10 Ways That Too Many People Throw Money Away

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

There are all sorts of ways to cut spending and boost your savings, and there are just as many ways to sabotage your own finances. In addition to missing out on money-saving discounts, making unwise shopping decisions, and purchasing unnecessary items, you might also be throwing your money down the drain for no real reason at all. Often, all it takes is a little effort and organization to fix the problem. But first, you need to be aware of all the ways your money is being wasted. The list could go on and on, of course, but here are 10 ways consumers repeatedly throw their money away.

1. Never redeeming gift cards

Even if you don’t want your gift card, at least give it to someone who will use it. According to statistics compiled by Gift Card Granny, more than $41 billion in gift cards went unused between 2005 and 2011. American households also average $300 in unused gift cards, and nearly half of recipients do not use the full value of the card. Don’t be the person letting these dollars go down the drain.

2. Letting Groupons expire

According to Yipit, roughly 15% of Groupons go unredeemed by the time the expiration date rolls around. Make a note of your daily deal coupon’s expiration date to ensure this doesn’t happen to you. And if your Groupon does expire, you can still get some value from it. The digital coupon should retain its face value at the organization for at least five years. MoneyCrashers explains how you may be able to sell or swap your Groupon if you change your mind after purchase.

3. Buying tickets and not showing up

Purchasing tickets for a concert, sporting event, or other cultural activity often requires planning far in advance. But if you change your mind later or something comes up, you’ve already spent that money. These days people even buy movie tickets in advance online. If you can’t get a refund, you may be able to at least pass along your tickets to a friend. To make every dollar count, when possible it’s best to wait until you are certain to actually buy tickets.

4. Paying late fees

Even small late fees add up quickly. This can include everything from overdue library books to Redbox DVD rentals to late payments on utilities or credit cards. To avoid incurring late fees on your credit card, CreditCards.com suggests paying far ahead of your due date, changing your payment due date if possible to coincide with your payday schedule, scheduling automatic payment, or setting a reminder for yourself. If you are hit with a late fee after all, call customer service and ask to have the charge waived. On your first offense many companies are willing to let the late fee go.

5. Paying banking fees

It seems like every year banks come up with new ways to nickel and dime their members. Between minimum balances, fees for checking accounts, and ATM fees, these charges can add up. No one should have to pay for basic banking services. Many are having better luck avoiding these unnecessary fees after joining a local credit union. Credit unions typically offer free checking accounts and savings accounts with better interest rates. If you find yourself frequently out of cash and paying charge after charge from ATMs, instead get into the habit of getting cash back from debit purchases when you are out grocery shopping.

6. Not returning unwanted goods

It’s easy to let unwanted items or gifts just sit there in the closet, but with a little effort, you could be getting money back in your pocket. Even if you are past the return date, give it a try anyway. You may be able to at least get store credit. For online purchases, many retailers even cover the cost of shipping for returns. CBS News compiled a list of stores with generous return policies, such as Walmart, Target, Costco, and Kohl’s. Some retailers will even take returns without a receipt.

7. Failing to ask for a refund

Consumers who are dissatisfied with their service often don’t take the time to voice their concerns. The ones who do, however, could end up with a full refund or at least a discount. If you have a bad experience with a hotel, auto mechanic, cell phone carrier, or hairdresser, to name a few, don’t be shy about speaking up. Even if you don’t get any money back, retailers and service providers should know when their customers aren’t satisfied. LearnVest recommends staying calm and polite and speaking to someone with influence when attempting a negotiation.

8. Never disputing mistakes on a bill

If you think your bill may be incorrect, it’s worth disputing the charges with the company. At most respectable businesses, the error will quickly be corrected. When taking on a cable giant like Comcast, make sure you record all conversations you have with customer service representatives. Unexpected medical bills are also a growing problem, and patients almost never file a complaint with a state agency. The Consumers Union online insurance complaint tool is a good place to start.

9. Forgetting to follow up on a rebate

The sneaky thing about mail-in rebates is they are designed to be so complicated that consumers either forget to mail them in or do so incorrectly. More than $500 million in rebates go unfilled every year, often due to deceptive practices. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2006 that about 40% of mail-in rebates go unredeemed or are filed incorrectly and denied. Due to the high number of complaints, many major retailers began phasing out mail-in rebate programs in 2007. Think twice before getting involved in a rebate in the first place. If you are waiting on a rebate check from weeks or months ago, file a complaint, or multiple complaints, with the Federal Trade Commission.

10. Not claiming money that’s yours

Every year, unclaimed money is reported by the government, and rightful owners are encouraged to step forward and claim their funds. Find more information about unclaimed money from the government at USA.gov. In 2013, states, federal agencies, and other organizations together reported $58 billion in unclaimed cash and benefits. This can include unclaimed IRS refunds, old bank accounts and stock holdings, unclaimed life insurance payouts, mortgage refunds, forgotten pension benefits, and more. Health insurance companies report forgotten funds as well. In 2015, for example, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield said 13,600 individuals and companies were owed nearly $2.7 million. And if that money isn’t claimed, it gets turned over to the state.

More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet: