13 Dumb Little Purchases You Need to Stop Making Today

By Mikey Rox on 1 September 2014 (Updated 3 September 2014) 15 comments

We all make dumb little purchases here and there — it's what puts the 'merica in America — but this habit can result in a whole bevy of negatives like unnecessary overspending and hazards to your health. Yep, some of them could actually be making you sick. (See also: Knowing Your Triggers Can Prevent Emotional Spending)

What seemingly harmless, little purchases are absolutely not helping you in any way and might actually be holding you back? Here are 13 that you need to learn to just say no to today.

1. Coffee on the Go

You're wasting an incredible amount of money every time you step into a java shop. You're also wasting time (you know you've stood in that long, zig-zaggy line just to get your fix) — and in my world (and probably yours, too) time is money.

For the price that you pay for two Venti caramel soy mocha latte ya yas — or whatever they're called — you can buy a pound of coffee from your grocery store or local discount retailer (like Marshalls or T.J.Maxx) that you can make at home. Fact: One pound of coffee makes about 40 eight-ounce cups of coffee, depending on how you like it. That's a lot of joe for very little dough. Need more perspective? You'll save roughly $30 with a pound of coffee at home opposed to buying cups on the go. That's not a drop in the carafe, folks. If you're a coffee addict, that kind of savings will add up quickly.

2. Bottled Drinks

Let's get the obvious out of the way: Tap water is free nearly everywhere you go. Thus, there's no reason why you shouldn't have a reusable bottle that you're filling up whenever you're thirsty instead of heading to the convenience store or vending machine for a bottle of water.

With that out of the way, let's tackle the flavored drinks.

First, you can cut back on how much you're consuming and spending on soft drinks if you recognize that most of them have no health benefits, and they're only making you fat, but if you want to ignore that warning at least recognize that nowadays you can easily and inexpensively make your own soft drinks at home. Whether you're investing in a machine that instantly turns flat drinks into fizzy beverages or purchasing your favorite soft drink in liquid or powder form to mix at home, you can save a substantial amount of coin with the press of a button or a few stirs of a pitcher.

3. Magazines and Newspapers

I get a lot of flack every time I suggest that we should abandon magazines and newspapers in order to save money. I can almost bet that someone will comment about how this is irresponsible of me because people's jobs are on the line. Guess what, folks? I'm a writer for print publications as well, so my own advice directly affects me. Still, there's no stopping the gradual progression toward a paperless world. News moves at the speed of the Internet these days, and it's completely free. Save the trees.

4. Lottery Tickets

I wish you all the luck in the world, of course, but the odds just aren't in your favor. That's not to say that you can't take a gamble and have fun every once in while — I do, and you can, too — but if you're playing the lottery and buying scratch-offs several times a week (or just on a regular basis), you might as well skip a trip to the store and flush your hard-earned cash right down the toilet — which, depending on your financial situation, can be a decent chunk of change according to reports: Business Insider revealed recently that low-income households earning less than $13,000 a year spend 9% of their income on lottery tickets. That's bad.

5. Cheap Shoes

The problem with cheaply made shoes (and cheaply made anything for that matter) is that they have a shorter lifespan than quality-made shoes. The result of this discrepancy is that you'll replace the former more often than the latter, which can result in an overall higher cost in the end. How do you think Walmart became so big and profitable?

6. DVDs and On Demand Movies

My husband is the most notorious on-demand orderer I know. He often can't wait for the early release movies to become available for rent, so he buys them outright for $15 to $20 a pop, which practically makes me faint every time I see a newly purchased flick in the queue. Does he realize that if we change cable providers all that content is lost?! I seriously might have to pop a Xanax just thinking about this.

It's okay to rent a DVD from a kiosk or order on demand every so often — especially if it's an alternative to spending more money going out — but don't make it a habit. DVD kiosk rentals — although initially inexpensive — can add up if you're renting frequently, renting without promo codes, or returning late. And at anywhere from $3.99 to $6.99 per on-demand rental, it's wise to be conservative here, too. A good compromise, however — if you're a heavy content consumer — is to subscribe to a relatively low-cost streaming service or checking out content (for free!) from your local library.

7. In-App Purchases

As someone who's in in-app-purchase rehab, learn from my weaknesses and repeat after me: I DO NOT NEED THIS. I CAN LIVE WITHOUT THIS. The temptation is hard to resist, but it'll get easier as time goes on and you won't have to live with that gnawing guilt anymore.

8. Paper Towels and Napkins

You're literally throwing away money with paper towels. Swap them out for reusable, washable towels/napkins by repurposing items you already have — like old t-shirts as replacements with personality — which will require no additional investment whatsoever.

9. Antibacterial Soap

Why, in this age of Ebola and the Kardashians, would you skip the antibacterial soap? Simple: Because it doesn't work. The FDA recently noted that antibacterial products are no more effective than soap and water, and, in fact, they may even be dangerous. Here are four more reasons to skip antibacterial everything and get back to basics.

