the same (or better) monetary items or experiences as your peers or family.
"You look on social media and see your friend's new car or vacation to a tropical beach, and you start to compare your life to theirs," said Cruze. "Comparisons steal your joy — and your paycheck!"
The solution: Resist the urge to fall for the FOMO trap: "This is not really a tangible expense, but what I have found is that I felt entitled to the same lifestyle my parents had because (sarcastically) I was a college graduate," Phil Risher, founder of Young Adult Survival Guide, said. "I urge my peers to not get into this mindset because lifestyle inflation will consume your finances."
This might mean spending less time on social media — and more time hanging out with friends and family who will help keep you grounded.
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