Blame the government or blame the economy, but Americans should also blame themselves for their declining net worth.
We waste a whole lot of money. Seriously, over half a trillion dollars each year -- and that's just for areas with available data.
So what counts as a waste of money? We included fines, bad investments like lottery tickets, and unhealthy consumption items like cigarettes and alcohol. We're not telling you how to live your life -- but we are identifying costs that everyone should consider cutting.
13 Ways Americans Throw Away Money
$41 billion in gift cards went unused from 2005 to 2011 m -- about $6 billion a year, according to TowerGroup. Most of these are considered lost or discarded.
But if you're holding gift cards you just don't want, don't ditch them just yet -- you might be able to turn them into cold, hard cash.
On the marketplace, people post an ad for their card in the hopes that a gift card reseller will buy it. "On average you could pocket between 75 and 92 percent of the value of your original gift," reports BI's Mandi Woodruff.
Americans pay through the nose at the ATM, according to Bankrate. What's more, these penalties are higher than ever right now. The only way to dodge them may be dumping your big bank for a credit union. Not only do some credit unions reimburse you for ATM fees, some will even pay you for using their cards.
Drive too fast? Park in the wrong spot? You are spoon-feeding money to the government and the insurance companies.
The National Motorists Association estimates that Americans spend $7.5 billion to $15 billion on traffic tickets, assuming 25 million to 50 million traffic tickets, costing an average of $150 each, with an insurance surcharges for half of them costing around $300. (We averaged the range in this estimate.)
And we're not counting the indirect health costs, which are covered in a later slide.
But help may be on the way. Researchers like Dr. Ronald Crystal of Weill Cornell Medical Center are developing vaccines that could provide immunity to nicotine and even cocaine -- in essence, one-time shots that could help people break their addictions.
We calculated this figure based on a Gallup survey showing that the average cardholder had an unpaid balance of $2,210 at the end of the month. Throw in an average APR of 12.75% for 174 million cardholders, and you get total annual interest payments of $49 billion.
We're going to be generous and estimate that 45 percent of this money was returned to gamblers in winnings. That leaves $69 billion money that people willingly gave away.
Warren Buffett says it was while watching people throw away money at a casino that he first realized how easy it would be to get rich.
This is where the indirect costs of smoking, drinking, and eating junk food come in.
Poor health leads to lower productivity, high insurance and health care costs -- even if our health care system spreads those costs out.
The real problem is that bad health makes people less happy and takes years off one's life.