The Everyday “Essential” That’s Draining Your Finances

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It’s a fact of life: A certain amount of income is necessary to, you know, live. But when it comes to actually having money, it's not just about earning; it's also about how you spend. So, while asking for a raise could definitely help your financial situation, the real task is to keep your paycheck in the bank instead of handing it over to your favorite takeout joint. In fact, there are probably a number of things you can (and should) stop spending money on immediately.

Perhaps the scariest truth about common cash-suckers is that the biggest culprits are sometimes the sneakiest. Dropping $500 on a leather jacket or $200 jewelry are obvious expenses, but it's easy to overlook is the $500 you spent on takeout for the month. On the other hand, FOMO fuels a lot of excess spending, especially when you see all your Insta-friends with the latest iPhone. At a certain point, you have to ask yourself what's better: Having debt and a designer dress, or the feeling of financial security?

Ahead, two financial gurus uncover some top money traps, then give their pro tips on how to avoid them so you can really start to save. From pricey tech gadgets, to forgotten subscription services, to your daily latte habit, these common money mistakes may be draining your bank account.

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The Newest Phone

Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for WalletHub, notes that smart phones are one of the biggest non-essential "must-haves," a fact backed up by a recent WalletHub survey. "Eleven percent of people think that a new smart phone is worth going into debt for," she points out. "This is quite an alarming statistic, especially since credit card debt has reached a record high." Further, the questionnaire found that this stat nearly doubled for the participants under the age of 45. Yikes.

Kelsey Sheehy, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, agrees that these gadgets tend to be spending traps. "You don’t really need a new phone every year, or every two years," she says. "Still, many people shell out $800 to $1,000 every two years — or sooner — to get a new phone when the one they have works perfectly fine." One of the biggest reasons for the unnecessary expenditure? "We get FOMO. We see the great pictures our friend’s new phone takes, and suddenly the camera on our phone is low quality and we have to get a new one."

Subscription Services

Subscription services are fun and convenient, but if you forget about them, they'll hit your wallet hard. This is especially true for services that seem cheap; sign up for three or four of them, and it'll blow your budget. "American adults spend an average of nearly $240 a month on subscriptions — everything from Netflix to Birchbox to Apple Music," says Sheehy. "That adds up to almost $3,000 per year."

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Lunches & Lattes

You may not be willing to spend $300 on a fancy dinner for two, but if you tally up your coffee trips and happy hour outings, they may be costing you just as much. "The small purchases can really be the most dangerous, because $8 here and $12 there feels like just a drop in the bucket, but it really adds up over time," says Sheehy. Further, says Gonzalez, "Things like getting a latte every morning from the coffee shop, or buying more food than we actually need can translate into thousands of dollars we could be saving each year."

Mindless Purchases

Credit cards are scary-easy to use: Just one swipe, and it's yours. And all that accruing debt? Out of sight, out of mind ... at least until your bill comes in. Add all that to the ease of online shopping (or the trendy things you pass on your errand run to Target), and it's a recipe for a debt disaster. "Everyone has their own kryptonite," admits Sheehy. "Mine is Amazon — literally anything on Amazon Prime. I have Prime packages show up and have no clue what’s inside, because I forgot that I ordered something."

Gonzalez mentions some other common culprits. "People seem to be continuously racking up credit card debt, and wasting money on anything from famous brand products, to jewelry, to the latest iPhone," she says.

High Insurance & Mortgage Rates

Comparing insurance, loan, and mortgage rates is the kind of "shopping" we should do more of, according to Sheehy. "Another way we often throw away money is by not shopping around, especially on stuff like mortgages and car insurance. Sure, these things aren’t fun or sexy to shop for, but you could be wasting hundreds of dollars each year by not doing so." For instance, she says, "A recent NerdWallet study found that 50 percent of home buyers only look at one lender before applying for a mortgage. Shopping around could save you more than $400 in interest in the first year alone."

Looking for a home loan? Try NerdWallet's mortgage comparison tool to compare rates.

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How To Stop Wasting Money

Once you've pinpointed your own money traps, Gonzalez and Sheehy give their tips for saving more cash (other than "just stop spending"):

Identify your triggers. "If online shopping is your weakness, unsubscribe from promotional emails and uninstall retail apps," suggests Sheehy. "If that doesn’t do it, make it harder to check out. Remove your saved payment information and keep your wallet out of reach."

Separate "wants" and "needs." "Separate luxuries from necessities," says Gonzalez. "Figure out whether the things you're spending money on are what you need or what you'd like to have, and go from there."

Make a budget. "Keeping a budget is the best way to get control of your spending," advises Gonzalez. "The most important thing to keep in mind when you start a budget is to have a clear objective. Whether you're simply trying to determine where your money is going, or you're looking to start saving for a particular purpose, knowing what your end goal is will help you customize your budget to your specific needs."

Another tip: budgeting apps, such as NerdWallet, can help you easily track expenses.

Go on a financial cleanse. "Think of it like a Whole 30, but for your finances," explains Sheehy. "I just completed a 'Frugal February,' so for the entire month, I could only spend money on essential purchases. I was shocked by how often I buy things I don’t actually need, like LaCroix or random things at Trader Joes. I saved almost $500 this month, despite slipping up a few times."

Re-think your subscriptions. "Cancel the ones you forgot you had, keep the ones you can’t live without, and consolidate with a roommate, partner, or family member where you can," Sheehy recommends. "If there’s a free option, switch to that. You could save $120 a year by canceling your Spotify subscription and going with the free version."