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Are You in the Habit of Wasting Money?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Ionut

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Ionut

We recently received a bill for our annual post office box rental. We actually have a nice, secure mailbox at our house with a lock and key. All of our important mail comes there. We set up that post office box ten years ago when we were living in a temporary rental while building our house. The only thing that comes to the PO box is junk mail, and for some strange reason, a copy of Ebony magazine every month. Why on earth do we still have this PO box? It’s because of habit. Are there things you do out of habit that waste money?

Are You On Autopilot?

It’s very convenient to set up automatic payments. It actually saves money because you don’t have to worry about late fees or interest if you forget to pay a bill. However, there might be some things that you need to review and decide you’re getting your money’s worth before auto allowing that payment.

Subscriptions-We subscribe to two publications, Money and a mountain biking magazine my husband enjoys (never paid a penny for Ebony). Between the two, they cost $20 per year, which I think is worth it. However, some people (my parents) have been on subscriptions to a newspaper and magazine for decades. Weekly magazines and daily newspapers can cost hundreds of dollars a year. If you have a stack of unread magazines from 12 months ago, it might be time to cancel the subscription. You can find most information online or at the library anyway.

Car and Homeowner’s Insurance– Every year,  I’ve shopped my policies only to find the cost of homeowner’s going up every time, even though we’ve never filed a claim. Last year I finally went with a more expensive car insurance company that offered an umbrella policy, which also gave better rates on the homeowner’s policy. It was kind of a wash, higher auto but lower homeowner’s plus the extra liability coverage. Recently, I got a flyer in the mail from Geico and thought, why not? I’ve seen the little lizard on the commercials, but never called for a quote.  

Geico is owned by Berkshire Hathaway and gives a discount if you hold stock in that company, which we do. They also give discounts to teachers and about a million other organizations. They offer umbrella policies, and are just getting into the homeowner’s market. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they could do all of my policies, plus save me almost $700 a year!  I was a bit nervous to go with a company new to the homeowner’s market, but as of now, they contract those out. The actual policy is with Traveler’s, a company I’ve used for years at work. If you are renewing automatically without looking around for a better deal, you could be doing yourself a disservice.

 Free 30 Day Trials– Have you ever signed up for credit monitoring, Netflix, or other online services free for 30 days?  They make it easy to sign up, but like breaking into Fort Knox to cancel. We got stuck with a membership to a site for legal templates that I used for some work contracts. It took a couple of billing cycles before we finally got it cancelled. If there is a small monthly fee, it may not seem worth your time to cancel, but if you aren’t using the service, you might as well flush that $5/month down the toilet.

 Memberships-Are you on a monthly installment plan for a gym or social activity? Maybe season tickets for the minor league baseball team seemed like a great idea at the time? I’m all about saving money if you get a discount for paying for a year in advance, but if you aren’t using whatever you signed up for, then cancel it. It might cost more per activity, but if you only go to the gym twice a month, a punch card might be a better idea.

I bet many of us have been guilty of wasting money out of habit. Just because you’ve always done something doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Going back to the post office box, we actually decided to keep it. My husband is always a bit paranoid about people knowing where we live, and he likes using the PO Box for the return address on Ebay sales. I guess if some disgruntled buyer of my daughter’s old shoes wants to do us some harm, at least he or she won’t have our physical address. It’s really not worth the argument, and I still  get my free copy of Ebony!

What things have you put on autopilot and forgotten? Do you continue to buy things you don’t use because you’ve always done it?

If you do use this link to get a quote from Geico, I receive a small commission. This post was written before I knew I could do that, so my opinion stands, regardless. Geico saved me lots of money, and if you’re paying too much, give them a try. 

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.


  1. The only thing that I’ve got on autopilot that I haven’t really examined in a while is car insurance. There is a company that is rumored to give lower rates, but they sent this stack of forms that’s so intimidating that I haven’t gotten around to filling them out yet.

  2. The gym and storage units love automation so people forget about it and are too lazy to cancel. “next month” turns into a few years of free money for those businesses.

    • My inlaws have had a storage unit that is 2 hours away from them for 3 years. Why they keep it, I have no idea.

  3. I can’t stand those “Free for 30 Days” trials. Once I see that I run the other way. It’s so troublesome to cancel. I’ve had experiences where I cancel and get a confirmation number only to have my credit card charged anyways!

    • That legal service was a pain. I thought I had it cancelled twice and the bill kept showing up on the card.

  4. I used to have a lot of things on autopilot- gym memberships, magazine subscriptions, etc. Luckily I have cancelled everything I use to pay for but no longer use.

  5. I have lots of things on auto pilot – electric bills, water bills, and phone bills. And I don’t think that these things are a waste of money. It saves me time paying them manually. But I do have the habit of wasting money. Buying things I don’t really need.

    • I think it’s very smart to put bills you can’t avoid on autopay, just not the ones you don’t need like subscriptions or gym memberships.

    • By auto phone bill, do you mean cell phone by the way? I’ve heard from family that it can be difficult to argue money back if you have a surprisingly high bill. Much easier to argue it down if you still have to pay Verizon versus waiting Verizon to pay you back if they over charged you and auto-deducted from your checking account first.

  6. I think most people waste money because they just can’t be bothered cancelling an account or shopping around. I remember we got on top of this when we built our house because money was super tight at that point in time.

    • It was a bit of a pain to call all the departments and get everything coordinated, but for $700, I’d do it any day of the week.

  7. The only thing we have on autopilot anymore is our insurance through USAA, which we’ll never leave so it really does not bother me. We used to have memberships on auto pilot but have so little time these days that we canceled them all.

    • Yes, who really has time to be a member of anything anymore? I still have an annual membership to the rec center, but I’m seriously going to consider a punch card when renewal rolls around.

  8. On most bills, I tend to take a look at them on a regular basis, especially when any of them change (and they never change for the better, that’s for sure). So when the auto insurance bill comes after six months, I’ll question any increases, and have gotten more than a few increases rolled back along the way by doing so.

    • Good point about asking them to lower the rate first. It’s kind of a pain to switch, but there was no way my old company was going to come down $700.

  9. I’ve done this in the past but now I watch everything like a hawk so that doesn’t happen.

    • I am usually pretty good unless I’m traveling. It seems bill always have a way of coming if I’m out of town.

  10. We have most bills on auto-payment, but I review them before they’re paid. Our credit cards are not on auto-pay. I definitely agree that it’s important to watch what you’re spending and make sure there aren’t any leaks. I’ve always been hesitant about jumping between auto/home insurers, mostly because I’ve gotten such good service from mine, but you hear that advice all the time. It’s probably something I should look at more seriously.

    • I feel that service seems to go out the window as soon as they sign you up. We’ll see how Geico is. I hope I don’t have to find out how good their service is if that means having some sort of accident.

  11. Great post! When I was in college, I paid for a gym membership I never used. This was dumb for two reasons (in addition to the obvious one): 1) I continued to pay the monthly fee because I didn’t want to be charged the penalty for early cancellation. Had I done the math, I would have paid less for the penalty than the total of the monthly payments. 2) My college had an amazing rec center that students could use for free. DUH!

  12. I love having automatic payments, but I agree with you that they can end up costing your more money. I think my wife and I are pretty good about only paying for what we use, but I’m sure there are areas where we could save more.

    • I have most of my monthly bills set up on autopay, but I do still go over the statements pretty religiously.

  13. I have a few things on subscription, but I have all of those written down. I have my insurances on auto, but I have found that no company can come close to the rates I am getting, so I just haven’t moved. The 30 day trial is what gets me. I try to remember, but constantly forget. It can end up costing a lot of money.

  14. I am usually pretty good about these things. I had a magazine subscription and it was up for renewal. I decided to check out some online sites and surprise, I renewed for less! I got 4 years of a magazine I actually read for $8.22.

    • Anyone who wants to buy a hard copy magazine can actually find a really good deal. It seems they are practically giving them away these days.

  15. Ha, ha, ha, Ebony magazine. That is so funny! I used to have a PO Box when I was in my early 20’s and kept moving a lot, so I wanted to have a firm address for all my bills.

    • I often wonder what the postmaster thinks because we have maybe 3 black people in our town. Nothing against Ebony, I actually have read a few of the articles about business and other things, but you can tell it’s marketed to a different demographic. Maybe if we keep the PO Box long enough, I’ll start getting Seventeen and AARP. Then I’ll be abreast of all the other groups I might not keep up with.

  16. We don’t have many personal magazine subscriptions, but I do have several for the office. Those are try to buy multi-year and do put on auto-renewal. 30 day trials are the worst! I never remember to cancel, so unless it’s something I really want – I avoid them. Netflix always brags about the number of their subscribers. It would be interesting to know how many are truly active.

    • I bet tons of people go months without watching a movie. I did that for several months before finally cancelling.

  17. My Netflix account is a big money waster. Sometimes I will go a whole month or more without signing into Netflix, yet I still pay $9.99 every month like clockwork!

    • I did that for a while and then finally cancelled it. You can always rejoin if there is something you’re dying to see.

  18. I monitor our expenses pretty closely so I hope I would catch anything we have on auto-pilot. It’s important to make sure that if you have things like cable that you catch any increase in price and correct it – or reconsider your purchase. I am not big on things like season tickets; why commit to the entire season when you can buy tickets for just one or two games and save quite a bit?

    • I would tend to agree with you on the tickets. I guess for some teams, you can sell the ones you don’t use for a pretty good profit. I have some family who are Kentucky alums and they can sell a few season tickets and pay for the whole season. I would venture to guess that most people, though, just don’t use the majority of them, but it’s probably like joining a country club, you’d lose status if you dropped them.

  19. I will never use GEICO. I got a quite from them about 10 years ago and it was a good deal cheaper than I was paying, so I switched. Then they hit me with a surcharge for my past driving history that made them more expensive than I had been passing before I switched!

  20. This makes me reconsider automatic payments, which, when automated, don’t seem like you’re losing any money.

    • I don’t think you do lose money on things you’d have to pay anyway, like the electric bill. It’s the subscriptions and such that can sneak up on you.

  21. That would probably be gym membership for me. Urgh! I should cancel that thing when I’m too busy to work out.

  22. We don’t put anything on automatic payments if we can help it. We like to be in control of our finances and to us that means we pay the bills when we get them. It just seems to be much easier for us that way.

    • I only do the ones I know are pretty consistent, like the utility bills. I like credit card rewards too much not to take advantage.

  23. Luckily, we’ve gotten pretty good at not wasting money. Out of necessity, more than anything, if an unnecessary dime comes out of our account without my approval, I’m making phone calls immediately. Hopefully I’ll stay this way after the debt is paid off. 🙂

    • I think it’s a habit that does stay. No one wants to waste money after you’ve seen how much you can save if you are vigilant.

  24. I’ve forgotten several times about subscriptions I didn’t want anymore. Then the automatic renewal hits my debit card and I get so frustrated that I forgot to cancel. Guess the best answer is to not opt for automatic renewal so they are forced to send you a renewal notice.

    • Sometimes you get a better deal with auto renewal. I’m really bad about remembering when to cancel though.

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