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What is a waste of money?

Determining what is a waste of money is highly subjective and depends on each person’s financial situation and priorities. However, there are some general categories of spending that financial experts widely regard as wasteful.

Impulse Purchases

Impulse purchases are unplanned buys that provide little lasting value. These spur-of-the-moment purchases are often triggered by emotions or persuasive marketing. Examples include:

  • Spontaneously buying clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. that you don’t really need
  • Grabbing snacks, candy, magazines at the checkout line
  • Upgrading to add-on features or services without evaluating if they are truly useful

The ease of online shopping and one-click purchases makes impulse buying even more tempting. To curb impulse spending, experts recommend waiting 24-48 hours before making a discretionary purchase to ensure it’s something you really want or need.

Brand Name Items

Opting for brand name or designer items purely for the brand cachet is often considered wasteful spending. High-end brands charge a premium for the brand name, beyond the quality and functionality of the item. Examples include:

  • Choosing a $500 designer handbag over a comparable $100 non-designer version
  • Insisting on brand-name medications over generic equivalents that work the same
  • Paying more for a product just because it has a logo or brand name on it

Of course, brands can indicate higher quality materials and construction in some cases. But routinely overpaying for the brand reputation alone provides little extra value.

Extended Warranties

Retailers heavily market extended warranties to consumers for appliances, electronics, and other products. However, these extra protections often overlap with manufacturer warranties and may not be worth the cost. Things to consider:

  • Does the manufacturer warranty already cover the most likely issues?
  • What specifically does the extended warranty cover beyond that?
  • What are the costs of repairs if something does go wrong later?

In many cases, the price paid for the warranty far exceeds the typical cost of any repairs. Carefully read what is and is not covered to determine if an extended warranty makes sense for a big purchase.

Late Fees and Interest

Rack up enough late fees, overdraft charges, and credit card interest, and these expenses can quickly eat into budgets. It’s tempting to brush off each small fee, but they add up. Strategies to avoid wasting money on fees include:

  • Setting up text and email reminders for bill due dates
  • Paying bills immediately upon receipt or setting up auto-pay
  • Setting up account alerts to be notified before overdrafting
  • Paying credit card balances in full each month to avoid interest fees

Unused Gym Memberships

Signing up for a gym membership with great intentions but then rarely going is wasteful spending for many people. To avoid wasted fees:

  • Honestly evaluate how often you are likely to go before committing
  • Consider paying per class or session rather than an ongoing membership
  • If joining a gym, put the fees on a credit card and set calendar reminders to cancel if you stop using it

Food Waste

Groceries that get spoiled and thrown out are a massive source of wasted spending for many households. Strategies to reduce food waste include:

  • Planning weekly menus and shopping with a list to only buy what you need
  • Storing food properly to maximize freshness
  • Tracking what you have and using it up before buying more
  • Freezing or preserving perishable items to extend their shelf life


Evaluating spending choices in terms of value received for the money spent is key to determining what is a waste of money for each individual. Top ways financial experts define wasteful spending include impulse purchases, overpaying for brands, unnecessary fees and interest, unused subscriptions, and spoilage. Carefully considering each transaction can root out many sources of wasted money.