All too often — especially whenever there’s an emotional component involved — it’s easy to overspend. Think funerals, weddings and engagement rings, just for starters.
Here’s a look at some things we routinely spend way too much on, and painless ways to cut back.
The worst time to shop for a funeral is when most of us do it, right after a loved one dies, when grief can cloud our judgment. And the best way to avoid handing off such a burden to your loved ones is to be clear about your funeral wishes — or better still, make the arrangements yourself — well in advance.
Know your rights as a consumer. The Federal Trade Commission regulates “funeral providers” under the FTC Funeral Rule. The requirements mandate that funeral homes provide a list of prices, and that customers are not required to buy all funeral-related products from the home that is coordinating the funeral.
For more, check out: “5 Steps to Managing the Costs of a Funeral.”
It’s madness: The average American wedding cost $33,391 in 2017, according to a survey by wedding website The Knot.
Many brides and grooms set out to be frugal, but fail once the planning gets underway. So, the first and single most important step to prevent overspending is to stop and think: What will make the occasion memorable and meaningful for you and your guests — versus what’s just a costly expectation?
Then, have a conversation about where you could better spend the thousands of dollars you save. Travel? Down-payment on a house? Or — if you’re a parent who is ponying up the wedding costs for the couple — retirement?
Want more ideas? Check out: “15 Ways to Save Big on Your Dream Wedding.”
3. Diamond rings
You’ll notice we didn’t mention engagement and wedding rings in the weddings section. That’s because jewelry is an overspending category unto itself — and diamonds may be the most marked-up item on this list. But like planning for funerals and weddings, buying diamonds is fraught with danger because it’s yet another emotional purchase. If we try too hard to save money, we feel like we’re being cheap.
But here’s a secret: Diamond prices are often negotiable, even at major chains like Zales and Kay Jewelers. So while it’s important to know the four C’s of diamonds — carat, color, clarity and cut — the biggest lesson you can learn is to haggle. If your local jeweler or national retailer won’t come down on price, they’ll often be willing to upgrade the stone’s setting for a discount or even free.
4. New cars
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson lives in a beautiful house on the water, and there’s a 30-foot boat docked out back. But he’s never, ever bought a new car. This is what he says:
When it comes to buying cars, the vast majority of people I’ve known over the years approach the subject with no imagination at all. They simply do what the commercials tell them to and what their friends do: Trudge down to the nearest dealer and buy a new car.
Instead, he’s bought used cars for as little as $5,000. How? He avoids car lots. “A few years ago I bought a 1994 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham from a 91-year-old lady,” he recalls. He suggests asking around — friends of friends seem to value a fair price and honesty. He also consults websites like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds to establish a value. And finally, he gets the car inspected by a local mechanic. That might cost $50, but it can “save a ton of headaches and bills down the road,” he says.
For more tips, check out “The 10 Best Late-Model Used Cars for Your Money.”
Perhaps you don’t cook much, and you don’t have the time or space to grow your own fruits and vegetables. You can still save money on food. Here are three quick and easy suggestions:
- Eat smart when eating out: Of course, the unhealthiest food is often the cheapest. So, if you and your dining companions are healthy and price-conscious, skip the soup and salad. They’re not only expensive for what you get, they’re also not nearly as good for you as you think.
- Buy smart when eating in: If you don’t like to cook, at least make meals with healthy ingredients that are easy to handle.
- Don’t be afraid of cooking: You can save big and still eat well. If you can read, you can cook.
For more tips, check out “The 27 Absolute Best Ways to Save on Food.”
The fact is that we’ve all overpaid for clothes because we liked the label. So there’s a good starting point for saving on clothes: Don’t buy brands, unless you’re absolutely certain you’re getting the quality you’re paying for. For more, check out: “10 Tips to Spend Less on Clothes.”
7. Private school
Of all the items on this list, none is harder for scoring a deal than private schools for your K-12 kids. First, you need to find one close to home. Then you need to figure out the best way to compare prices and services. Finally, you want to pursue financial aid. Here are two resources to check out:
- The National Association of Independent Schools. The group represents 1,700 institutions nationwide — including religious and boarding schools — and it has a Parents’ Guide with tips for everything from visiting a school to landing financial aid.
- “The Public School Advantage“: This 2013 book argues that private schools do not do a better job of educating kids. Check it out before you put your kid and your money into a posh private institution.
While experts offer all kinds of conflicting college advice, they seem to agree on one thing: Spending more than you can afford to attend a big-name school isn’t smart. Like buying clothes, you need to look beyond the pricey labels.
9. Workout gear
You can easily spend $100 on a pair of name-brand leggings to wear at the gym. And it’s possible that the hype is correct — they do make your butt look cute. But you could instead buy a very similar pair of leggings at Ross Dress for Less, Kohl’s or other discount clothing retailers for a fraction of the price.
And really, at the end of the day, it’s the workout that will make your butt look cute. You won’t need a pair of overpriced pants to do that.