I consider myself to be one of the cheapest people on the planet.
I wear socks until they are threadbare and underwear until the elastic is completely shot. Spending money physically hurts me. But even the cheapest people on the planet have moments of stark stupidity. And sometimes that stupidity costs some serious cash.
1. Not measuring laundry detergent
I do a lot of laundry. 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 in an effort to save time, I end up just dumping laundry detergent into the washer willy-nilly — no measuring. 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 lazy.
I don’t know how much laundry detergent I’ve wasted over the years by “eyeballing”, but I’m sure it’s a lot. And laundry detergent is expensive. Especially if you buy the fancy stuff like Tide PG, +0.16% 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.
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 bottle.
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 just throw the bottle of shampoo in the trash rather than try to squeeze it 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 have a tendency 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 working on. We throw away way too much food. I’m definitely a food lover (Food Network is my jam), so it’s hard for me to just 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 really going to have to work harder on this. It’s just food, right?
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 really well for me because it cleans and absorbs a lot better than some flimsy piece of dead tree. I’m not sure why doing this didn’t occur to me sooner. Habit, I guess? (Saves money and the environment)
5. Forgetting to return items that don’t fit or don’t work
Here’s a perfect example of this. I bought a pair of shorts at Old Navy GPS, +0.03% a while back that I took home, tried on, and didn’t like.
Instead of returning them to Old Navy immediately, like I should have, I put 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, excuse 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 EBAY, +0.20% for a lot less than I paid for them. Waste of money. Completely my fault.
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 together in one spot, price comparison takes literally seconds. Why wasn’t I doing it? Who knows. Who knows why I do anything sometimes? Not me.
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 amazing things I’m going to do to improve it.
One of the things that I like to do is hit up the grocery store to buy all these “super foods” (read: super expensive foods) like quinoa, spinach, flax seeds, and organic protein powder. Then I come up with 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 again. 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 old 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 spare tire 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.)
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 were doing. I bought shots, drank beers, ate expensive sushi, and just generally lived outside of my means — 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 is that I was living in a big city three 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.
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. 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 certain that this list doesn’t even cover half of the mistakes I’ve made, 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.
Michelle is a blogger and stay at home mom who is on a mission to rescue her husband from the 9-to-5 grind.
This post originally appeared on Your Money Geek. It has been adapted and published with permission.