Want to tighten your budget, but can’t figure out where you can save money? Look for leaks in your budget — places where money is slowly but surely leaking out. Here are seven places to start:
1. Insurance on Old Vehicles
Have cars or trucks sitting in your garage, driveway, or backyard that rarely or never get road time? Or maybe you’re paying insurance on other types of vehicles — like boats or motorcycles — that have become permanent fixtures on your landscape. If this situation sounds familiar and you’re still carrying insurance on these vehicles, it’s time to make a decision. Either cut the insurance and put a tarp over the machine(s) for preservation, or put it up for sale so you can make a few bucks.
2. Bank Fees and Out-of-Network ATMs
Many checking and savings accounts have maintenance fees related to a minimum balance, and if you don’t keep that minimum in the account, you’ll be charged the fee — and you may not even realize it. For instance, last year I upgraded my savings account to a higher-yield savings account that pays more interest, but I recently took out a large sum of that savings for a down payment on a home. Unbeknown to me, the new savings account charges a $12 monthly fee for not keeping a minimum balance of $10,000, which I was quick to flag, and I reverted back to my previous account until I’ve replenished my savings to accommodate the higher-year account’s requirements. Now, $12 a month may not seem like a big deal, but if you let it go too long, it really adds up. It’s worth calling your bank or sitting down with an in-bank representative to discuss your accounts’ requirements and to ask about what types of accounts best suit your needs.
Another way you can plug money leaks from your account is to avoid ATMs that charge a fee for use. I’ve seen service fees upward of $10 at some ATMs, and that’s not counting the fee that your bank may also charge — my institution’s is $2.50 per transaction — every time you use an out-of-network ATM. If you need quick cash (like for a night out, for example), try to remember to go to your home bank earlier in the day or stop by a convenience store, like Rite-Aid or 7-11, and use the cash back option if you’re on the go.
3. Unused Memberships and Subscriptions
Over the past several years, the availability of membership and subscription services has skyrocketed thanks to our increasing attachment to mobile devices. Services like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, and more extract their monthly fees from our bank accounts, and that can be dangerous if the price is not justified by the amount we use a particular service. If you lost your interest in an existing subscription, cancel it. This also applies to traditional month-to-month memberships too, like your gym. If you’re not using them on a consistent basis, put them on hold until you get back on track or end them so you’re not paying for rather pricey services you’re not receiving.
4. Credit Card Interest and Late Payments
Avoiding credit card interest and late payments should be a top priority when you’re trying to stop hemorrhaging cash. Maybe you can make up the difference by plugging up the other money leaks listed in this article. But, if that’s not feasible or if you fall short, consider picking up a side gig, like pet sitting using services like Rover.com and Dog Vacay or becoming an independent taxi service with Uber or Lyft. I personally do both, and the money I’ve made from these “extracurriculars” has helped me pay off bills and put a substantial amount of money in my savings account.
5. Mobile Data Overages and Outdated Plans
Many of my friends complain about never having enough data and subsequently having to pay for overages. It’s annoying for them because either they have to suck up the cost of going over or cut back on their data usage, which becomes quite prohibitive after a while. In addition, if you’ve had the same mobile plan for a while, now is a good time to call your provider to see what savings are available. Last year, I called my mobile provider to inquire about my plan, which had remained the same for about 10 years, and I was happy to come off the call with about $8 in savings per month moving forward.
6. Wasted and Spoiled Groceries
I know far too many people who have pantries packed to the brim with boxed and canned goods that are many years old — and many years past their expiration dates — who continue to purchase even more boxed and canned goods every time they visit the supermarket. It’s pure nonsense.
First step, clean out your pantry. Throw out what’s expired and the things you know you’re not going to eat (or deliver the still-edible goods to a local food pantry), then bring whatever’s left to the front of the pantry to be consumed immediately. Next, stop buying items for which you don’t have specific plans; this also includes perishable foods. If you not sure when you’re going to eat something, why are you buying it? Just in case? Just in case is how you spend way more than you need to at the supermarket. Make a list, check it twice, and stick to it when you next go grocery shopping.
7. Vampire Energy Consumption
Is your air conditioner constantly running — even when you’re not home? Do you treat the heat the same way in the winter? TV left on? Dryer turned to high? Faucets dripping? Everything plugged into outlets even when they’re not in use?
Every time you quietly answered yes to those questions, it costs you money. To curb your energy consumption, make sure everything is off when you leave the house. Also, unplug non-daily-use electronics and appliances — like that nightstand lamp that you never use — so they’re not eating up electricity for no reason. And for goodness sake, fix water and air leaks around the house so you’re not almost literally throwing money out the window or down the drain. Be mindful of other ways you may be consuming more energy than you need to, like turning off porch lights, adjusting the temperature in your fridge and freezer, cleaning air filters, and using more efficient cycles on the dishwasher and washing machine if a lower setting will get the job done.