18 small splurges that cost you way more than you think

Are those tiny purchases causing more harm than you realize?

Spending $5 here, $10 there or $20 on an impulse buy or frequent purchase won’t bust your budget—or will it? Seemingly small splurges don’t hurt your financial well-being by themselves, but when you add them up over the course of a year, they can be devastating to your personal finances.

If you can find 10 small ways to cut your spending by $5 per week (and eliminate the related credit card interest on those charges), that’s almost $3,000 you’ll have in your savings account by the end of the year. If you use that $3,000 to pay down your credit card balance, you might save another $600 or more. If you put that $3,000 into a 401(k) with an employer match and let it earn compound interest until you retire, you might be able to spend your golden years with another half a million in assets.

Here are 18 splurges you can eliminate or modify to help keep more green in your purse and less red ink in your budget.

1. Coffee

You don’t have to give up coffee to save big bucks over your lifetime. Cutting just one $5 cup of coffee per week saves you $260 per year. If you put those cups of coffee on a credit card with a 20 percent APR and carry those charges for a year, that’s close to $290 per year. Multiply $290 by 10 splurges each year and…you get the picture.

2. Snacks

Buy energy bars, microwave popcorn, nuts, yogurt cups and oatmeal packets at the grocery store and keep them in your desk at work, in your dorm room or any other place where you’re tempted to hit the over-priced vending machine.

3. Movies

Can’t wait to see the latest box office smash? Spending $50 on two tickets, soda, popcorn and a box of candy might not seem like a big deal, but if you can skip one movie per month, that’s a $600 savings each year. With credit card interest, it’s closer to $700. Create a fun home movie night once a month for family or friends and you won’t mind waiting for that “must-see” movie to make it to cable.

4. Lunch

Even a fast food burger combo can cost up to $8 these days. Brown bag it once or twice a week for a better tasting, healthier and less expensive lunch and save another $250 to $500 each year.

burger photo
Getty Images | Cate Gillon

5. Dinner

Don’t assume that casual dining restaurants are a bargain. By the time you’re done with tax and tip, even special “meal deals” can cost you $15 or more. Instead of going out for dinner with your partner on a regular basis, have a romantic or fun dinner at home featuring a special, but low-cost, menu.

6. Brand Name Groceries

Can you really taste the difference between a box of “name” brand and generic pasta once you boil it and top it with tomato sauce? Is it worth paying $1.20 for a can of green beans with a mascot on the label when you can get a generic can for 40 cents? You can easily cut your grocery spending by $100 to $150 a month without cutting back on food, just by purchasing generic and store-brand foods.

7. Full-Price Groceries

Did you know that many groceries, including most staples (bread, milk, eggs), go on sale every two or three weeks? Instead of buying two pizzas for $4 each, wait until they’re on sale for $2.50 and buy six or eight for your freezer. In the mood for a steak? Check the manager’s specials for half-price discounts on T-bones and filets that are still days away from their “sell-by” date. Look for the discount shelves in your grocery store, where dented cans, items that didn’t sell or goods near the sell-by dates are offered for pennies on the dollar. Sign up for grocery chain loyalty cards and register at their websites for lots of free digital coupons, automatic “best customer” discounts and gas points that add up to hundreds of dollars of savings each year. Check out how you can eat a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner for only $4 per day.

grocery checkout photo
Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla

8. ATM Withdrawals

The next time you make a deposit at your bank, take out enough cash to carry you through to your next visit. Using your credit card at an ATM to make a withdrawal can cost you close to $5 each time for the convenience fee—and you pay the highest interest rate on credit card cash advances (up to 30 percent for some cards).

9. Gym Fees

Unless you hit the gym on a regular basis and absolutely wouldn’t exercise if you didn’t belong to a fitness center, skip paying gym fees. You can probably get a better workout at home, doing calisthenics and cardio workouts in your basement, or using cardio machines you get for free or on the cheap via Craigslist.

gym photo
Getty Images | Guido De Bortoli

10. Phone Plans

Psychologically, it can be tough to switch cable, electric, gas or other service providers. However, comparing the best deals can often yield surprisingly good results. Have you been with your phone carrier for years? When was the last time you checked several providers? You might be shocked at how much you’re overpaying.

11. Cable Equipment

If you rent a router, modem or other equipment from your cable company, you can probably buy that equipment cheap enough to pay it off in one year, then pocket $100 or more each year going forward.

12. New Items

Why buy new exercise equipment, kitchen gadgets, furniture or home and garden tools when you can get them for pennies on the dollar or even free? Check out our post on how to get lots of crazy deals and freebies using Facebook groups, Craigslist and emails to friends.

package delivery photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

13. Rental Cars

It used to be a pain to check eight or more rental car companies’ prices each time you traveled. Today, shopping for the best vehicle rental rates is a snap and can help you cut car costs in half. Thanks to websites like Kayak, Trivago or Travelocity, you can now compare the rates of multiple car rental companies at once.

14. Appetizers And Dessert

When you go out to dinner, if you start with a cup of soup or appetizer, or finish your evening out with a dessert, you bloat your bill—and your tummy. Have a small snack before you head to dinner with friends to tamp down hunger pangs that make that cup of chili or fried mozzarella sticks look too good to pass up.

15. Pink Tax

Do you buy products like shampoo, soap, razors and other personal hygiene products made just for women—even though men also use them? If so, you’re paying more for your products than men do because of the “pink tax“—the higher price women pay because marketers know females will pay more for things if they think those items are made just for them. Check out the prices on generic or “guy” products to see if you can get what you need for less.

shaving legs photo
Flickr | karolinamis

16. Organics And Fresh Fruits And Vegetables

Organic fruits and vegetables aren’t more nutritious than commercially grown foods, and fresh foods don’t have more vitamins and minerals than frozen or canned. You might be surprised to learn that paying twice as much for fresh and organic doesn’t get you much more of a nutrient benefit.

organic photo
Getty Images | Tim Boyle

17. Credit Card Fees

Many credit card holders don’t realize how much extra they spend in annual fees, late-payment penalties and annual percentage rates. You might be earning cash back only because you’re paying your bank even more than you earn on a higher interest rate. Check balance transfer options and do the math. You might be able to save hundreds of dollars of interest even after a balance transfer fee. Make sure you set up auto pay to avoid missed payments that can cost you more than a one-time fee (some card companies jack your interest rate or eliminate your promotional APR as soon as you miss a payment).

18. Bottled Water

Not only are bottles of water expensive, they’re causing an environmental catastrophe. Invest in a water purifier for your faucet and a good reusable water bottle and save yourself hundreds of dollars each year.

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