We all have a few things we could trim from our spending budget, and what better time to tackle these than the New Year? Of course, you don’t have to wait for an arbitrary date to take a step to improve your finances. But there’s something so satisfyingly “clean slate” about starting fresh on a whole new calendar. In the spirit of harnessing that feeling, here are nine budget-sapping things to stop paying for in 2019.
1. That Gym Membership You Don’t Use
If you have a gym contract or yoga or spin studio membership that’s mainly aspirational instead of inspirational, it’s time to cancel it. Just paying for the gym doesn’t do you any good if you don’t use it enough to get your money’s worth. Also, you actually can get in shape and lose weight without paying an arm and a leg — the internet is awash in free workout programs and inexpensive fitness apps. However, if going to a fancy gym or studio motivates you, wait for a few months until you’ve been able to stick with your new workout routine and then buy or renew that membership as a reward. It might even be cheaper a few months into the year rather than in January when everyone is joining up.
2. Food You Don’t Eat
In addition to being a waste of money, throwing away perfectly good food is also terrible for the environment. From the land that grows it to the packaging, energy, and fossil fuels required to store and transport it to the methane it releases into the atmosphere as it rots in landfills, throwing away food instead of eating it is bad news at every turn. If you find yourself eating out all week because you’re too tired to cook on a weeknight, or tossing food that’s languishing in your fridge because you never got around to weekend meal prep, it’s time to re-evaluate your schedule and bandwidth. Choose food that actually works for your life instead of buying stuff you don’t cook or eat. Your wallet and the planet will thank you.
3. ATM Surcharges
ATM surcharges hit a record high for the 14th straight year in 2018, and if you’re one of the millions of people paying these fees, they can really take a bite out of your budget. If you need to withdraw cash and use an ATM that’s not in your bank’s network, you’ll usually be hit with a surcharge from your bank. You will probably also be charged by the owner of the ATM. These fees can add up quickly, especially if you’re making multiple trips to the ATM each month. Instead of paying these, switch to a bank or credit union that will reimburse ATM fees. Many banks offer this as a way to entice new customers. If that’s not an option for you, explore other ways to get cash, like withdrawing a lump sum from your bank every month or paying for something with your debit card and then getting cash back at the register (such as at the grocery store). Whatever you do, stop paying exorbitant ATM surcharges for the privilege of accessing your own hard-earned cash.
4. Late Payment Penalties
If you have a hard time with due dates, you probably know the pain of paying a late fee. Whether it’s forgetting to pay your credit card on time, sending your rent payment late, or missing a student loan payment due date, those accompanying penalties could be sabotaging your budget. Do whatever it takes to stop paying them in 2019, whether it’s setting up automatic payments, setting up email or text alerts, or partnering up with an accountability buddy. Chipping away at student loans is painful enough without getting hit with a late fee every month too.
5. Activation or Upgrade Fees
Also known as “sneaky ways to get more money from customers,” activation or upgrade fees are, technically, the fees used by a company to cover expenses associated with establishing or upgrading an account. They are also pretty arbitrary. These fees are not required by any regulating body, so if your cell phone carrier wants to charge you a $35 fee for upgrading to the newest iPhone with your Christmas money, negotiating this fee is absolutely within your consumer rights, and definitely in your budget’s best interest.
6. Early Termination Fees
If you’re switching cell phone companies, in addition to negotiating that activation fee with your new carrier, see if you can get them to cover any early termination fees or fines from your old one. These fees, which are basically just a way to keep you from switching companies before your contract is up, can often be $350 or more. If your new carrier won’t cover the termination fee, see if you can transfer your contract to someone else, either by finding a friend who wants to take over your contract, or using a third-party service that can help pair you up with someone. This latter option will cost you a bit, but it probably won’t be nearly as much as that early termination fee.
7. Bottled Water
In addition to being awful from an environmental standpoint, bottled water is kind of a ridiculous expense. With some notable (and awful) exceptions, tap water in the United States is clean and ridiculously inexpensive, usually costing fractions of a penny per gallon. Bottled water, on the other hand, costs almost 2,000 times as much as tap water, gallon for gallon. That’s right, you’re paying 2,000 times more for the same thing, just wrapped in petroleum-based, single-use plastic. If you’re truly worried about the quality of your home tap water, get a filtering system like a Brita pitcher or faucet-mounted Pur to run your tap water through before you drink it, and use a refillable, non-disposable water bottle to keep you hydrated on the go. Whatever you do, stop throwing away money on pricey bottled water.
8. Bank Account Fees
Another one that falls under the umbrella of “anything they can charge you for, they will,” bank account fees are definitely not a necessary expense in the world of personal banking. They can also run from a few bucks to over $20 each month on a checking or savings account. The good news is that you can often get these maintenance fees waived by fulfilling any number of requirements, from keeping a minimum balance to enrolling in direct deposit. They are also easily avoided if you negotiate with your current bank on any fees or make a switch to a bank that doesn’t charge them.
9. Unused Subscriptions
If you’re anything like me, you cut the cable cord long ago in favor of a Netflix or Hulu account. The content is great and the monthly charge for each of these is much more manageable than a standard cable bill. However, if you have a bunch of different accounts, the total amount you’re spending on entertainment may be creeping up into the realm of ridiculous. How much media can one really consume, right? Take a hard look at all the subscriptions you have — for video streaming, music, audiobooks, video games, and any other entertainment — and see if there’s one or two you’re not using that you can cancel.
The bottom line is, there’s almost always something extraneous that can be cut from a monthly budget. Taking the time to examine everything you’re paying for will help you identify what you really use and enjoy and what you can live without. Use the momentum of a new year to help you push the reset button on your finances, and you’ll be in good shape to tackle the rest of 2019.
A grant writer by day and personal finance fanatic by night, Marisa is an avid traveler who lives in Pittsburgh, PA. When she’s not reading or writing for work or play, she enjoys running, thrifting, and searching for the most authentic Mexican food in the city.
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