We all know about the usual ways cash can leak out of our budgets: spending too much at the grocery store thanks to impulse purchases, going out and buying lunch at work instead of brown-bagging it, or saying “I deserve it!”and treating yourself one too many times.
These extra purchases can leave us with a busted budget at the end of the month, but they usually stand out. It’s easy to realize spending $10 a day for a lunch of soda and a less-than-fresh sandwich from a convenience store is something that can go to make both our wallets (and health) happier.
The unexpected ways your budget is leaking cash, however, is more of a problem. These costs take us by surprise — and can therefore go unnoticed for a long time.
Here are 9 expenses to keep an eye on — along with ideas on how to fix those budget leaks if you’re currently experiencing them.
Have you ever looked at your bank account and seen a notice for “insufficient funds?” Overdrafting your bank account can end up costing you a lot.
You don’t even have to overspend to trigger this. If you’ve set up automatic payments on all your bills, overdrafts can happen due to bad timing (if your bills are paid the day before your paycheck is deposited one month, for example).
Even overdraft protection can end up costing you month to month. Many banks charge you for the service, even if you don’t overdraw your account.
The Fix: Check in on your bank account at least once a week to keep track of your balance. Make this even easier by installing your bank’s app on your phone.
Overdrafts are just one hidden fee. If any account you hold — at a bank, credit card company, or otherwise — is charging you something like “maintenance” fees, look into alternatives or switch to an institution who won’t charge monthly fees.
Over the years, it’s possible you’ve signed up for a multitude of memberships: one to the gym, one to a job board, another to an association you belong to. These can all add up, especially if there are a few you’ve forgotten about and no longer use.
The Fix: Go through your bank and credit card statements to see if there are any memberships fees being paid. Opt out of memberships that aren’t useful, and re-evaluate those that you’re tempted to continue.
When you have coupons, especially coupons that require you to buy more than one item, you might be tempted to go overboard. Just remember that coupons do not justify purchases when you don’t need them.
The Fix: Ask yourself if you really need an item, or better yet, don’t clip coupons for items you don’t use on a regular basis. Make a list of things you’ll be needing soon, so you can be on the lookout for useful coupons.
Does your health insurance adequately pay for your prescription medication? If you’re finding yourself shelling out hundreds of dollars a month for meds, it might be worth looking into over-the-counter options or how you can save with generic brands.
You should also be sure to shop around before purchasing prescription drugs, as there are deals to be found in various locations. The majority of consumers will simply use the closest pharmacy, unaware that a pharmacy on the other side of town might have lower prices. By calling around and asking about prices, you can possibly save some money every time you have to fill a prescription. Ordering your medications from an online pharmacy, especially one that is located in another country, is another option, as they tend to have much lower prices than local stores.
The Fix: Ask your doctor for recommendations on more affordable medication. Generics are available for a majority of prescriptions. For smaller things, like aspirin, buy generic instead of brand name.
Do you have any recurring subscriptions to magazines, games, software, or monthly courses? Do you actually peruse all of them and get your money’s worth? Or do you find yourself on a bunch of email lists that spam you constantly?
The Fix: Just like with memberships, go through your statements and narrow down which subscriptions, if any, are worth paying for. Unsubscribe from email lists, as their many tempt you into spending on things that weren’t even on your radar beforehand.
Say you’re walking out of the grocery store, when you spot a sale at a store next door. You might talk yourself into going over there to have a look. Before long, you’ve convinced yourself this sale is too good to pass up, and you walk out with $50 in purchases that you didn’t need — or even want before you saw the sale.
The Fix: Be mindful of your budget. Ask yourself whether or not something is truly a need before making purchases. Don’t buy aimlessly.
7. Mobile Games
Do you know how much money games like Candy Crush Saga make in one day? (Hint: it’s a lot.)
You can download mobile games for free, but most come with options for in-app purchases. You pay for add-ons and upgrades within the game, and they are especially enticing when you want to keep playing but need an item to do so.
The Fix: Either stop playing — or don’t take these games so seriously.
8. Media from App Stores
It’s easier than ever to buy apps, music, movies, and TV shows with one-click on iTunes, Amazon, or Google Play. Since your credit card information is linked up to your your phone, you don’t even need to enter that information. It’s incredibly easy to make impulse purchases with zero thought.
The Fix: Unlink your payment information from these stores. Force yourself to think your purchase through before you buy. And try downloading free podcasts or renting movies and TV shows from your library instead of paying for media.
I get it: you’re an adult and you can drink what you want. No one’s chiding you for drinking alcohol, but the reality is wine, beer, and liquor are all more expensive than water. Enjoying a drink every once in a while won’t bust your budget. Buying alcohol every week at the store or every time you go out on a date or with friends, however, is a habit that gets expensive quick.
The Fix: Limit weekly wine or beer runs to monthly trips — or don’t buy drinks when you go out. Alcohol, especially mixed drinks, has a sky-high markup at restaurants.
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What kinds of budget leaks have you identified and fixed? Have you ever found a particularly surprising or unexpected leak in your budget?
Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions says
We have a whiteboard in the kitchen, where I list all the things we’ll need to buy “soon” — anywhere from in the next month to the next 4 months — and that helps me keep an eye out for deals on those items.
Whenever I open up the last bottle / package of whatever (be it laundry detergent, face soap, or pasta), it goes on the list.
Aldo @MDN says
Fees, unused gym membership, and stupid magazine subscriptions were all leaks I had in my budget… well I didn’t really have a budget. But now that I have a budget going, those leaks have been plugged.
No Nonsense Landlord says
Great tips. I hate bank fees in the worst way. But I am safe from the video games…
Often somethings are so ‘cheap’, you think “what the heck”, and they really add up.
Kate @ Money Propeller says
I cancelled my gym membership last June, since I barely used it. I think, I only wasted money on it, I just downloaded mobile application for home workout program and it’s free!
Lee @ BaldThoughts.com says
Kali, this is a great list of budget leaks. On the fee side (#1 above), there are many ways to avoid fees, especially while traveling. When you have status (either from being a repeat customer or other methods, like having their branded credit card), many airlines, hotels, and rental car companies will treat you better and comp you for items that they will charge the average customer.
Simon @ Modest Money says
As far as budget cash leaks go, I have to admit that my worst so far have been bank and other transactional related costs. How am I tackling that? First I had to find a bank with reasonable fees and secondly am trying to limit the flurry of financial transactions I have been having.
Beer…eeerrr, that one is a tough sell 🙂
Kimmy Burgess says
Money just tends to leak out by buying extra stuff at the grocery store for most of us. By making a plan to just change a few monthly expenses, sometimes you can find yourself saving hundreds of dollars. I mostly used a budget worksheet so I could actually write down my real expenses for the month including fixed expenses, like my mortgage and car insurance and avoid doing unplanned shopping.
Fit Corner says
Bank fees are truly the worst. I am not good at keeping tracks with my expenses, I think that’s my downfall. Your post pointed out to me a few things that I need to really look into. Thanks for sharing.