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6 Surprising Budget Leaks That Got Me Into Big Credit Card Trouble

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Have you checked to make sure you've stopped any budget leaks that may be happening lately? Here are 6 you should look out for.

When we accumulated our five-digit credit card debt, it wasn’t fancy vacations or high-end furniture that brought us to the financial breaking point. Instead, it was little budget leaks that likely would have continued to go unnoticed had we not went back an analyzed our 2012 spending.

What we thought we were spending “a little” on, added up to a whole big bunch of cash, or in our case, credit card debt. It was the old analogy of the frog being put into a cold water-filled pot and being lured, unsuspectingly, to the point of boiling, not knowing that he was swimming his way into big trouble.

When I look back on how we got to our financial boiling point, I realize it was little budget leaks that led us into big credit card trouble. If you are anything like us, you might find some of these budget leaks drowning your financial future.

Budget Leaks Galore: Monthly Subscriptions

 

Any number of monthly “necessities” can produce big time budget leaks if you don’t keep your eye on them. Our most recent budget leak discovery was the monthly cloud program subscription we buy for our oldest daughter, an aspiring artist.

After closer inspection, I realized that the monthly fee for the cloud program went up a whopping 50 percent at the end of last year. When I called the cloud program’s customer service center to find out the reason why our fees went up, I was told that the rate we used to have was an introductory rate.

Oh, the dreaded introductory rate: How many times has that brought somebody down? After further pushing the customer service rep, I learned that there was a less expensive program (as in 65 percent less) that provided all that my daughter needs. Of course this program wasn’t advertised to us when we started our subscription, and I wouldn’t have been told about it unless I’d specifically asked.

Lesson learned: check all of those monthly subscription fees, such as cell phone plans, pay TV, etc., and look for ways to lower the cost and put more money in your pocket each month.

Car Insurance

 

Until we read a post on insurance rate shopping, we simply took the rate we were offered as the “best available.” After further inspection and some shopping around, however, we found rates at State Farm that beat our former car insurance rate by 30 percent, equaling hundreds of dollars in savings for our family each year.

Lesson learned: Beware of loyalty to insurance agents/companies. Do your due diligence and shop for insurance quotes once a year or so, checking to see if there’s a better rate available with an equally reliable company.

The Grocery Budget

 

Unless you’re diligently menu planning and tracking what you spend on groceries each month, you’re likely wasting at least a couple hundred bucks each month at the local grocer. Make a menu plan ( to avoid spontaneous purchases and food waste), memorize prices for things you normally buy (to know when a sale is truly a sale), and forego those frequent “just because” trips to the grocery store.

Lesson learned: Make small changes, such as bringing a bag lunch to work instead of hitting the local fast food place. In doing so, you can shave big bucks off your annual grocery bill.

The Entertainment Budget

 

It’s not unreasonable for a couple to spend $50 or more at a dinner out to the local sit down restaurant.  Before we implemented a strict entertainment budget, we were spending hundreds of dollars a month on entertainment and eating out.

Lesson learned: Now we save money on entertainment by planing one or two not-so-expensive outings each month. The result is that we’ve got more money in our pockets, and a better appreciation of those nights out on the town.

Energy Costs

 

Leaving those lights on when you’re not in the room, having the TV on when you’re not really watching it, and over consumption of water can add big bucks to your energy bills.

Lesson learned: Choose to be more conscious of the energy you’re using and watch your water and energy bills go down, down, down.

6 budget leaks you should be aware of - double check to make sure your budget is safe!

Transportation Costs

 

It’s easy to fall into the belief that all transportation costs are necessities, but upon further investigation, you might find a number of ways you can cut down on transportation costs. Drive less, carpool or take public transportation to work. Learn to change your own oil.

Lesson learned: Wash your car at home (weather permitting) instead of hitting the car wash, and drive slower, increasing your fuel efficiency.

If you’re willing to scrutinize your monthly budget, searching for hidden budget leaks, chances are you’ll find a whole lot of extra money going out the door that doesn’t need to be spent.

 

What has been your most surprising budget leak? How do you get back on track when you discover that you’re overspending? Do you view your budget as a static or living document? 

 

Additional resource: If you’re looking for a simple way to stay on top of all your finances, then check out my favorite new tool – Personal Capital. Completely free, it allows you to track your spending, monitor your bank and investment accounts and watch your net worth plus many other tools. 

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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

31 Comments

  • Rebecca says:

    We were also surprised by how much subscription costs were adding up when we did not really have any traditional subscriptions. No magazines or memberships. It was the electronic subscriptions that were adding up. Fast. Our most resent realized budget leak is our house. As we are heating our home this winter we watching our money leak out through our woefully unsealed home.

    • Laurie says:

      Ugh, you must live in the northern states. We’re experiencing the same thing, Rebecca. Thankfully, it’s not been as cold as it was last year, but those energy leaks still add up to big bucks.

  • Our grocery budget and transportation costs were our biggest budget leaks back in the day! Fortunately, we reined in our grocery spending and paid off our cars so that we would never pay car payments again. Glad that’s over!

