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

We pay for so many things that we can actually get for free or cheap. Here are some, and how to stop making these dumb purchases.

Even when we think we are being frugal, most of us spend money on things that we could actually 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 think you have tightened up your budget and eliminated unnecessary expenditures, we’re betting that you can wring out more savings by reviewing this list of dumb things we all pay for that we really shouldn’t. It includes products and fees that can be avoided with no impact on your lifestyle.

Check it out and then put the savings in the bank, pay off some debt — or at least spend it on something that you really want or need.

1. Bottled water

Tarr Pichet / Shutterstock.comTarr Pichet / Shutterstock.com

When you put down a buck or two for bottled water — unless you live in Flint, Michigan, or you are dying of dehydration — you’ve wasted your money. What you get in those bottles is sometimes tap water, or maybe filtered water. Either way, you could have avoided that purchase by carrying your own reusable water bottle from home — you can filter it there if your tap water is at all funky — or by drinking from a fountain. You’d also have saved 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 — or, I will confess, sometimes not at all if I’ve bought one of those “should read” tomes.

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

So, when the temptation next arises, try this: Borrow the book from the nearest public library. (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 could opt for free audiobooks through sites such as LibriVox.

But if it’s relatively new or you want to own a book because you liked it so much you might read it again — buy it used on Amazon.com or any number of more specialized book websites for a fraction of the cost of a new book.

Check out: “Five Easy Ways to Get Free Book.”

3. Brand names

Tyler Olson / Shutterstock.comTyler Olson / Shutterstock.com

It really makes no sense to pony up for a more expensive brand-name bottle of pain reliever when right next to it is the store brand — same product, different label — for less. For many products, the brand has nothing extra to offer. 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 thing, why the heck would you ever pay more?

4. Credit reports

 Sebastian Gauert / Shutterstock.comSebastian Gauert / Shutterstock.com

You do not need to pay to get your credit report. But you should pull your credit report — for free — at least once a year, to spot mistakes that could damage your credit and to make sure your identity has not been stolen. There is no charge to do so: 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 really 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 spay/neuter and shots are included in a small fee charged to those who adopt them. Check them out before you plunk down money on a “new” animal.

6. Bank fees

Liudmila Pleshkun / Shutterstock.comLiudmila Pleshkun / Shutterstock.com

So if you put your money in the bank and then the bank lends out money for a profit, 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, just to name a few.

But you can avoid many of these charges by switching to a smaller bank or local credit union.

For lots more tricks, read: “14 Ways to Dodge 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 MoneyTalksNews 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.

Keep in mind that the purpose of insurance isn’t to prevent financial inconvenience: It’s to prevent financial catastrophe. Insure yourself accordingly.

8. Credit card interest

d8nn / Shutterstock.comd8nn / Shutterstock.com

If you have a credit card balance with a 20 percent interest rate, and at the same time you have a bunch of money in a savings account where it earns peanuts, you need to rethink things. Use your savings to pay off your 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.

The exception is this: If you’re unsure about your job security, you certainly want to marshal the maximum amount of cash possible. But if you’re about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of your government job, use low-earning savings to pay off high-cost debt.

9. Basic tax preparation

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

If your tax situation isn’t that complicated, then 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.

Among the services out there, one that we like is Tax Act, but there are many others.

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

Yes, those Gerber Life Insurance ads tug at your heartstrings, but don’t do it!

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 Beiber, 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 might make it difficult for her or him to buy coverage as an adult. Otherwise, take a pass. There are other ways to build a college fund, such as a 529 plan or Coverdell savings account. Both offer tax benefits and typically have returns that beat the pants off a whole life policy.

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.

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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