Sticking to a budget is tough. In a world of constant advertisements, glittering store windows, and basic living costs, our wallets can seriously hurt at the end of each month. And while certain expenses are inevitable, there are also things that sabotage your budget that are totally avoidable — and they're often expenses that we're not even entirely conscious we're making.
According to a survey featured on CNBC, eight in ten Americans are in debt, and most will take that debt into their retirement. However, a piece in Nerd Wallet by financial writer Erin El Issa noted that not all debt is created equal. Some debt, like student loans or mortgages, can expand our overall opportunities and so can be worth it in the long run. However, other kinds of debt, like the kind from credit cards, can be some of the most expensive and damaging debt we accrue in life because interest rates are generally extremely high and many people get used to spending on things they can't really afford.
This is where good budgeting comes in. And while a lot of us equate this with depriving ourselves of simple pleasures and eating beans for dinner, the reality is all budgeting means is knowing where our money is going so that we can make informed decisions about how to spend it each month. You can of course buy yourself that totally pointless giant gnome decoration for your living room — just make sure you budgeted for it.
And in the interest of sticking to your money goals, here are eleven things you're probably spending money on that can totally ruin your budget.
1. That Morning Coffee
According to ABC News, the average American worker spends $1,100 annually on coffee. $1,100. And that's only an average, meaning that some of us actually spend way more. Think about investing in a home coffee maker, or make one day of the week the day you allow yourself your favorite Starbucks latte. You'll likely notice a little extra padding in your bank account just by changing this one little thing.
2. The Latest Phone
Financial Avenue, a site aimed at helping young people stay out of debt and manage student loans, lists the latest phone or gadget as an item that you definitely shouldn't spend on if it's not in your budget. Just because your current phone is a little slower than your friend's doesn't mean you "need" a new one — especially if it's something you'll be charging on a credit card. Take a step back and assess if it's really something necessary to your life, or if it's just something you really want.
3. Hidden Fees On Your Card
Financial Avenue also reminded us to be aware of any hidden fees on our credit cards, like ATM withdrawal fees or an annual fee. With so many credit card options to choose from there's truly no reason to pay extra. And some companies will actually waive the annual fee if you call and complain.
4. Your Friends
In a piece for Forbes, finance writer Maggie McGrath stressed the importance of not letting your friends and social life sabotage your budget. "You’ll feel it during a dinner out, where you ordered the salad and no alcohol to save money but your friends indulged in appetizers, dessert and extra glasses of wine – and then want to split the bill evenly among the group," McGrath noted. She said that if you're not comfortable putting your foot down in the moment, try to avoid getting yourself in situations where you'll feel like you have to pay more than you can, or offer more cost-efficient alternatives, like meeting for lunch instead of dinner.
5. Your Roommates
McGrath also noted that our roommates can be a budget suck too — especially if you're a person who avoids confrontation and will be the one to buy the toilet paper when it's out, even though you bought it the last five times. She recommended sitting down with roommates before you move in together to come up with a plan for handling household expenses. I personally find that in the age of Venmo it's crazy easy to set up a fair system — if someone buys something for the house, agree that they can send you a Venmo request for your portion and vice-versa. That way no long-standing, hidden resentments can simmer below the surface and no one will be spending more than is fair.
6. A "Deal"
The personal investment site LearnVest warns us to be careful of "deals." They note that stores will often mark items up just so they can mark them down to make the shopper feel like they're saving. In the same piece, consumer savings maven Regina Novickis noted that, “A deal is never a deal if you have to finance the item on your credit card. Accruing interest instantly negates it.” I've also been guilty of buying items I never would have normally bought just because they're on sale, meaning I ended up spending more than I would have in the first place!
A compilation piece on Business Insider lists cable as one of the top things we should not be spending money on. With Hulu, Netflix, AppleTV, and the internet (not to mention the basic channels are still free) there is just no reason to be spending close to 100 bucks a month on hundreds of channels we likely don't even really use. Especially if you're trying to cut costs. So don't be afraid to call up you cable provider and part ways — I promise it will feel good, especially when you see your bank account.
The same compilation piece noted that a lot of us don't even really think about the added cost of shipping when we buy items online. However, a ton of stores actually have a "pick up in store" option, and considering shipping can often add around ten dollars to your order (if not more), it's often definitely worth it.
9. Items You Could Have Brought To A Vacation
Learnvest also noted that a lot of us don't bother packing certain small items when going on vacation, like sunscreen or toothpaste, with the logic that you can just grab it once you arrive. However, a ton of airports and resort gift shops majorly mark up the prices since they know you're desperate. Save yourself a ton of unnecessary spending by purchasing basics before you go.
10. Reward Purchases
In a piece on U.S. News and World Report, consumer expert Holly Perez noted that when people start budgeting they can be way too strict with themselves, meaning that they then "snap" and go overboard on a large purchase that they never would have normally made (she compares it to the back and forth of yo-yo dieting). "The key to approach budgeting is to look at it like a marathon, not a sprint. Start by cutting those areas you feel most comfortable with first, and then work on others as you build your willpower – and bank account," Perez said.
11. Name Brands
This final one is a personal tip. It took me years to embrace the fact that non-name brands are generally every bit as good as the name brands you see advertised on TV. Things like cleaning sprays, household first aid supplies, and toothpaste are literally made from the exact same ingredients as their more expensive counterparts. The savings you keep from going for off-brand really adds up over time.
Budgeting doesn't have to ruin your life. Just make sure you know where your money is going and that you're not unknowingly making unnecessary expenditures, and you'll already be ahead of the game.