This past summer, I decided to keep track of everything I bought for the entire month of July. Despite working all the damn time, I never had any extra cash, and I needed to learn how to keep a budget pretty much as soon as possible. So I figured it was time to track my spending to find out exactly how I was blowing my budget.
I carried around a little notebook and recorded every purchase. Movie tickets, lunch, more lunch, even little packs of gum. At the end of the month, I added up all my expenses (bills and rent included) and was totally shocked. My rent, which I thought was so high and terrible, was actually the least of my worries. Turns out I was dropping tons of money on a lot of little things, like those pesky packs of gum, and it was adding up fast. By checking my bank statement, I also came across expenses I didn't realize I paid each month, like maintenance fees, and forgotten memberships and subscriptions.
Tracking my money was definitely a lesson in realizing I can't simply whip out my debit card to buy every little thing I want (at least not at this stage in my life.) But I'm glad I got to see where my money was going. And since then, I've been way better about how I spend my dough.
If you're also wondering where your money goes, here are the sneaky little things that add up fast to ruin your budget.
1. Secretive Monthly Bank Fees
I won't mention any names, but my bank likes to charge a fee for everything. There is a monthly maintenance fee, overdraft fees, and even a fee for not having a certain amount of money in an account. (What kind of weird punishment is that?) I was even being charged $12 a month because one of my checking accounts didn't receive any direct deposits. Who knew that was a thing? As soon as I found out, I went marching into my bank and sat down with one of the employees to discuss the problem. They were able to help me clean up my account, and now I don't have to worry about those silly little charges.
2. Buying Breakfast And Lunch Everyday
It can be tempting, and sometimes even necessary, to go out for food — maybe you have a lunch meeting, or want to get dinner with friends. The occasional splurge is fine, and hey, a girl's gotta eat. But if you're worried about your budget, then you should avoid buying breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day.
If you think about it, depending on where you live, breakfast alone is going to cost about $5 to $15. Then factor in lunch, which is probably $10 to $20. And then dinner, which usually runs well over $20. That can be, at the highest end, a whopping $55 a day — the same amount can buy you groceries for a week or more. So, instead of getting your food on the fly and costing yourself a ton of money, invest in some groceries, and take the time to prepare meals. You'll save a ton of money preparing breakfast at home, packing a lunch, and making your own dinner each night. All it takes is a little planning.
3. Buying Fancy Drinks
I used to buy drinks all day long. A coffee in the morning, a fruity drink at lunch, a bottle of water, and then maybe another coffee. I hardly thought this would affect my budget, because they only cost a few bucks. But think about this — if you spend $3 a day on a latte, and you get one five times a week, that adds up to $15. Not too bad for your beloved caffeine, right? Well that $15 drink tab adds up to $780 a year. (That's price of a plane ticket to an exotic location!) Instead of dropping dough every morning, try brewing your own coffee. It's not as exciting, but it's going to help your budget. Also, carry a reusable water bottle around with you, since water is free.
4. Having Unused Gym Memberships And Other Subscriptions
Just like you did with the bank fees, take another look at your bank statement to see if you're being charged for stuff you don't need. Sometimes companies will give you a free month-long trial, and then count on your forgetting to cancel it before they charge your for a year. So sneaky! Other things, like expensive gym memberships, often go unused. Don't keep paying monthly fees for things you don't want. Take stock of any memberships you've got following you around, and cancel any that you don't use.
5. Shopping Way Too Much Online
If you go to a store, pull out your money, hand it to a cashier, and then walk away with a bag, it really feels like "shopping," and your brain can register that you just spent some money. But if you're kicked back on the couch, doing a lot of "one-click" buying, it can be all too easy to go hog wild. Online shopping is great if you know what you want. But if you're sticking to a budget, try to steer clear of the convenience of it all and save your shopping spree for when you have some extra cash.
6. Frivolous Spending
Even if you're shopping for not-so-fun stuff, like household items, it can be really easy to go overboard. We've all been the victim of a Target shopping extravaganza, since it's so tempting to fill your cart with all the affordable and adorable things they have to offer. And yet, do you really need a pack of 50 sponges, more hangers, and a new garbage can? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. It can be hard to tell in the rush of the moment, so that's why you should stick to a shopping list. Go in with the intention of picking up X, Y, and Z, and you'll be less likely to find yourself wandering wide-eyed down every aisle.
Money can slip through your fingers in a variety of ways, so be sure to keep track of your spending, and you'll have an easier time maintaining your budget.
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