Even if you’re earning a reasonable salary, it can still be easy to find yourself living paycheck to paycheck. Invisible expenses may be to blame!
By combing through your budget, you can often find invisible expenses—small things that drain your wallet in a big way over time. Check your bank and credit card statements at the end of each month to help isolate these expenses. Once you determine these seemingly small impulse or luxury purchases, you’ll be able to prioritize your spending and consider buying an alternative or eliminate them altogether.
Here are some common invisible expenses that may be impacting your budget’s bottom line:
A morning latte may be part of your daily routine but those few dollars, or several if you love indulgent coffee drinks, will eat up a big chunk of your paycheck. It can certainly add up over the course of a month!
Think of it is way: Assume your regular coffee order is two dollars and fifty cents after tax. If you frequent your favorite coffee shop once a day, everyday of the work week, that’s 20 times in an average month that you’re stopping in. At $2.50 a day, multiplied by 20 visits a month, that’s 50 dollars a month you’re spending for your morning cup of joe.
Instead of giving up coffee entirely, consider some budget friendly alternative like buying a French press or single-serve coffee brewer. Although it’s there’s an initial upfront cost, each cup of coffee will cost you less than a dollar to make a home once you’ve covered the cost of the machine. It easily pays for itself over time; consider it an investment. Or, if giving up your daily caffeine run isn’t feasible, join your local coffee shop’s rewards program and sign up for emails for coupons, deals and rewards that’ll cut down your monthly spending on coffee.
These can be a big drain on your wallet, especially if you rarely go. They’ll run you anywhere between 40 dollars a month to hundreds if you’re a member of a gym and spa. While they may be convenient, it can be just as easy to work out on your own with a set of weights or DVDs, or even at the office gym.
Not sure you can totally let go of your membership? If you’re not tied into a set contract, try forgoing your membership during the warmer spring and summer months. There’s plenty to do outside during this time that’ll get you moving, and most of them are free! Check around your local area for public courts and fields for team sport opportunities, and for a community recreation center that might have the same kinds of equipment as your gym, but at a lower cost.
Eating out, takeout and delivery
Everyone loves taking a night off for dinner and a movie, but eating out too often will gobble up your budget. TheSimpleDollar.com suggests saving money by making big meals on the weekends and have the leftovers for lunch during the week.
The big killer for you might not be eating out, but takeout and delivery. It’s easy to say you’ve had a long day and to order Chinese or a pizza. But if you’re ordering for a family, this adds up to 40 bucks a meal – when you could’ve had a home-cooked meal for a fraction of the price. Can’t give up delivery? Join your favorite restaurant’s rewards programs and take advantage of coupons, deals and points. Or take advantage of menus in your mailbox or under your door. Often times there are coupons attached for local eateries!
Eliminating invisible expenses is great, but cutting them down will help you still feel like you’re splurging, with less of the budget burn.
If you’re always on the go an alternative might be using the slow cooker more often. You can get meal inspiration and free recipes online through major food companies like Betty Crocker® and Kraft®. Plus, slow cookers do the work for you during the day, and by the time you’re home at night your dinner is ready!
When was the last time you seriously looked at your cable bill? Everyone loves to talk about cord cutting, which might be a great alternative if you watch few channels or everything online.
Simple ways to lower your monthly cable expenses are lowering your cable package to basic, eliminating premium channels and packages, avoiding renting on-demand movies or reducing the number of televisions in your home so you have less cable boxes. Always pay your bills on time to avoid unwanted fees. Don’t be afraid to contact your cable company or any service provider if you have unusual charges and fees.
If you’re opting to cut ties with cable, that’s okay! There are many online streaming options available that could suit your entertainment needs, at a fraction of the cost. All it takes is a little research! Bear in mind, other services you already pay for, like Amazon Prime® for instance, might offer streaming and/or on-demand entertainment. If you’re already paying for it, it makes great financial sense to take advantage of services like these!
Even small steps might save you 15 to 75 dollars a month, a big budget win!
Newspaper and magazine subscriptions
We’re lumping online and traditional mail subscriptions into this category.
If there’s something you actively read and can’t live without, check with your local library to see if a subscription is available (nowadays many are digitally accessible!) that won’t cost you a dime.
If you’re still getting a paper newspaper each day, consider dropping down to getting the Sunday version and using free online sources for your news during the week. Magazines subscriptions increasingly offer digital subscriptions and download options. This may save you on your yearly subscription fees, plus you get the convenience of assessing content via a mobile device.
Banking fees and expenses
You may not realize how much you’re spending each year to manage your money. The average American spends $150.48 each year on banking maintenance fees and minimum balance fees according to a recent study by MoneyRates.com.
Depending on where you bank, these may not be avoidable. Always read the fine print on your account statements and on any materials your financial institution provides. A way to limit this expense is to switch to from a bank to a credit union, like Navy Federal, and to open a checking account.
These are just a few examples of invisible expenses, but they come in many other forms too. Keep a close eye on your spending habits, because everyone’s invisible expenses are unique to them. You’ll be surprised at how much cash you can free up when you’re paying active attention to your spending.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.