4 Common Mistakes That Waste Your Money (And How To Avoid Them)

By | Tuesday, March 10, 2020

There’s nothing quite like paying for your own silly mistakes. Reading the wrong date in the confirmation of your newly booked plane ticket. The sound of a crackling piece of paper that was shoved under your windshield wiper. Finding a half-off coupon for the restaurant you just went to. If I may grant myself the artistic freedom to misquote The Sound of Music, these are not a few of my favorite things. 

However, these are costly inconveniences most of us will encounter every now and then. They might be minor, but if you can avoid them, you’ll dodge the hit to your wallet. I believe it’s important to share these screw-ups so we can work toward some appropriate solutions. I’ll start.

1. Parking mistakes happen — you can fight your fines.

My girlfriend and I were traveling along the west coast of the United States. After a relaxing walk on the beach where we parked (and paid $8 to do so), we decided to reduce expenses by heating a mediocre meal over a camp stove like a couple of true Millennial nomads.

Our relaxing time at the beach quickly became stressful when we walked back and spotted a parking ticket under our windshield wipers. Apparently, there was a “surf shack” located near the parking lot that had its own parking spaces, which were only marked by red letters on the curb stating: “Parking exclusive to surf shack customers, max 30 min.” I missed this completely, as I stopped worrying about parking as soon as I paid for our spot. The fine was about $150, which isn’t what we were prepared to pay after having neatly paid our parking fee on the same lot.

The lesson here? Fight your fines! Most fines come with a description of how you can contest them and, depending on where you’re from, it can be settled easily via their website. As this only takes a few minutes, even lower fines are still worth the effort. Make it clear that you never intended to break any laws and use supporting evidence to make your case (like a parking receipt). Document the situation and explain why you misunderstood the rules. In my case, that meant taking pictures of the surroundings, showing no signs that indicated any exceptional rule about my parking space. The only “sign” was on the curb and as my photograph showed, sand could cover the letters as it was right near a beach. If there’s low-to-no visibility of the sign, you may be able to get your fine dismissed. Lastly, it can’t hurt to do some kissing up. As a European, I tend to get away with throwing an, “I highly respect your country and its laws and regulations” in there somewhere. 

Shortly after issuing my objection, I received an email stating it was dismissed in the interest of justice. This wasn’t the only time I successfully contested a fine. Actually, both times I contested a fine they were dismissed! Definitely give it a shot, provided you weren’t caught red-handed and were obviously in the wrong. Of course, it’s better not to break the law in the first place. I’m observing parking restrictions way more closely these days.

2. Don’t cheap out when you know it will cost you.

You know what I’m talking about here — when you choose the cheapest option and it ends up costing you more money down the road. 

For example, I once needed new swim apparel as I’d grown out of my shorts. There are a lot of great surf brands, but they all seem ridiculously expensive, so I opted to buy a cheap pair of $4 shorts instead. They quickly developed holes from normal wear and tear, causing me to show a lot more of myself than I had intended at a pool party. 

When it comes to shoes, clothes, and so many other items, buying quality is worth it.

When your stuff breaks, always check if it’s still under warranty or whether the store can offer you some compensation. But in the case of $4 shorts, it was best for me to accept that I had made a bad decision and may as well learn from it. Shortly after my pool party incident, I bought sturdier, more expensive shorts which I still own today. Paying top dollar for having the name of some Italian guy on your shorts is something I personally dislike, but investing in durability is usually a wise decision. I sincerely hope that none of you will have to moon your friends to learn the difference!

3.  Made an accidental purchase? Call customer service. 

Recently I foolishly booked train tickets for a trip without realizing I had concert tickets for one of my favorite bands that same weekend. Had I simply put that on my calendar, I wouldn’t have booked the train tickets on those dates in the first place. But here I was, reading the booking dates in my email and muttering various four-letter words (“love” and “hope” were neither of them).

When things like this happen, don’t automatically assume there’s nothing you can do about it. Research your options — airline carriers often allow you to cancel a booking within 24 hours, for instance. And, if all else fails, call customer service and tell them what happened. You might be pleasantly surprised at the options they give you. For example, I almost took the cancellation fee, then I decided to call the booking agency and tell them what happened. It turned out that changing my booking for the day after the concert was a lot cheaper than canceling and rebooking. Even better, this saved me around $60 per ticket, which was about 40% of the overall price. It’s always worth calling customer service to see what your options are before you simply decide to take the hit.

4. Keep coupons in your wallet.

Classy as I am, I recently came back from an all-you-can-eat restaurant when I found myself left with a sour taste — and it wasn’t the sushi. I found a 50% off coupon on my coffee table for the very restaurant I just enjoyed. I had completely forgotten to bring it with me.

Of course, coupons aren’t always a good deal — they can convince you to buy stuff you don’t really need or want. However, when you have a coupon for something you were going to buy anyway, you might as well use it.

Keep these on hand and take a few precautions to make sure you use them before they expire. Maybe write them down in your calendar, for example.  Or set an alarm on your phone if you know you will be going to a store or restaurant in which you’ll need your coupon. Better yet, keep your coupons in your wallet, paperclipped to your debit card so that every time you pay for something, you’re reminded of it.  In the case of all-you-can-eat sushi, I took the loss. (And perhaps I shouldn’t head back just because I have a coupon, but I can’t promise anything.)


Minor inconveniences like these can be frustrating, especially when they end up costing you money. But with a little preparation, they’re easy enough mistakes to avoid.

Mark van der Schaaf is a 26-year-old Corporate Trainer from the Netherlands. He occasionally leaves his windmill to find time for one of his countless hobbies, including writing.

Image via Pexels

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