    • Laurie says:

      Yay!!! Life without car payments is SO awesome. As is having a plan for your grocery spending each month. We’ve cut our grocery costs in half by using the above tips!

  • Deacon says:

    Our greatest budget leak was entertainment/eating out. When we first got married, we out all the time. It was hard to sacrifice eating out as much but it did help us pay off our consumer debt. So I would say that it was worth it 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Definitely worth it. Rick and I were just talking about the ridiculous amount of money we wasted on going out to eat when we were dating. I don’t even like to think about it.

  • Mine was just a bunch of tiny random purchases adding up, like magazine, grabbing a snacks out instead of bringing them, etc. It all adds up!

  • I was also surprised at how much money I was wasting on music magazines subscriptions. I was also just wasting a lot of money on little things without even realizing it… good thing I started tracking my expenses.

    • Laurie says:

      It’s crazy, Aldo, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem like it should add up b/c it’s all little stuff, but at the end of the month it can be a BIG number.

  • Ben Luthi says:

    I learned something crazy when doing an article for a client on car insurance. Those suckers use data mining to find out which customers are more likely to accept a price increase versus those who would shop somewhere else. (i.e. they increase the rates of loyal customers because they know they can)

  • Kalie says:

    We’ve saved this year by turning back the thermostat 3 degrees, hanging laundry instead of using the dryer, and splitting a main course at restaurants rather than ordering too much food and taking it home anyway. We periodically look over our spending and try to evaluate new ways to save. It’s a work in progress.

    • Laurie says:

      Keeping it as a work in progress really helps to make sure money doesn’t slip through the cracks. We hang dry our clothes in the summer and I know it saves us a ton on the energy bills.

  • Ramona says:

    Small costs amount to pretty big and nasty ‘leaks’. I was shocked years ago to realize that my living paycheck to paycheck was caused by me spending little money, but too often, on things that really had no importance. Now I budget better and spend more money on something that really makes me happy (travel for instance).

  • Money Beagle says:

    It’s always the little things. I got a 90 day free trial to a streaming music service on my phone, and it’s awesome to be able to listen to just about any song or album that I want. I so desperately want to continue it and I have more than once said to myself, it’s just $10 per month, but alas I have cancelled the service at the end of the trial, because over a year, that’s $120 and a heck of a lot of money!

  • Mrs. Maroon says:

    Food was our leak… Both eating out and at the grocery store. We’ve always eaten most meals at home, but certainly would eat out once or twice a week at both lunch and supper. I took my lunch most days, but could be convinced to abandon it in a heartbeat. And at the grocery store, the main culprit were convenience foods – pre-packaged snacks, junk food, meal mixes. We’ve started eating much more whole foods and the grocery bill reflects it. On the surface, produce may seem more expensive, but it doesn’t even compete with crackers, chips, cookies, and all sorts of other packaged items that we don’t need to eat anyway. Win for pocketbook! Win for waistline!

    • Laurie says:

      So true! It’s funny now on the rare occasions when we do eat processed foods too: we can really feel it the next day. We feel yucky and lethargic as opposed to feeling great when we eat our whole foods.

  • Jason B says:

    My grocery budget is the main thing that I worry about from that list. It fluctuates a lot. Some months I go over because even though I have a list, I still grab a couple extra items. I need to stop doing that.

    • Laurie says:

      It can really add up, can’t it Jason! Before our spending evaluation, I thought we were spending $600 a month on groceries, but in reality it was $900 a month. Yikes!

  • Mike says:

    You brought up eating out. For us its eating out when taking kids on adventures. Not just dinner, but snacks, etc. We got out of the habit of packing travel snacks and started buying them on the road. When we started looking at the amount we were spending we felt very ashamed of our new bad habit. Soooo…..we started packing lunches and snacks for the road again!

    • Laurie says:

      We used to get caught up in that too. You’re on the road, the kids are hungry, and next thing you know it’s $10 here, $10 there. I’m slowly learning to grab something to have in the car, just in case somebody gets hungry. 🙂

  • Living in Houston means killer utilities. Even after insulating the entire upstairs and attic this year, it’s $400 a month all summer.

  • Car insurance in Michigan is the worst!

  • Food and entertainment were huge leaks for us. It was almost always due to lack of planning. I’ve learned that taking a little time to meal plan or find better prices almost always pays you back several times over.

  • Our groceries were definitely a HUGE budget leak for us, we always “assumed” that we needed to spend $800 a month on groceries and never thought about changing it; however, last year we really challenged ourselves and we are now spending around $400 a month on groceries. This is an almost $5,000 per year savings. It’s crazy to think that we wasted all of that money for so long.

  • Great tips on eliminating some of these expenses and common budget leaks. I’ve been working on plugging some of my budget leaks too, by cancelling TV (as soon as my contract is up) and not renewing subscriptions to magazines that I don’t have time to read anyway. 🙂

  • Joseph Hogue says:

    Guilty. We love eating out. But we’ve been evaluating all of our expenses and found where we could cut back, and we’re also always looking for ways we can save money.

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