I consider myself to be one of the cheapest people on the planet.
I wear socks until they are threadbare and undies until the elastic is completely shot. Wasting money physically hurts me. But even the cheapest people on the planet have moments of stark stupidity. And sometimes that stupidity costs so much money. 😉
Here are the ten ways most Americans and I waste so much money.
10 Stupid Ways I Waste So Much Money
1. Not Measuring Laundry Detergent
I do a lot of laundry. Like, a whollllee lot.
All too often, I go downstairs to find the laundry pile leaning like the Tower of Pisa. I also don't have a lot of time. So because I'm lazy, and to save time, I end up just dumping laundry detergent into the washer willy nilly — no measuring. For some reason, I've told myself that I'm the one really special person on the planet that can accurately eyeball the amount of laundry detergent that needs to go into each load.
But sadly, I'm not. That's just my inflated ego talking, trying to justify being super duper lazy.
I don't know how much laundry detergent I've wasted over the years by “eyeballing,” but I'm sure it's probably a lot. And laundry detergent is expensive, ya'll. #iwastesomuchmoney
Especially if you buy the fancy stuff like Tide, I don't buy Tide (because I'd like to retire someday), but even the “cheap” laundry detergent is expensive.
Don't be like me — measure your detergent, folks.
Need more convincing?
The Big “Detergent” complex wants to you waste detergent. According to Bloomberg, energy and water-efficient washers have to lead to declining detergent sales. Have you noticed that the laundry detergent cap is sooo much large than what is required? Or that the fill line is sooo impossibly hard to read?
According to Consumer Affairs, detergent “big brother,” trying to get you to use too much detergent. Depending on how dirty your clothes are, you may only need half of the recommended amount to clean your clothes thoroughly.
According to Procter & Gamble Co., the average American family washes about 300 – 390 loads of laundry per year, or about 6-7.5 loads per week.
At our local Walmart, a bottle of Tide that's good for 96 loads costs $17.94 or 18.6 cents a load. Assuming we do 390 loads (and probably more) of laundry a year, we're spending $72.54 a year assuming we are not over pouring. Cutting back our usage 50% could free up 36 dollars a year, it won't make you rich, but it beats literally “pouring money” down the drain.
2. Throwing Away Bottles/Tubes Without Getting the Last Bit of Product Out
You know what I'm talking about, right? Those squeeze tubes of lotion that no amount of squeezing will get that last little bit out of. Or those bottles of cleaning spray that never have an internal sprayer tube long enough to get the last few drops out of the bottom of the container.
Doesn't that just fry your egg? There has to be a better design to allow you to use 100% of a product that you paid good money for. I think these manufacturers do it on purpose because they know suckers like me exist in the world.
Yep, suckers like me who will throw the bottle of shampoo in the trash rather than try to squeeze that slippery little bastard to death in the middle of my shower. That's the old me, though. Nowadays, I cut, rip, squeeze, unscrew, and shake as much as I need to get every last drop out of those bottles. Sucker no more.
3. Throwing Away Leftover Food
My husband and I tend to forget leftovers are in the refrigerator. I also like to make lots of different meals during the week because I get sick of eating the same food every day. Combined, these two things make for a high risk of food waste because I either don't feel like eating it, or I forget it even exists.
This is something that I'm still trying to improve upon. We throw away way too much food. I'm definitely a food lover (Food Network is my jam), so it's hard for me just to view food as a fuel source and eat whatever is in the fridge if I don't actually want to eat it. Our grocery bill is way outrageous right now, so I'm going to have to work harder on this. It's just food, right?
Need more convincing?
According to, Save The Food, an average family of four tosses out over 1500 dollars of food a year. Wow!
4. Using Too Many Paper Towels
This is more of a convenience thing. Also a laziness thing, which seems to be a recurring theme in this list.
Lately, I have started grabbing an actual towel in the morning and using it to clean up messes throughout the day. This is the alternative to using a new paper towel each time one of my kids spills milk, water, or whatever else he may be eating/drinking at the time. It all seems to end up on the floor eventually.
Using a towel has worked out well for me because it cleans and absorbs a lot better than some flimsy piece of a dead tree. I'm not sure why doing this didn't occur to me sooner. Habit, I guess? (Saves money and the environment)
Need more convincing?
In a report by the Atlantic, the U.S dominates the globe in paper towel consumption, with the U.S spending nearly 6 billion on paper towels in 2017. The average family uses two rolls of paper towels a week. A 24 pack of Bounty at Walmart is $19.88 or 82.8 cents a roll. Ditching paper towels all could save nearly $100 a year. Not to mention, have a positive impact on the environment.
5. Forgetting to Return Items That Don't Fit/Work
Here's a perfect example of this. I bought a pair of shorts at Old Navy a while back that I took home, tried on, and didn't like it. They had these weird netted undies in them that were just NOT going to work. I don't need a net all up in my business while I'm trying to lift weights or jog or whathaveyou. No thanks!
Instead of returning them to Old Navy immediately, as I should have, I plopped them in the back seat of my car. It may as well be a Poorly Constructed Shorts graveyard back there because I promptly forgot about them. Months later, when I found them again and tried to return them, they would only refund me for the last known price of the item (I didn't have the receipt), which was something like 99 cents.
