I’ve been decluttering for years, since long before Marie Kondo — the maven of tidying — was a household name. One approach I use is to try buying only things I’ll use regularly.
I tested that strategy a few years ago. My husband and I were debating whether to buy a folding table for hosting large groups. It was only $40. But would we use it enough to make it worthwhile? We decided we would, and we tested that assumption: Each time we used the table, I recorded the event and date on the table’s underside.
We used the table recently and, when I tipped it on its side to add the new date, I counted the uses: 14 — a whopping $2.85 per use. This was indeed a worthwhile purchase.
But not every purchase makes such solid economic sense — or is as easy to test. Following is a look at things that we commonly buy but that few of us really use much. Think twice before making money mistakes like these.
1. Online subscriptions
You’ll find websites for every hobby and interest. Premium TV services let you stream endless entertainment programming, genealogy sites help you make a family tree, and alumni sites reunite you with classmates. It’s easy to get out a credit card and sign up.
Keep a close eye on those monthly bills, though. Are you still studying Spanish with those online lessons? Are you really reading your hometown newspaper online? Could you get by with the free options in “17 Streaming Services That Are Completely Free” or “10 Ways to Research Your Family Tree for Free“?
Stick with subscriptions you use. Cancel those you don’t. If you don’t want to do the work of reviewing your bills and canceling subscriptions you no longer use, a service like Trim can do it for you.
2. Extended warranties
You’ve finally decided on a major purchase. But you’re not done yet. At the cash register, the clerk is sure to try selling you an extended warranty.
Should you bite? Generally, no. But it depends. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson says that typically, extended warranties cost more than they’re worth. But, many new products seem to be fragile and complex, Stacy told me recently, and so his opinion is wavering a bit.
What should you do?
- Find out exactly what the warranty does and does not cover.
- Check to see if your credit-card offers warranty protection on purchases made with the card.
When my household bought new kitchen appliances, we passed up the warranty for the oven. We got the warranty for the refrigerator because its ice machine and other features will get heavy use and could require pricey repairs.
3. Filing cabinet
A declutter goal of mine is to give away my two-drawer and four-door filing cabinets. They’re taking up space, and technology makes them obsolete.
We used to keep files for our utility accounts, taxes, warranties and operating manuals, car-repair receipts — the list goes on. But now so much of what once was paperwork can be accessed digitally. These big cabinets are just taking up space.
Here’s a tip: Money Talks News’ retirement course, The Only Retirement Guide You'll Ever Need, advises scanning all your important documents and storing them in the cloud.
4. Expensive home exercise equipment
I’ve thought of buying an exercise bike. Where we live, the winters are rainy and often cold. Biking outside — even just getting to the gym — can feel impossible, so it might make sense to have the exercise bike as an option.
But I’ve resisted. I’ve seen relatives buy a treadmill or elliptical machine that ends up as a glorified clothes rack, hogging space. And would a machine in the basement give me more motivation than my unused gym membership?
If you simply must have a big, expensive exercise machine, here’s a tip: Buy used. Plenty of other purchasers have trod this path before you and are ready to dump their mistakes for cheap.
5. Silly baby care stuff
New parents are nervous, making them susceptible to marketing during the early days with an infant.
Talk with a veteran mom or dad before you spend money on a baby-wipes warmer or fancy shoes for a child who can’t yet walk.
Experienced parents will tell you which stuff they loved and used in those first days and which never left the box. Here’s a better idea: Instead of spending, put every penny you can into baby’s college fund.
I confess, I love a gorgeous, printed cookbook. I used to review them, and the advance copies filled my bookshelves. I even got an Instant Pot cookbook because I love that appliance. But, to be honest, I’ve opened the cookbook only about twice.
It’s easier to search “IP butter chicken” online than to dig out the book. Do you use your treasured cookbooks? If not, restrain yourself from collecting more.
7. Gym memberships
Confession: I have a gym membership.
Every year, when the annual fee is due, I consider canceling. There are reasons to hang on:
- The gym is close to home and my daughter’s school.
- It has easy parking for days when I can’t walk there.
- I bought the membership on Black Friday, so it’s pretty cheap: $28 a month for unlimited use for both my husband and me.
But is it a good deal, money-wise? Not even close, since I rarely use it.
If you’re looking to cut expenses, especially if you live where the climate is bearable year-round, take another look at exercising outdoors for free.
8. Planners and journals
I bought a beautiful planner a couple of years ago — spiral-bound, with a marbleized cover, gold lettering and spaces for daily, weekly and monthly planning. I told myself I’d use it to keep track of my freelance story assignments so I don’t ever miss a deadline.
I used it once. It’s easier to keep track of my articles on my Google calendar or in a Microsoft Word document. Finding the planner and a pen, writing things down and remembering to check it daily is not for everyone in this digital age.
9. Single-use appliances
I love appliances and kitchenware. More than once, I’ve been suckered into buying single-use appliances that looked promising on late-night TV infomercials.
A hot-dog toaster, cotton-candy cart, cake-pop maker and electric crepe pan — just a few examples — might be fun for a few minutes. And they’re great conversation starters. For most of us, though, they’re not that useful.
And, yet, my imagination tempts me by coming up with exceptions: Maybe a person could teach French and demonstrate crepe-making for the class. Or, run a monthly bake sale where cake pops will sell like … um, hotcakes. The reality: They’ll probably gather dust and take up space.
10. Travel accessories
As someone who likes taking long summer trips and smaller trips throughout the year, I can tell you that airfare and lodging are quite enough reason to tap your vacation savings account.
There’s no need for fancy passport covers, money belts and packing cubes. If you have a smartphone, you don’t need foreign-language dictionaries or paper maps. The fewer things you take with you, the easier the trip. Bon voyage!
I recently took a fun trip with friends but resisted buying the souvenirs I saw being hawked everywhere. Who needs a souvenir key chain, refrigerator magnet or coffee mug?
Instead, I brought home a few inexpensive treats, like jam and scone mix made with local fruit. The best souvenirs — your photos and memories — are the cheapest.
12. Over-the-top camping equipment
Sure, get a tent. Sleeping bags. A lantern and maybe a simple camping stove. But one walk through a camping-equipment store will show you the many ways campers can be coaxed into buying luxury camping items.
You can camp comfortably without this stuff. I’m thankful for our inflatable mattresses. But we don’t need a s’mores maker, Keurig single-serve coffeemaker or a cool headlamp for the midnight trek to the bathroom. A flashlight will do just fine.
13. Specialized sports equipment
I still remember when my husband came home after he first played broomball, a winter sport that’s kind of like hockey. We lived in Minnesota then, and he loved the outdoor exercise and fun with friends. He bought special rubber-soled broomball shoes, and it’s possible he never wore them.
It’s a lesson: Introducing new sports into your life is a great health boost, but you may be able to get along by borrowing or renting specialty items until you turn into a serious contender.
14. Frivolous pet purchases
We all know what our pets love most: one or two nutritious meals a day, a treat, a favorite toy or two, and lots of love from their two-legged pals.
What typically remains unused? Doggie dental hygiene gel, microwaveable heated bed pads and other specialty items, pets’ Halloween costumes and 90% of their toys.
If most pet items get any attention, it’s when they’re new. And then, they’re ignored after a sniff or two. Save your money. Or make a donation to your local pet shelter or rescue organization.