3 Careless Ways You're Losing Cash -- and How to Avoid Them

Markets Motley Fool

There are lots of ways you can put your hard-earned money to good use, whether your dollars go toward saving for retirement, a down payment on a home, or even a great vacation. But, unfortunately, for most Americans, some of the money they work so hard to earn ends up wasted on unnecessary fees and costs.

Continue Reading Below

You can avoid spending your cash on costs that provide you with no benefit -- you just need to make a plan to avoid common, careless money drains. Here are three of the big ways you're probably wasting money -- along with some tips to cut these unnecessary expenses out of your life for good.  

1. Paying late fees

The maximum fee for a late payment on a credit card comes in at $27 for a first offense and $38 for repeat late payments within a six-month period. Utility companies, cellphone bill providers, mortgage companies, landlords, and almost everyone you owe money to will also charge you late fees if you don't pay on time.  And, as if this wasn't bad enough, late payments could also cause your credit score to drop. 

To avoid paying fees and risking damage to your credit that leads to higher borrowing costs, don't take a chance on paying late. Set up automated payments directly out of your checking account. If you tend to keep only a small amount of cash in checking, choose to have the minimum payment withdrawn from the account -- and then manually go in and pay more later. If you have a larger cushion of available cash, opt to have the entire statement balance paid in full via an automated process.

You can also use apps like Mint to remind you when a bill is due so you can pay on time, or develop habits like putting the due dates of bills on your calendar or paying each and every bill as it arrives. The key is to find a system that makes it effortless to pay bills without being late. 

Continue Reading Below

2. Keeping subscriptions that no longer provide value

Belonging to a gym can cost around $800 annually when you factor in initiation costs and monthly membership fees.  Around 67% of gym members don't actually go to the gym-- but many keep paying because they're locked into contracts or because the process of cancelling seems overwhelming. 

If you have a gym membership and aren't attending on a regular basis, there's no reason to waste hundreds of dollars each year. You can cancel your membership at the end of the contract period, talk to the gym manager about cancelling early or find someone to take over your membership for the duration of time you have left. 

The gym isn't the only unnecessary subscription or service you may be wasting money on either. If you get magazines you don't read, subscribe to monthly clubs you no longer care about, or pay for cable you don't watch, you could cut out these expenses without diminishing your life. 

To find memberships that have become a waste, look back through the last 12 months of credit card statements. This allows you to spot anything you're paying on a monthly or an annual basis that you no longer find to be worth your dollars. If you don't feel like doing this process manually, use an app like Trim, which will take care of finding and cancelling unused subscriptions and memberships on your behalf. 

3. Buying food you buy -- but don't eat

The average American household throws away around $640 in unused food every single year -- or about 16% of all food purchased. This is a huge waste of cash. 

To avoid depleting your nest egg by buying food items and tossing them away uneaten, make a weekly meal plan. Opt to base your plan around what's at sale in your grocery store flyers or just consider what you want to cook each week. Whichever option you choose, make a comprehensive shopping list detailing ingredients you need, and stick to your list without impulse buying other items. 

With the extra money you have in the bank because you're no longer wasting funds on expenditures that aren't even fun for you, you should be able to accomplish your other important financial goals more easily. The best part is, cutting out these money losers will net you more cash, even though you don't have to really change your life at all. 

The $16,122 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known "Social Security secrets" could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $16,122 more... each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after. Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.