Um, ‘scuse me? 99 cents? It cost me more in gas money to GET HERE than you are going to refund me for these shorts.
So anyway, I ended up selling them on eBay for a lot less than I paid for them. Waste of money. Completely my fault.
According to an NPR/Marist poll, 91 percent of American online shoppers said they “only rarely” or “never” return things they buy online. Who knows how much unwanted-merchandise is sitting in the backseats of cars across American? 😉
6. Failing to Compare Prices
This mostly happens at the grocery store, because I don't shop a lot otherwise. Sometimes, when I am at the store, I just grab the first thing I see off the shelf, which is usually the generic brand. However, there's been times where I've gone back to look, and the name brand is actually CHEAPER than the generic due to a sale. I really wonder how many times I have done this and not noticed. Probably a lot.
Especially at a grocery store where everything is grouped in one spot, price comparison takes seconds literally. Why wasn't I doing it? Who knows. Who knows why I do anything sometimes? Not me.
Need More Convincing?
More than one in three Americans haven’t compared costs or checked the price of their [auto] policy in at least three years, according to NerdWallet
By not comparison shopping for insurance, Americans are overpaying nearly 400 dollars a year. Ouch! Auto insurance is a pretty big expense too, imagine how much you might be wasting not comparison shopping other services and products.
7. Buying Things, I'll Never Use
I have really high hopes for myself sometimes. I really do. Especially when it comes to my health and all the fantastic things I'm going to do to improve it.
One of the amazing things that I like to do is hit up the grocery store to buy all these “superfoods” (read: super expensive foods) like quinoa, spinach, flax seeds, and organic protein powder. Then I come up with all these recipes on the way home from the store like flax protein smoothies and quinoa and spinach stir-fry.
After that, I get back to my house, carry all my groceries inside, put them in their designated cabinet spots, marvel at how healthy I'm going to be…and never, ever look at them again.
Until they are expired, that is. That's when I watch them pile up in the garbage can as I curse myself for doing this to myself and my bank account for the bajillionth time. You'd think I'd learn. You'd really think I'd learn.
8. Buying Expensive Body Wash/Lotions/Soaps
Now, if I were a person who had allergies or skin that dries up like the Sahara without the use of certain products, I could justify a high expenditure in this category of the household budget. Fortunately for me, I am not.
So it's really kind of silly of me when I'm buying a $15 bottle of body wash just because it “smells pretty” or “makes nice bubbles.” All I actually need to get clean is a good ol' bar of Dial soap, which is a fraction of the cost of those fancy washes. It may not smell as nice, but it gets the job done.
I do still buy these things from time to time, but only when I have a gift card and the things I want are on sale. I find that it makes using these products all the more luxurious and I really feel like I'm getting pampered — when all I'm doing is showering.
9. Gym Memberships/Personal Training
I'm not knocking a gym membership. I loved going to the gym back when I belonged to one, and I know I worked out a lot harder there than I do at home. However, when you have no furniture in your apartment, no microwave, and barely enough money to eat — you shouldn't have a gym membership. Or a personal training package. But I did.
When I was in college, and for a few years after, I was B-R-O-K-E. But I also wanted to get in shape. I thought that the extreme sacrifice to pay for the gym and training package, along with motivation from an outside source (the trainer) would finally get me into the best shape of my life.
As it turns out, motivation comes from within (who knew?), and all I ended up with was a fat ass and a fine for canceling the training package early. I started jogging outside for free instead and lost more weight than I ever did working out with the trainer. Go figure. (learn how to stick with your resolutions)
A study by Finder.com found that Americans spend nearly 1.8 billion dollars a year on unused gym memberships. Over 6% of the people polled never used their memberships and over 5% surveyed used their membership less than once a month.
10. Trying to Keep Up With Others
“Keeping up with the Joneses,” as they say. Except the Joneses were actually a group of spoiled rich kids that I met at a bar in college and befriended for a very short period before I realized that there was no way I was ever going to be able to hang with these people.
I spent a few months going out to bars with expensive cover charges to buy drinks that I couldn't afford because that's what this particular set of Joneses was doing. I bought shots, drank beers, ate expensive sushi, and just generally lived outside of my income–all for the sake of fitting in. It got so bad that one night I actually had to walk home from the bars in the middle of the night (about a 1-2 mile walk) in high heels and a dress because I couldn't afford the taxi ride home.
My only excuse for this whole debacle is that I was living in a big city 3 hours from my hometown and had virtually no friends. I was desperate to find people to hang out with, and I was desperate for those people not to find out that I was barely paying my bills. They were either older and/or more well off than I was, and I simply could not keep up with their lifestyle. (See, what I learned from being broke)
Eventually, I had a falling out with one of the group members, and the stress of keeping up the ruse became too much for me. I slowly phased myself out of the group. At the time, I was pretty bummed about it because I had to go back to having barely any friends. But looking back, I was certainly better off. I'm not sure why I wanted to hang out with a bunch of 35-year-olds who were still spending all their time in college bars, anyway.
Clearly, I've done a lot of dumb things that have cost me money. I am absolutely sure that this list doesn't even cover half of the ways “I soooo waste money”, but it's a good start for now.
The good thing is, once you realize you are doing dumb things, you can stop doing them. A little self-awareness goes a long way with your checkbook.
Michael launched Your Money Geek to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.