10. Multivitamins

I mean, I don't want to burst another bubble for you, but your multivitamins are worthless too. Recently, three separate studies concluded that a daily multivitamin doesn't help boost the average American's health. The takeaway? Put down the gummies and pick up some veggies. (See also: Multivitamins Aren't as Good as You Think: Eat These Real Foods Instead)

11. Travel-Size Toiletries

Frankly, I'm offended that personal-product makers take us for complete idiots by waaaay overpricing smaller, travel-size versions of their larger products. Most travel-size items are a dollar or more, and there are rarely (if ever) coupons available for these tiny items. Conversely, the full-size version of the same product — shampoo and toothpaste, for instance — doesn't cost much more than the travel size and there are often coupons available for full-size items. In the end, you could spend less on the full-size item than the travel-size item (the ounce-to-ounce cost difference is absurd, too), which is a huge win in my book. Here are a few more tricks you can use to save on travel-size items:

  1. Buy TSA-approved containers in which you can put shampoo, conditioners, gel, etc. and toss them in your travel bag. These GoToobs are my favorite. I just fill them up from my big bottles and I'm ready to go.
     
  2. Don't bother buying or bringing toothpaste, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, and other grooming products that you know your hotel will have. Just ask for them at the front desk at check-in.
     
  3. Take the partially used (or even unused) hotel-provided toiletries with you so you're not wasting product or money. (Somebody will inevitably cast shame on me for yanking unopened products, but listen man, if I pay over $150 a night to sleep in a bed, I'm takin' some shampoo with me. Me and You-Know-Who will reconcile this in the afterlife.)

12. Food Delivery

Trust me, I get it. Sometimes you just can't (cannot!) be bothered to make a simple sandwich at home let alone cook a real meal because you and the couch have become one. I've been there. But if you're ordering out frequently, you're not only wasting your money, you're wasting away. Get this problem in check before it becomes a habit; if it's already become a habit, consider making a lifestyle change. Delivery is okay as a treat, but it should not be a regular routine.

In addition, there's another thing to consider about food delivery these days: Many companies that previously offered free delivery are now charging for delivery. I was recently charged a $2.25 delivery fee for a pizza delivery that took more than two hours. Investigate if there's a delivery fee before you order so you can make an informed decision to patronize that establishment or take your business elsewhere. That delivery fee is on top of tax and tip.

13. Paper and Plastic Products

I know people who strictly eat and drink from paper and plastic products and who have cabinets full of perfectly fine dishes. Their reliance on these expensive (they may seem cheap in the short-term, but it'll add up quickly) and wasteful products is a direct result of pure laziness — they don't want to wash dishes by hand, or, and this really makes me shake my head, they view loading and unloading the dishwasher as way too much work for one person to reasonably handle. This is where my doctor-prescribed breathing techniques come in handy.

Let's not get started on the people who actually wash the plastic products. Uh huh, people do it. And I'm like, why did you buy disposable products if you're going to wash them? That completely defeats the purpose, but I suppose it's at least a small step in the right direction. In any case, buy a set of dishes, please. It's much more economical to use something over and over opposed to using it once, throwing it away, and repurchasing the same thing time and again.

Can you suggest more dumb little purchases that we should stop making today? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with what you've said, however am one of "those people" who wash plastic products. The locic is like this. If I own a service of eight for normal use, have limited acessable cupboard space, and want to invite 15 people over once of twice a year, it's better to use plastic for those occassions. Since I am cheap, (AKA frugal), I wash them and stick them in a box out of the way between times. Now if I lived in NYC and all storage space were a premium, I might toss them.

Guest's picture
A Pizza Driving Girl

Look, I completely understand what you're saying about the delivery charge being a hassle - but I hope you consider that gas is now hovering at $3.50/gal and someone is driving that food to your house. Ten years ago, when delivery was free, people were more generous with tips and we could afford to forego the fees. The pizza also cost more and was more profitable, so the business owner could afford to cover the delivery for the customer. But there has been a shift - cheaper-selling pizza made of more expensive ingredients, increased minimum wages and operating costs - and our response to the tightening of the customer's fist on their money is a forced fee. In order to do my job, I have to make enough money to cover my gas, wear-and-tear on my vehicle, and time. Please don't begrudge your driver the meager existence they make. Many of these folks work hard to get your food to your door, hot and on time. Many are doing this job after working their full-time jobs to pay their kid's college tuition, or supplement their retirement checks, or this is the only job they could get with their education level and they're very glad to have it.

Guest's picture
Guest

She never said there shouldn't be a fee. She's saying don't be an idiot and pay the fee.

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes......Yes.....Yes!! Agree 100%!!

Guest's picture
Guest

Do you agree with not renting movies or doing so every now and then, as both are somehow acceptable according to the author?

