18 Tiny Splurges That Cost You Way More Than You Thought
We all know how quickly a $6 latte can become a habit. Here's a look at the "small" reasons your bank account might be running on empty.
There are a lot of secrets your pet won’t tell you—but “I need a spa day” probably isn’t one of them. Luxe treatments for pampered pooches can add up quickly and can be a real factor in wasting money. “One national chain advertises ‘Groom + Top Dog Add-On’ priced at up to $148, which includes ‘upgraded shampoo and conditioner, teeth-brushing/breath freshener, bandana or bow, scented cologne spritz, nail grind (separate from regular trim), scented face wash, paw massage, coconut-oil nose and paw rub, and ear flushing,'” according to Kimberly Foss, CFP, founder and president of Empyrion Wealth Management. “Don’t splurge above basic grooming! The opportunity cost over 10 years is $21,185—even more if you bathe your dog at home too.”
Your weekly mani/pedi
This little luxury really adds up. According to consumer pricing site CostHelper.com, a small nail salon (not a spa or resort) charges an average of $12.50 for a manicure and $20 for a pedicure. “That’s an opportunity cost over 10 years of $17,358!” Foss says. All the more reason to opt for a DIY mani/pedi, and save the professional jobs for special occasions. This $25 Amazon product is better than a pedicure—30,000 positive reviews don’t lie!
Bank machines are everywhere, and you may find that super convenient when your wallet is empty. But if you aren’t a member of that bank, get ready to pay a fee. “On top of the $2 or $3 dollars charge, your own bank may charge an additional amount for not using their machine,” says Calvin Harris Jr., CPA, founder of Harvin Consulting. “Suddenly the $30 you pulled from the machine really costs you $36. If you go to an ATM just once a week that isn’t your bank, you could give away over $300 in a year!” These are the habits of people who are great at saving money.
Only using credit/debit cards
Plastic cards don’t feel like money the same way cash does. “It’s so easy to swipe your cards!” says Harris, Jr. “Odds are you’ll end up making many more splurges throughout your days without noticing.” Sticking to a cash budget makes it easy to track your spending. If you’re anti-cash for whatever reason, make sure you’re at least signed up for a good credit card rewards program.
Buying everything new
Sure, it’s nice to have shiny new things, but if you want to help your wallet and the environment at the same time, you couldn’t do much better than buying used. Thrift stores (including online ones like Thredup) often have near-new clothing, and you can sell your old clothes there too if they’re in good condition. Amazon sells refurbished electronics which are much cheaper than new ones, and Facebook marketplace or Craigslist often have free or low-cost items that people need to get rid of (look out for people moving house, as they’re often willing to let things go for free or very cheap). You never know what bargains you can score, so get out there and thrift! Here are the things you definitely should be buying from thrift stores (and the things you should skip).
TV services like DirecTV and Comcast can be costly. “Often they’re over $100 a month, which depending on your package, is over $1,200 a year,” says David Reiling, CEO of Sunrise Banks. “A better option is Netflix for about $10 a month or about $120 a year.” Or you can skip both and opt for a streaming device. “If you stick with strong Wi-Fi and use a streaming device such as AppleTV or Roku, you can easily cut your cable bill in half each month,” says Harris, Jr. This guide to the best cable TV alternatives will help you cut the cord.
That cheesy pizza is affecting a lot more than your waistline. “Ordering Dominos Pizza once a week can be about $30, or $1,560 per year,” says Reiling. “Conversely, buying groceries for a meal in place of this to cook can be under $10 per meal for a family of four, or $520 per year.” He underscores that the same thing applies to breakfast. “This can add up to $10 per day depending on your choices—that’s $3,650 per year! As an alternative, make a pot of coffee at home or even a K Cup Blend for under $0.50 per cup, and buy some eggs and bread for a quick and easy breakfast, which will cost you $365 per year or less.” Of course, many people have been ordering more takeout during the pandemic, both as a way to support their local restaurants and bars and as a much-needed break from preparing and eating every meal at home. As people lucky enough to be working from home have cut their other costs drastically, you don’t have to feel bad about getting takeout a couple of times a week because the cost will be balanced out by reductions in other areas. If you’re running out of ideas for meals, try these delicious breakfasts that are ready in 10 minutes or less.
This is a classic case of being blindsided by small dollar amounts. “Those small in-app purchases start out small, often just $1 or $2, but they can quickly add up,” cautions Harris Jr. “Just one small in-app purchase a day, can take you over $400 in a year.” These are the other small mistakes you’re making when you try to save money.
While online shopping is exceedingly convenient, most of us want our items promptly and will pay extra for it, effectively wasting money. “Online stores know this, and they offer expedited shipping that can add $15 or more to your bill,” says Harris Jr. “Instead, go with the fastest free shipping offered. If you expedited just one or two packages a month, you could spend over $200 extra in a year.” Check out these tips for saving money online with the best coupon apps.
