13 Ways Americans Waste Money

by | October 9, 2012 at 10:28 AM | General

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You can call your morning trip to Starbucks a necessity, but all those Pumpkin Spice Lattes aren’t doing your wallet any good.  According to Business Insider, Americans—notorious for splurging on frivolous items—spend more than half a trillion dollars each year.

So, are you ready to rethink some of your card swipes? You may never want to give up buying those lottery tickets or going to happy hour every Friday, but if the people at Business Insider are right, some costs are definitely worth cutting out of your life.  Here is their list of ways Americans throw away money each year (and just how much).

$6 Billion in Unused Gift Cards. From 2005 to 2011, $41 billion in gift cards were left unused, resulting in $6 billion a year, according to TowerGroup. So what’s the reason for throwing away all these freebie cards? Most of the time, we end up misplacing them or throwing them out. Nevertheless, for all the gift cards you get from stores where you don’t necessarily shop, you have a chance to exchange them for cold, hard cash. Deal site Coupon Sherpa launched an event last year called Gift Card Exchange Day that was a huge hit. Customers were able to sell their unwanted or little-used gift cards for cash.

$7 Billion on ATM Fees. It makes sense that we pay for these nasty ATM fees in emergency cases, but you should really think twice before taking out cash from certain providers. ATM fees are higher than ever—some skyrocketing to $5—so if you’re looking for a way to avoid them, you may have to trade your bank for a credit union. Some credit unions will be able to reimburse you for these fees, or even pay you for using their card.

$12 Billion on Traffic Tickets. You may think that speeding with your convertible top down is the coolest way to catch a girl’s attention, but you are literally feeding money to the government after getting caught. According to the National Motorists Association, Americans go through nearly 25 to 30 million traffic tickets. Some can even reach as high as $300. Double-check where you’re allowed to park and what the city speed limits are during your next drive.

$29 Billion on Candy. Halloween should be you’re only excuse for indulging in that box of Sweet Tarts. With practically negative nutritional value, those big bags of candy can be justified as a complete waste of your cash. In 2010, we impressively spent 60 percent of this $29 billion on chocolate. It’s safe to say that Hershey’s won’t be going downhill any time soon.

$31 Billion on Lottery Tickets. Out of all the Americans who spent money on lottery tickets last year, most of them did not get rich. Even though some lottery tickets are as cheap as 50 cents, this addictive habit is nothing but wasteful.

$44 Billion on Tobacco. There’s no way of getting around the truth for this one: smoking is bad for your health and your wallet. One of the scariest findings is that some low-income New Yorkers are starting to spend almost a quarter of their annual salaries on cigarettes.

$50 Billion on Alcohol. While a once-a-week happy hour is reasonable, most Americans don’t settle for one glass of wine or a beer, and they’re adding a plate of nachos or hot wings to the bill. Ease up on the alcohol and you’ll find yourself saving a ton on food, taxis and more.

$49 Billion on Credit Card Interest. Say goodbye to the debt cycle for good and quit wasting money on credit card interest. The average cardholder has an unpaid balance of $2,210 at the end of the month, along with an average APR of 12.75% for 174 million cardholders. Be wise with your spending habits and think again before you pay with plastic.

$69 Billion in Casinos. Business Insider was generous with the fact that only $69 billion was spent in 2010, estimating that about 45 percent of the money was returned to each gambler’s jackpot.

$76 Billion on Soda. Along with smoking, drinking soda is horrible for your health and your wallet. You will find yourself saving a chunk of your paycheck by switching to water for most of your meals.

$146 Billion on Wasted Energy. Business Insider calculated this amount by taking the $443 billion in annual home energy costs and subtracting what consumers could save if they follow the recommendations provided by the Energy Star program. Its recommendations include simple things like lowering your water heat thermostat, using cold water to wash your clothes, etc.

$165 Billion on Wasted Food. When you forget about food in your fridge, you are not only being unsanitary but extremely wasteful. If you find yourself frequently tossing out food, it’s about time you adopt some healthier habits. If you know you aren’t going to be able to eat 20 apples in a week, quit buying in bulk. Also, stock up on canned goods that are unlikely to go bad for a while.

What’s the Real Cost? It’s an unsolved question how much our bad habits—such as smoking, drinking and eating fast food—actually cost us. All of these things lead to higher insurance rates, a lack of productivity and a lack of money in our bank accounts. Take one bad habit at a time and work on it instead of trying to tackle all of them at once for a happier and healthier life.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.