Stop Paying for Things You Don’t Need

April 17, 2021 Updated: April 17, 2021

A big coordinated garage sale in my neighborhood gave me a surprising wake-up call. It’s one thing to see a family’s stuff spread out in the front yard, but quite another to see a whole neighborhood’s castoffs at one time. All I could think as I walked from one yard to the next was all the money wasters that led to this colossal display of stuff—purchased with dollars, now offered for pennies.

Imagine how much cash we’d have right now if we could get a do-over on all the thoughtless purchases we’ve made in our lifetimes.

No. 1: Extended Warranties

Generally, they’re not worth the money. If a new gadget or appliance is going to fail, research tells us it will do so during the manufacturer’s warranty period or long after the extended warranty has expired. That makes extended warranties a huge profit center for retailers and a pretty useless expense for consumers.

Get smart: If you’re worried about a breakdown, take the money you’d spend on a warranty and stash it into a special savings account. If your item fails, you’ll have the money to repair it. If not (which is more likely), you’ll have stashed away a nice little nest egg.

No. 2: Gym Fees

The sales pitch is compelling, and the promise of better health is hard to deny. But getting roped into a legal obligation to pay a big monthly fee for the next two or three years—whether you use the gym or not—makes no sense.

Get smart: Find a gym or health club that requires no contract (you pay by the month if and when you desire). Or don’t pay at all: There’s a big wonderful world out there where you can walk, jog, or run for free!

No. 3: Phone Apps and Games

OK, so it’s cool to have apps, filters, and games on your devices. And sure, $2 to $3 a pop or $10 a month may not seem like a lot of money for so much fun. But watch out. You can blow through a lot of cash in no time.

Get smart: Make a hard-and-fast rule that you do not pay for apps or games—and then find them for free. They’re out there; you just have to search for the ones that work on your particular phone and with your service provider. Check the Apple Store for iPhone and Google Play for Android.

No. 4: Fees (Late, Over Limit, or Worse)

Not paying attention to your bills is a big mistake these days, when banks are doing all they can to boost their profits. Getting your credit card payment in late can mean a $39 whack on the wrist. Being sloppy with your bank account and bouncing a check can cost you around $27.

Get smart: Find your inner private detective. Go over every statement, and question every entry. Don’t know what it is? Find out! Get bold! If you’re charged a fee for something silly like allowing your balance to drop a few bucks below the agreed-upon minimum or sending your payment a day late, call customer service. Explain that this is so not like you, as evidenced by your clean record. Then ask them to waive the fee or reverse the charge if it has already been assessed to your account.

No. 5: Bottled Water

You’ve got to hand it to the bottled water industry. They’ve managed to convince otherwise rational people to pay around 800 times more to purchase water in a bottle rather than get it from the tap. These days, a 16-ounce bottle of “spring” water goes for about $1, which works out to about $8 a gallon—twice the cost of milk, and roughly on par with soft drinks. Home delivery is less per gallon, but still around $45 a month, according to online averages. However, 16 8-ounce glasses of tap water cost about a penny. Bottom line: You’ve heard it before, but now you need to do it. Lay off the bottled water.

Get smart: The next time you feel thirsty, turn on the tap. Don’t like the taste of your tap water? Invest in a filter pitcher, or install an inexpensive faucet filter. You’ll still come out ahead.

What money wasters can you identify in your life that you could easily do without? It’s good to think about things like this from time to time!

Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Mary invites you to visit her at her website, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Copyright 2021