Stop Overspending on These 15 Things

Tradition and emotion often cause people to overspend. Who says you should pay three months' salary for an engagement ring?

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.

1. Funerals

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According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a funeral with viewing and burial was $7,181 in 2014, the last year for which statistics are available. Add more for a burial vault, cemetery plot, monument, flowers and a newspaper obituary. That’s a lot of cash.

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 on your funeral wishes — or better still, make arrangements for your funeral — well in advance. Either way, the costs can be far less than that average if you follow some tips:

  • 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.
  • Shop around: Because the law allows you to BYOC (bring your own casket), shop around. Where? Try Costco. While the NFDA says the average cost of a casket is $2,395, you can get a casket from Costco for $950 — delivery to the funeral home included. But there are many other discount options online.
  • Get cremated: In 2015, 49 percent of deceased Americans were cremated, compared with 45 percent who received traditional burials. (The other 6 percent were not accounted for.) That was up from a cremation rate of under 10 percent in 1980. The NFDA puts the average cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation at just over $6,000. But in reality, opting for cremation makes it possible to avoid many costs — including embalming, viewing and burial. And cremation allows families to choose to delay a memorial service, making it easier for out-of-town friends and family to attend.

For more, check out: “How to Manage the Cost of a Funeral.”

2. Weddings

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It’s madness: The average American wedding cost $35,329 in 2016, 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? Setting aside the option of eloping, there are any number of ways to save:

  • Buy a secondhand wedding dress: Go to sites like Preownedweddingdresses.com to see the vast array of hardly worn finery.
  • Limit the floral arrangements: Flowers are nice, but they can run up a huge bill, and then they die.
  • Trim the guest list: Remember, the costs of food, decorations, drinks, table arrangements goes up with each additional guest. You can always throw a huge barbecue later for everyone you know.
  • DIY DJ: The Knot survey says a reception band will cost about $4,000, while a disc jockey will top $1,000. Instead, you can simply program your favorite music on a tablet or laptop and then hire someone (or even ask a friend) to push the right buttons at the right time. Search online for “DJing your wedding,” and you’ll find all kinds of detailed advice.
  • Cut the cake: Specialty cakes can run into hundreds of dollars. Skip the specialty baker and buy your cake from your local grocery chain.

Want more ideas? Check out: “15 Ways to Save on Your Dream Wedding.”

3. Diamond rings

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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 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 setting for a discount or even free.

By the way, there are no wedding police: You could decide to get an opal, a ruby — or an agate — in your engagement ring. But if you go with expensive, first read: “8 Tips to Tackle the Terrifying Task of Buying Jewelry for Your Love.”

4. New cars

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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.

But if you’re dead-set on a new car, consider more than the price. Also consider resale value, fuel efficiency, repair record and the cost of insurance.

5. Food

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So you don’t cook much or well, 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’re both 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. Here are 11 ideas, from beans to brown rice to frozen whole turkey.
  • Don’t be afraid of cooking: You can save big and still eat well. If you can read, you can cook.

6. Clothes

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Kanye West made headlines a few years ago, not for releasing a new album, but for selling his own clothing line that featured a $120 white T-shirt. Guess what? He sold a lot of them.

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

Boy in school uniform reading a book.SpeedKingz / Shutterstock.com

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 sites 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.

8. College

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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.

Start by checking out the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center and the College Scorecard, tools introduced in 2015 by President Barack Obama.

9. Workout gear

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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 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 stores for a fraction of the price. (I just got a very nice pair for 10 bucks at the discount Grocery Outlet in my neighborhood.) 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.

10. Cosmetics and razors

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And speaking of looking cute, it can be easy to spend like a supermodel on beauty products. But take a tip from the style magazines that photograph two similar products next to each other, labeling one a “Splurge” and one a “Steal.” (Hint: Go for the “Steal.”)

Chanel foundation makeup can sell for $45 — and most of that cash pays for the honor of having an item in your makeup bag with that famed double-C logo on it. But you might find a very similar Maybelline (or other drugstore brand) product at Walgreen’s for $10.50. Once the makeup is on, no one knows where it came from. Splurge once on a good makeup-application lesson (sometimes free or heavily discounted if you’re buying products anyway), and you’re on your way to cover-model status. (You can find some great tips on makeup deals at the Reddit forum for Makeup Addiction on the Cheap.)

And whether you’re shaving your legs or your beard, razor blades are a must. But no one admiring your close shave will know whether you used a heavily advertised cartridge brand, or a virtually identical no-name for less than half the price. Now that’s thinking sharp.

11. Pets

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Why would you ever pay $1,000 for a purebred dog when you can get one practically free from the Humane Society, while saving a life at the same time? Find your local animal shelter online, and you usually can page through photos of adoptable animals online.

And here’s a tip: Once you’ve adopted your new family member, ask the shelter staff for any coupons or tips on easing the pet into your life. Many shelters offer discounts on veterinary bills, food or other supplies. And some large chain pet stores offer coupon books for people who’ve just adopted a new pet friend. At Petco, for example, ask for your free Pet Parent Starter Guide, which is jammed full of deals.

12. Eyeglasses

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When selecting eyeglass frames, don’t be blinded by designer logos. Sure, you can go to a high-end store and pay $500 for frames. Or you can go online and pay as little as $50. Some online options, like Warby Parker let you pick out a number of different frames and try them on at home — with free shipping to boot.

And here’s a farsighted tip: Got a warehouse club membership? You may be able to find a great deal on eyeglasses or contact lenses there. Both Costco and Sam’s Club, for example, have optical departments. (While shopping, check out their deals on everything from contact-lens solution to sunglasses.)

13. HDMI cables

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Computers and electronics are an inescapable part of our lives now, and if you’ve got computers, you’ll need HDMI and other cables. The key to saving on them? Buy before you need them, and store them away until needed. You’ll save plenty on cables from places like Monoprice.com, especially as opposed to the markup you might face if you have to race out and buy one at a retail store.

Your technology may be smart, but it’s not smart enough to tell the difference between a $7 cable and one that sells for $70.

14. Insurance and warranties

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We’ve all heard the expression “Better safe than sorry.” However, you can spend a lot of money insuring yourself against any possibility, and insurers prey on fear. When you think about it, many things that can go wrong can be fixed for less than the premiums. Cellphone insurance, for example, is something for which there are often cheaper alternatives.

The same goes for extended warranties. Consumer Reports has always been skeptical of them, pointing out that your credit card may already provide an extended warranty.

For more, read: “7 Types of Insurance That Are a Waste of Money.”

15. Credit cards

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You have the potential to rack up big savings on this item by investing just a few minutes of your time. But too many of us sign up for a few credit cards and never look back, paying a large annual fee or high interest on a balance. Or we cut them up because we think those pieces of plastic got us mired in debt.

But credit cards, wisely used, can help you claw your way out of debt. Reward points are like free money, and balance-transfer offers can reduce your interest rate to zero for many months. The problem is finding the right card. A good place to start comparing rates and benefits is the Credit Card section of our Solutions Center.

Have you overspent in one of these areas because tradition or emotion or other people’s expectations got the best of you? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Gael F. Cooper and Kari Huus contributed to this post.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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