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Hidden Budget Killers and How to Fix Them

how to control overspending and feesMost of us are not perfect when it comes to money. It’s inevitable that financial hiccups will happen to even the most meticulous planners, but what about when money is really tight and there doesn’t seem to be room to save any more? It could be that you are spending out of habit and don’t even realize there are opportunities for improvement. Here are some hidden budget killers and how to fix them.

Eating Out

Eating out should be a special treat and not the normal way you sustain nourishment. I have a friend who is in dire straits about her financial situation and the amount of debt her family is carrying, yet, she buys lunch out almost every work day. What’s wrong with this picture?

Don’t fool yourself into thinking it saves money by eating off the value menu or ordering the happy hour special. Bite for bite, eating out is always more expensive that cooking at home.

Even if the amount of dollars is the same for a large home cooked meal vs a restaurant dinner, the home cooked meal usually provides several days of leftovers while take out container food will be soggy and smelly by the next morning.

The Fix: If you are short on time before work, prepare food in the evening or on weekends and divide it into easy to grab containers. If eating out is more is more for social reasons, invite friends over or do something active like taking a walk. Not only will you save hundreds of dollars, you’ll eliminate food waste and probably eat healthier as well.

Obvious and Hidden Fees

Fees, those apparent and hidden, can really throw a monkey wrench into a well balanced budget. One overdraft or late payment can trigger a domino effect of fees and interest. With bank fees on the rise, many think paying a few dollars here and there is the cost of doing business. That doesn’t have to be the case.

Hidden fees can also zing even the most diligent financial plans. Although there is no increase in cost to make monthly payments on certain annual or semi-annual bills, like car or homeowners insurance, companies often charge a billing fee if you choose to make more than one payment. Some businesses even charge more for paying with a credit card instead of cash or check.

The Fix: Keep a bit of padding in your checking account or set up electronic alerts for low balances and payment reminders. If you use a service like Personal Capital or Mint, it’s easy to see when balances are getting low or payments are due.

Make sure to study all bills to make sure you aren’t paying more than you have to. The best way is to budget for annual expenses every month. Take the estimated annual expense, divide by 12, and stash away that amount each month. When annual bills roll around, you’ll be able to take advantage of savings by paying in full or with cash.

There are still free checking and savings accounts available that don’t require a zillion dollar balance or 50 debit card transactions to avoid fees. Capital One and Ally get high marks as online banks. Your local brick and mortar bank or credit union might be a good alternative as well.

Not Sure Where My Money Went

Before we tracked our finances, I shudder to think about all the money that got piddled away on stupid things or impulse buys. Every month, I felt like there should be more money in our account, but it was gone. We were never sure where it went.

Once we started keeping track, it was very revealing to see that we were spending way more than we thought on food, eating out, and shopping.

The Fix: Before the month starts, decide how much you want to spend and stick to it. If you track your finances for a little while, it will motivate you to lower expenses and not waste money on things that aren’t important to your overall values.

The best way I know to not spend money is to avoid stores and mindless internet browsing without a specific purpose. When you do need to buy things, make a list, get in, get it done, get out. Don’t get tricked by sales or BOGO offers for things you don’t need and weren’t really planning to buy.

Planning Can Fix Most Budget Killers

This might be hard for people who like to live in the moment, but planning goes a long way toward fixing budget leaks, and having an emergency fund can take care of unexpected expenses.

We’ve been huge planners for years now, and I don’t feel deprived in any way. We still have way more than we probably need and do enjoy occasional treats and spontaneous surprises. However, life is no longer a mess of overspending and being in debt. I encourage you to work on fixing the triggers that are killing your budget and keeping you from having the financial freedom you deserve.

What are your budget killers? How is the best way to keep from overspending?

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About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

22 comments

  1. “Not sure where my money went.”

    That’s the worst! That’s one thing I like about using credit cards for all our purchases. There is no doubt where the money went- it is all logged in my online account. There’s nowhere to hide!

  2. I’ll second the “Not sure where my money went” one. I’ve been trying to help a family member, yes I know…family and money. 😉 Anyway, they like to complain that they don’t know where their money is going on a regular basis and that they can’t do the things they want. Yet, when any kind of spend tracking/budgeting talk comes up they go with the argument of they’d rather just spend and not worry about what it’s on or where it’s going.

    • I’ve had very similar conversations with friends and family. The other excuse is not having enough time to do things differently. You really want to shake them sometimes, but I just bite my tongue and move on.

  3. Since I’m working from home, everytime I need to go out to go to the grocery stores or attend a mass, I always eat out with my family. And now that I’m trying to save every month, I cut off this habit to twice a month or less.

    • It’s really hard to totally cut out expenses you’ve had for years. Cutting back is a great compromise.

    • It’s really hard to totally cut out expenses you’ve had for years. Cutting back is a great compromise.

    • It’s really hard to totally cut out expenses you’ve had for years. Cutting back is a great compromise.

  4. One of these days I will break out the pen and paper and record absolutely everything I spend money on to the penny, but I always think I need to be really prepared because that would be a task to easily let slip through the cracks. My roughest category is groceries. I still haven’t had my “a-ha” moment yet how to fix this.

  5. I actually one of the best exercises you can do it to record every single penny you spend for month without judgement. In other words, don’t change or reduce spending just because you’re monitoring. Spend as you normally do and then take an honest look at how you’re spending your money. It is an eye-opening experience. Even people who live within their means are surprised by what they see. I love automatic bill pay/online bill pay because I do remember back in the “old” days that it was much, much easier to get a late fee because you had more steps, buy a stamp, go to the post office, mail it earlier enough to arrive and entered before due date, etc. 🙂

    • We mailed all the bills once without stamps! Needless to say there were lots of late payments that month. I’m so glad for automation!

  6. Great tips. I think it’s very important to track your spending if you want to make positive adjustments. I really liked how you gave tips on how to plan ahead for lunches. My wife and I pretty much always make bigger than necessary dinners so that we can bring it for lunch the next day. It does take some planning and effort, but the savings are worth it, especially for millennials.

    • I’m very glad to see a millennial couple who plan for leftovers! Eating lunch out is a huge budget buster and not always healthy either.

  7. Our biggest budget killer of the past was eating out. Even though we both liked to cook, we rationalized that we didn’t have the time. Once we made saving money a focus, though, miraculously we found the time and have since saved thousands of dollars cooking from home.

  8. It’s pretty much impossible to take control of your finances until you go through the exercise of tracking your spending. Simple things, like feeding parking meters, can fly under the radar but they add up over a month.

    And, planning is always the key to success. No doubt about it! How does the saying go? ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’ or something like that…

    • Tiny little fees and purchases do add up, especially if you’re trying to pay off debt or save for a goal.

  9. For me, it’s about not getting carried away with letting my husband have impulse buys. I’m talking small things — he’s been on a Snapple spree lately — that add up fast. We’ve gotta trim our spending to help with our savings goals.

    • I’ve gotten carried away with those Sobe drinks. Delicious but at $1 or more each, I need to just drink tea or water.

  10. Eating out is definitely my Achilles’ Heel. I don’t eat out if I’ve planned ahead, but if I mess up on a Monday I feel like the whole week has gone down the drain. I need to get better about getting back on track once I’ve fallen off!

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