“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Many people (myself included) put all our focus on the big money matters: keeping monthly bills low, using coupons at the grocery store, and not making expensive impulse buys. But the little money matters too. The dollars and cents you don’t really consider can hurt your wallet just as badly.
My biggest problem is buying stuff I don’t need, or not considering how much it adds up. Just today, I wasted $35.94 that I could’ve saved by being a little smarter and a lot less lazy…
1. Convenience store buys
I live within walking distance of a gas station. I walk over every morning and buy a can of Red Bull for $1.99, and most days I’ll buy some snacks or other junk that tempts me. Today my purchases included:
- Red Bull – $1.99
- Energy bar – $1.50
- Snickers – $1.00
So I spent $4.49 plus tax on convenience and junk food I didn’t need. While there’s no way I’m giving up my caffeine, I could just buy the 24-packs of Red Bull at Sam’s Club for $33.38, which breaks down to $1.39 a can. I’d be saving 60 cents on the Red Bull alone. And I only bought that other junk because it was there and sounded good. If I hadn’t gone into the gas station to buy the Red Bull in the first place, I would have saved another $2.50.
2. Paying retail
When it comes to most things, I’m a deal hunter. (And I use things like the Daily Deals here to help.) But for everyday buys, I usually end up paying full price because I wait until I absolutely need something to buy it. For example, I remembered I had no toilet paper or dish soap while out this week. Since I can’t live without either, I just stopped at the closest drugstore – a Rite Aid – and bought both:
- Dawn dish soap – $1.99
- 9-Pack of Charmin – $6.99
Later on, I was looking through the newspaper and noticed that CVS had the same dish soap I just bought on sale for 99 cents. There was also a 50-cent coupon for the toilet paper in the ads. I could have saved $1.49 if I’d just planned ahead and scoped the ads before I ran my errands.
3. Buying stamps at the post office
I have a few bills each month that have to be snail-mailed. A responsible grown-up would go to the post office, buy a roll of Forever Stamps to lock in the current rate, and then shop around for the cheapest price on envelopes. Not me! I took all three checks to the post office and bought stamps and envelopes through the cashier. And I’ll do the same thing next month, and the month after because I’m lazy.
- Three stamps – $0.44 each, $1.32 total
- Three envelopes – $0.64 each, $1.92 total
While I can’t do anything to save money on the stamps I need to use now, I should lock in the Forever rate before it goes up again. According to the USA.gov blog, the price of Forever Stamps went up to 45 cents last week. And I could’ve bought them online through USPS.com, at the post office, or at any grocery store.
I don’t know what I was thinking buying those envelopes. I checked out Costco, and I can get a 500-count box of security-lined envelopes for $10.89, which breaks down to 2 cents per envelope – or 62 cents less than what I paid for each envelope at the post office today. I could have saved $1.86 if I’d just bought the bulk pack the last time I was at Costco.
4. Fast food
Fast food prices keep going up, and it’s not doing my waistline any favors – but I still eat it when I’m too busy to stop at a real restaurant or cook at home. So I stopped at Taco Bell. I ordered:
- Nacho Bell Grande – $3.49
- Double Decker Taco – $1.49
- Large drink – $1.79
And I spent $6.77 plus tax on empty calories and questionable beef.
Now I figure I have three choices. One, I could just stop eating fast food altogether, but who am I kidding? Two, I could wave a gun around until the police come like this guy did, but I’m too cute for prison. Or three, I could be smarter about what I order. Most fast food places (Taco Bell included) have a value menu with items at $0.99 or less. I could have ordered:
- Soft Taco – $0.89
- Bean Burrito – $0.99
- Small drink – $0.99
And I would have saved $3.90, (future trips to the cardiologist notwithstanding.)
5. Not returning stuff I know I don’t want
If there’s a phrase that describes me, it’s, “Never stands in a return line.” I buy clothes without trying them on, DVDs without realizing I already own them, and home decor without measuring or comparing colors – and I rarely return any of it. A month ago I bought a candelabra at Kirklands for $24.99. It was cute in the store, but impractical in my house, and I knew I didn’t want it. But instead of boxing it up, hunting down the receipt, and returning it the next time I was out, I held on to it.
Today was the last day for returns. The store closed four minutes ago and the candelabra I know I don’t want is still sitting on my mantle next to the box. I wasted $24.99 today by not returning something simply because I don’t make store returns a high priority in my life. But I should. After all, that was my money I could have gotten back.
Bottom line: I wasted $35.94 this week. While that may not seem like a lot, $35.94 is almost enough to pay my monthly Internet bill, or I could have put that money into my savings account, or spent it on something I really wanted. But I didn’t. I spent it needlessly because I didn’t consider that little things can grow up to be big things.
“If you add a little to a little and do this often, soon the little will become great.”
We have all been ripped off. If you want to avoid that sickening feeling in the future, follow these simple rules.