12 Dumb Things We Pay For, but Don’t Need To

We pay for so many things that we actually can get for free or cheap. Find out how to stop making these dumb purchases.

Most of us spend money on things we could get for free. And in many cases, it’s not as if we are consciously paying for greater convenience or some other intangible. We’re just throwing money down the toilet.

So, even if you have tightened your budget and eliminated unnecessary expenditures, we’re betting you can wring out more savings by reviewing this list. It includes a dozen dumb things we all pay for that we really shouldn’t.

Check it out, then put the savings in the bank, pay off some debt or spend it on something you really need.

1. Bottled water

Tarr Pichet / Shutterstock.comTarr Pichet / Shutterstock.com

When you put down a buck or two for bottled water, you’ve usually wasted money. What you get in those bottles is sometimes tap water, or maybe filtered water.

Avoid that unnecessary purchase by carrying your own reusable water bottle from home — you can filter it there if your tap water is funky. Or, drink from a fountain. You’ll also save the environment from one more plastic bottle.

2. Books

Yuriy Rudyy / Shutterstock.com Yuriy Rudyy / Shutterstock.com

It’s fun to buy new books. But let’s face it: They are expensive, and most of us read them exactly once.

There are a few books that it’s nice to own — maybe a cookbook or other reference book, or a classic that you read and reread. But most books just fill shelves and collect dust.

So, try this: Borrow the book from the nearest public library. After all, you’ve already paid for it with your tax dollars.

Many older books also can be downloaded for free because they are now in the public domain. Project Gutenberg offers more than 50,000 e-books. Or you can opt for free audiobooks through sites such as LibriVox.

You can also buy books used on Amazon.com or any number of more specialized book websites for a fraction of the cost of a new book.

For more, check out “Five Easy Ways to Get Free Books.”

3. Brand names

Tyler Olson / Shutterstock.comTyler Olson / Shutterstock.com

It really makes no sense to pony up for an expensive brand-name bottle of pain reliever. Right next to that medicine, you will find the store brand — same product, different label — for less.

For many products, the brand has nothing extra to offer. So, don’t pay for the brand. Use generics or store brands, especially for things like over-the-counter medications, cleaning supplies and baking supplies. Just read the labels. If they’re the same item, why the heck would you ever pay more?

4. Credit reports

 Sebastian Gauert / Shutterstock.comSebastian Gauert / Shutterstock.com

You do not need to pay for your credit report. Instead, pull the report — for free — at least once a year. Doing so will help you spot mistakes that could damage your credit. You also can find possible fraudulent activity in your name.

There is no charge for one annual report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies when you go to AnnualCreditReport.com. For all the details, check out: “How to Get Your Full Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.”

5. Pets

Oliveshadow / Shutterstock.com Oliveshadow /Shutterstock.com

Do you really need a pet with a pedigree? Or are you just looking for a creature to love? There are so many dogs, cats, bunnies and birds waiting for a home at shelters — and often the cost of spaying/neutering and shots is included in a small fee charged to those who adopt them.

Check out the lovable animals at your local shelter before you plunk down money on a “new” pet.

6. Bank fees

Liudmila Pleshkun / Shutterstock.comLiudmila Pleshkun / Shutterstock.com

You put money in the bank, then the bank lends out money for a profit. So, how is it that you need to pay the bank so many fees? It’s crazy. There are monthly maintenance fees for checking accounts, overdraft fees, ATM fees for using an out-of-network ATM and many more.

You can avoid many of these charges by switching to a smaller bank or local credit union. For more tricks, read “14 Ways to Avoid Paying Irritating Bank Fees.

7. Low insurance deductibles

nito / Shutterstock.comnito / Shutterstock.com

If you insure yourself so you’ll never lose a penny, you’ll never have a penny to lose!

That’s the observation of Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson, who goes on to say:

“$250 deductibles are common on many car and home insurance policies. Why? Because insurance is normally sold, not bought. In other words, the companies who sell you insurance make more money if you pay more, and you pay more with low-deductible policies.”

By raising your deductibles — the amount you pay out of pocket before insurance kicks in — you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year on your policy premiums.

8. Credit card interest

d8nn / Shutterstock.comd8nn / Shutterstock.com

Let’s say you have a credit card balance with a 20 percent interest rate. If that is the case, yet you also have a bunch of money in a savings account earning peanuts, you need to rethink things.

Use your savings to pay off the debt. An emergency fund makes sense. But if you’re paying high interest while earning low interest, you’re on the road to creating an emergency, not solving one.

There are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you’re unsure about your job security, you certainly want to have a stash of cash available. But if you’re about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of your government job, use low-earning savings to pay off high-cost debt.

Search for the best card for you on our credit card search tool.

9. Basic tax preparation

Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.comAndy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

If your tax situation isn’t that complicated, you should probably be preparing your own tax return using one of the many free online services. It’s now common for e-filing to be free as well with many services. You won’t even need a stamp.

We like H&R Block and TaxAct, but there are many other services.

10. Shipping

Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.comSteve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

If you’re buying something online and it’s not an emergency purchase, you can probably benefit by waiting for a shipping discount.

11. Life insurance for your children

Madhourses / Shutterstock.com Madhourses / Shutterstock.com

It’s hard to make a case for child life insurance in financial terms. The point of life insurance is to replace lost income, and unless your child is the next Justin Bieber, I’m guessing the kid isn’t pulling in much of a salary.

You might want to buy a policy if your child has a pre-existing medical condition that likely will make it difficult for her or him to buy coverage as an adult. Otherwise, take a pass.

12. Lots of other stuff

Ken Tannenbaum / Shutterstock.comKen Tannenbaum / Shutterstock.com

Before you set out to buy building materials, dance or sports gear, a sewing machine, a chicken coop, a television — pretty much anything — take a quick look at Craigslist and Freecycle. Both sites list a huge range of stuff that people are getting rid of for cheap or free. Amazing deals can be found.

What things have you quit paying for? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson and Maryalene LaPonsie 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.

Kari Huus
Kari Huus
Kari Huus was a founding member of msnbc.com in 1996, where she covered international political and economic news, and later developed special multimedia reporting projects until 2014. Prior to that she was ... More

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