5 Budget 'Serial Killers'

By Christine DiGangiLifestyle and BudgetCredit.com

You went over your monthly budget — again. Now you’re looking at bills and bank accounts, figuring out how to shuffle money around so you can pay everything and avoid this awful feeling next month.

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Good luck with that.

Everyone has different financial priorities, but no matter who you are, there are some expenses that get everyone off track at one point or another. They’re the little things that add up, seem like they’re in budget and automatically hit your bank accounts without a second thought. You know they’re destructive, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to stop. Like their on-screen horror movie counterparts, they just won’t die. They’re budget serial killers.

1. Morning Coffee

What’s a couple bucks for your morning caffeine fix? Potentially a lot. If you spend, say, $5 on your way to work, you’re spending at least $100 a month on your morning workday routine. This includes more than coffee addicts. For some people, it’s a smoothie, a breakfast sandwich, a can of pop — most people have that thing that gets them going.

That doesn’t mean you have to ditch your morning favorite (though your body will thank you for skipping the daily doughnut), but you should work that expense into your budget. If you really want to spend $100 on coffee each month, you have to cut back on something else, like shopping, entertainment, dining out, etc.

2. Cable

A lot of people with cable or satellite dishes subscribe to those services for just a few channels, but is your favorite show or sports network worth hundreds of dollars? Think about how often you actually watch TV, because you pay for it whether or not you make time to catch up on the dozens of shows clogging your DVR. You’ll keep paying for TV you don’t watch until you cut the cord — or sit down and enjoy the stuff you bought.

3. Subscriptions

Automatic renewal is a glorious convenience, particularly for companies running subscription services. It’s only a few dollars a month for magazines and newspapers, but if they’re piling up on your coffee table or stuffed in your recycling bin, you’re wasting money. We’re all for good reading material and keeping yourself informed, but if that’s not what you’re getting out of the subscription, it’s time to cancel.

This goes for other monthly deliveries, like the sample boxes that have gotten hugely popular in recent years. You can try snacks, cosmetics, pet products and pretty much anything else you can think of, but do you need to spend $20 on those things every month? Maybe, maybe not, but you certainly will as long as the subscription stays active.

4. Memberships

The gym membership is a tricky one. Maybe you’re one of those people who won’t exercise unless you have access to a health club, but at the same time, you can’t bring yourself to go more than a few times each month (if that). No matter how many times you go, the membership fees hit your credit card every month, so you can either make it worth your while and go regularly, or you should think about other options. There are plenty of do-it-yourself fitness resources online, and some health centers offer a la carte use of their facilities. Depending how often you go, that might be more affordable.

Annual memberships can be sneakier, because you’re likely to forget that charge is coming. Mark your calendar or set up an email reminder when you’re due to renew that Amazon Prime or professional association membership. That will cue you to assess whether the service is still worth it, and if not, you can cancel your renewal.

5. Alcohol

Think about how many times a server or bartender approaches you to ask, “Another beer?” while you’re out with friends. It’s really easy to say “Sure,” before you decide if you really want it. Ask yourself: Are you ordering more because you want it or because you were asked? Alcohol also affects your judgment, so as much as your friends will love you for saying, “This round is on me,” your bank account may not appreciate the gesture.

This isn’t to say you can’t indulge in your morning coffee, regular cocktail hours, boxes of fun things or a weekend of DVR bingeing, but you have to realize you have limited resources. If you’re constantly running out of money or going over budget, it’s time to look at your last few months of transactions and find your spending patterns before they do further damage.

Left unchecked, your budget serial killers could drive you into debt (if you’re not already there), and that could cost you thousands of dollars in your lifetime in damaged credit scores and higher interest rates. Try plugging your numbers into the Lifetime Cost of Debt tool and see what you’re dealing with — you might find it easier to revise your spending habits after that.

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Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Credit.com. Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record. More by Christine DiGangi