When those multi-state lottery games have prizes in the hundreds of millions of dollars, many of us shell out in pursuit of the dream of wealth. “The occasional ticket can be fun, but daily lottery habits quickly add up,” says Harris Jr. “Playing just $2 or $3 of lottery tickets on a daily basis—and many of the multi-state games have tickets that start at $5—can have you spending $1,000 or more [over a year].” If you really want to be in it to win it, make it a weekly or monthly splurge—or let these cautionary tales from people who won the lottery put you off for good.
It’s super-important to stay hydrated—and drinking hot water has surprising effects—but that’s not permission to buy bottled water by the case. “Bottled water costs 2,000 times as much as tap water and the average American spends $100 on bottled water every year,” says personal finance expert Andrea Woroch. “Not only is bottled water a waste of money, but it’s an unnecessary addition to landfills, as U.S. citizens discard 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.” Instead, Woroch recommends buying a few inexpensive, BPA-free reusable water bottles and keeping one at the office, in your gym bag, and one at home so you always have one to refill. These smart water bottles are definitely worth the money.
Because of the pandemic, you likely haven’t been to the gym in months anyway, but have you canceled your membership yet? Jogging or cycling outside, doing bodyweight circuits in the park or your living room, or even investing in some weights to throw around at home: All of these will keep you fit and save you money. There are also a ton of free workouts on YouTube and plenty of free fitness apps, so you can keep switching up your workouts! A little research and you’ll never have to be bored on the elliptical again.
At this point, services like Uber and Lyft are ubiquitous. “According to SherpaShare, Uber drivers in the United States collected an average $13.36 per trip, while Lyft drivers took in an average of $12.53 for each ride,” says Woroch. Planning ahead can save you money. “For instance, research public transportation options in advance to figure out the best route and time to travel for a much lower cost. If it’s close enough to walk, leave a little earlier and get some exercise for free! Otherwise, coordinate ride shares with friends or coworkers to reduce transportation costs.”
Why pay a premium for name-brand medication when a less expensive generic is available? “You will find comfort knowing that the FDA requires that both prescription and over-the-counter generics be identical in dose, strength, safety, and efficacy,” says Woroch. And the generic versions can save you 30 to 50 percent. “If, for example, you are prescribed Zocor for high cholesterol, a monthly supply of the prescription name-brand drug will cost approximately $175, while the generic version will run you $70. Going generic will save $1,260 a year!” There’s a right time of day to take your medication—find out when it is.
Store-brand canned tomatoes are pretty much the same as the brand-name ones—and they’re very often cheaper. Switch to store-brand products and plan your meals, and you’ll end up cutting your grocery bill. Plus, you’ll always have leftovers to take to work for lunch! Get inspired by this woman, who stopped buying just three things—and saved $5,000!
Regular fancy coffees
It’s perfectly fine to have a triple venti half-sweet caramel macchiato with an extra shot. Doing it daily could be decimating your budget. We understand the deep need for regular caffeine infuses, but the fiscally responsible way to get it is by buying a cute thermos to carry around the coffee you made this morning. (Actually, you should be using that reusable coffee cup even for your triple venti whats-its-name). By restricting your coffee splurges to a once-a-week treat, you’ll save around $2,000 per year, and that’s just too big of a number to ignore. This is why coffee is referred to as a cup of Joe.
Buying lunch out
Brown-bagging your lunch at least four out of five days per week really saves you money over the long run. An average lunch salad can cost up to $15 or $20; throw in a drink or snack and suddenly you’re spending $100 or more a week! That’s $5,000 per year you could be putting toward paying off debt, bolstering your savings account, or going on your dream vacation.
Going into overdraft
Not managing your bank balance can lead to bounced checks and annoying charges. “Spending upwards of $35 per overdraft is a colossal waste of cash and can usually be avoided with a little bit of research,” says Woroch. “Some banks offer services to protect you from these obnoxious fees.” For instance, she says, you may be able to link your checking account to your savings account so that in a pinch, money can be transferred, avoiding an overdraft. “Otherwise, ask that your debit card be declined in the event of insufficient funds. Ultimately, keeping track of what you have in your bank account is essential to avoiding this foolish mistake—just use your bank app! For someone who overdrafts every other month, you’re looking at saving $210 a month by managing your account better.”
- Kimberly Foss, CFP, founder and president of Empyrion Wealth
- Calvin Harris, Jr., CFO
- Owen Malcolm, CFP, vice-president of United Capital
- David Reiling, CEO of Sunrise Banks
- Business Insider: “Bottled Water Costs 2000 Times As Much As Tap Water”
- The Water Project: “The Money Spent Can Be Better Used Elsewhere “
- Andrea Woroch, personal finance expert