Guest's picture
Sara

I agree with most of the things on the list but sometimes convenience outweighs the price. As a mother of 4 under 6 sometimes I am just so tired that the paper products and takeout mean I get to shave off 10 minutes from my day and it's worth it for me. True, when I am in Walmart and I'm buying a 35 count of paper plates for $3 that will last a few days in my house I'm cursing under my breath but ultimately some expenses are worth it.

Guest's picture
Nancy

I'm happy to see that I have already stopped buying 11 of the 13 listed items. We still rent an occasional DVD from kiosks. And we still buy paper towels (at my husband's insistence), but a lot fewer of them since I started keeping a container full of washcloths on the kitchen counter. In addition to the list, I'd love to stop buying boxed breakfast cereals (oatmeal is a lot cheaper and healthier), but my husband buys it himself. I'd also like to stop making coffee daily at home and reserve it for special occasions, but I can't get buy-in from hubby.

Guest's picture
Guest

Talk about "dumb purchases". GoToob? Really? At $9 bucks a pop you can get the same basic thing at Walmart or wherever for $2. Just because someone had a great idea to make a lot of money copying a simple product and overcharging for it doesn't justify buying it.

Guest's picture
Guest

Agreed except for the multivitamins. Vitamin supplementation is effective and recommended in many populations. Eg. Folic Acid, pregnant women etc..

Check out the December 2013 Research Review by Alan Aragon here:

http://www.alanaragonblog.com/aarrindex/

Guest's picture
lauren

Meh. I agree with the idea of not spending mindlessly on most of these things that are wasteful. But a grande coffee at Starbucks is $2.23. One in the morning when it's busy isn't necessarily budget-busting unless you have a very tight budget, in which case you should be looking to trim all kinds of expenditures. Same with Redbox...it's $1.20 for a DVD. If that is entertainment for my family of five for an evening, that is a darn good deal. Then again, I actually wash plastic forks. The reason is that if my kids lose one when they pack lunch every day (a real money saver), it's not a big deal and much better than if they accidentally throw out a piece of my silverware. Don't get me wrong, I believe in sweating the small stuff generally speaking, but I think that some of it can be misguided if your budget permits the expenditures.

Guest's picture
Guest

How do purchasing any of these put the 'merica in America? Tons of people in foreign countries buy coffee on the go, bottled water, paper products, etc.

Magazines and Newspapers are great for traveling and commuting. Much prefer hauling a lightweight newspaper than hauling an electronic device that could easily get stolen on the metro.

What's the difference if you spend money on antibacterial soap v. regular soap? You still have to spend that money and there are many sales on antibacterial soap to make it the same price.

On multivitamins, I would rather believe my doctor's opinion than your three articles that you failed to cite.

Shampoos at hotels? They are cheap and who knows what chemicals are in them.

Guest's picture
Guest

So I NEED to stop making these purchases listed but some of them are okay?

Guest's picture
J. Pario

I'd add "new clothes" to the list. The thrift store has saved me a bundle, especially since i have to dress up for work.

Guest's picture
Winnie

To replace the antibacterial soap, I came across a recipe for a bath soap I'm going to try. It's a 1:2 ratio - 1 bar soap, grated to 2 cups boiling water. When dissolved (may need to heat a little) cool and it will thicken. I'll use one of the empty soap bottles I've saved, and I'm going to try this with Ivory soap because its inexpensive.

I've also used an empty hand soap bottle to fill from my mega-bottle of shampoo that I get from Sams. It usually comes with it's own pump that dispenses 3x the amount you actually need. The hand pump dispenses just about the right amount. I noticed that when we travel we don't use very much of the little sample shampoo compared to what we use at home, so I figured that we could cut back a little. Works like a charm! By the way, I save those little bottles and fill them up with the products I usually use and take them when I travel. No sense in taking a specially purchased bottle of any size when I'm notorious for leaving them in the shower!

Guest's picture
Winnie

At the risk of sounding like a real tightwad, I confess that I save the glass bottles from Snapple and Lipton Tea. The labels come off leaving a little glue that can be removed with DW-40 or a like product. I throw them in the dishwasher, but wash the caps right away and dry them - then I keep them in a cup in the cupboard. I fill them with cold water and take a couple with me in an insulated tote when heading out somewhere. Saves a ton and I'm not tempted to buy a sugar drink somewhere. (Because, lets face it, I'll buy chips or fries to go with it!). I bring one to work an fill up from the cooler as well. The plastic bottles may be bad for you - this solves the problem. It's not that hard - although you have to take good care of the caps - keep them clean and dry.

Saving money is all about what you are willing to do with your time. You can either spend time taking care of yourself and your family - or spend money and receive lower quality items and services. For example - homemade food beats takeout every time! What do you do with that saved time? Watch TV or play computer games? We all have to decide which has the most value.