10 products you're wasting your money on
And it's not just kitchen gadgets that sit around collecting dust. How many toys have your kids clamored for, gotten for their birthday or Christmas, then immediately relegated to a dark corner of their closet? Or what about that leather jacket you just had to have, only to realize your wool coat kept you a heck of a lot warmer?
With these "had to have it/never used it" things in mind, here's a list of 10 purchases you're wasting your money on.
Clothing. Sure, if you don't have clothes, you're in big trouble. But chances are, we're all buying and wearing way more clothes than we really need. I'm not suggesting anybody needs to be as extreme as, say, the characters on Gilligan's Island and wear the same outfit every single day for years at a time, but chances are, we all have clothes in our wardrobe we rarely wear that turned out to be a waste of money.
This point was made to me by Hoang Nguyen, a 30-year-old who works in TV advertising in the Minneapolis area. "I still have clothing in bags that I haven't touched," says Nguyen. "I don't have a shopaholic problem, but sometimes I buy [something] thinking I'll wear it."
Who hasn't done the same? We're smart about renting a tux -- an article of clothing that would cost hundreds of dollars to buy -- for just one occasion. But we don't blink an eye at dropping $30 for a shirt we hardly ever end up wearing. We could probably all make a small fortune if we could suddenly have the money back for all those unworn clothing purchases we've made.
Kitchen gadgets.One of my Facebook friends says she's used her vegetable juicer maybe once in six years. Several other friends mentioned how they don't use their yogurt maker or their bread and dough maker. Another gave an electric carving knife as a wedding present because it was on the gift registry but was really thinking, "They'll never use it." If you're going to buy a kitchen gadget that you've never used before for a task you rarely have any inclination to do, you're probably wasting your money.
Gifts. This is another area of shopping fraught with peril. While we rarely will find out that the chip-and-dip set we sent to a relative was re-gifted, or that the toy we bought for our child to take to her friend's birthday party was never used, we should probably be grateful for that.
Liz Anderson, owner of E.H. Anderson Public Relations in Waco, Texas, once bought a good client a Christmas gift. She ran some ideas past her client's assistant and got the thumbs-up that he would enjoy tickets to a Bon Jovi concert. She had the assistant check his calendar and then bought two tickets to a local Bon Jovi show that cost her more than $600. She later learned, however, that he never used them, nor did he give them to anyone else.
"Never, ever will I do that again," vows Anderson. The moral of the story isn't to stop buying gifts, but to really make an effort to purchase a gift that's going to be well received. Of course, Anderson did make an effort to purchase a gift that would be enjoyed, so maybe there's a second lesson there -- really think about what you're doing before you buy a business client, especially one you don't know that well, an incredibly expensive gift.
Baby products. You need a crib, you need a car seat, you need clothes and diapers and maybe a few dozen other things, but millions, if not billions, of dollars have likely been wasted on completely unnecessary baby products. I hate to pick on a specific product, but I'm really thinking of the Diaper Genie that my wife and I bought years ago when we were expecting our first child. As it turned out, we were rarely in our daughter's bedroom when we were changing diapers -- we were often in other parts of the house or out and about living our life -- and it never made sense to bring along the Diaper Genie to have a special container to throw away dirty diapers. Trash cans worked just fine.
Even a special changing table seems like a waste of money now, given how many parents wind up changing their baby's diapers on the bed, the couch, the floor or wherever they happen to be at the time. I also wouldn't mind having some of my money back for all of those Baby Einstein DVDs we purchased.
Pet products. Speaking of poop, I just want to say that I really wanted to like the automatic-cleaning litter box we bought for our cats. I really did. But the $70 PetSafe cat litter cleaning machine my wife bought several months ago has turned into something of a cat litter nightmare. It constantly breaks, clogged up with cat litter. It may be that we aren't using it right or that it can't withstand what our four cats can leave behind. But I've seen a lot of negative feedback online from consumers about various brands of cat litter cleaning machines, and from what I've read, it seems that these machines aren't such a big improvement over simply cleaning out a regular, non-electronic cat litter box. In any case, that was $70 I wouldn't mind having back.
I'm guessing there are numerous products that other people have spent money on for their pets that they're now wishing they had back. At the website BoingBoing.com, the editors make the observation that there are a lot of gadgets out there for dogs, but given that a dog's needs generally involve eating, sleeping, pooping and maybe wagging its tail, does any dog really need a gadget? And yet, if you wanted to, you could spend $3,000 for a treadmill for your dog.
Bottled water. I personally don't buy a lot of it, but whenever I do, I can't help but think, "Tap water is free..." Or when I'm out in public at, say, a convenience store, I'm thinking, "I could be going to a drinking fountain or buying something else that's healthy like juice, which isn't free. But I'm buying water, which, anywhere else, would be free."
DVDs. Back in the day, my wife and I would buy DVDs for our kids, and they'd watch these movies over and over and over -- until they naturally lost interest, and then the DVD would sit on a shelf or in a drawer for months. I frequently look at these movies, seeing not plastic cases with films in them but little piles of cash. I'm sure that's why services like Netflix have taken off. We still buy a few DVDs here and there, but I've tried to put a moratorium on them in the Williams household. Netflix isn't exactly cheap--if you're paying around $10 a month for the service, that's $120 a year. Still, buying just one DVD seems to cost, on average, about $20. We have way too many twenty-buck DVDs lining our shelves.
Garage sales. My cousin Nicole Kellogg, in Portland, Oregon, mentioned on Facebook (see, I told you this was scientific) that she has wasted a lot of money on junk at garage sales. Good point! If it's someone else's trash, it probably really is trash. Go ahead and buy if you will -- garage sales are fun to stop by and check out -- but it's a very easy way to end up buying something you really didn't need.
Products that encourage lifestyle changes. I'm thinking of the $1,500 treadmill that I bought with my Sears credit card shortly before getting married. I figured that I'd use it to lose weight before my wedding, which was almost 10 years ago. My weight didn't go down, but my credit score did, and about six years later, in a weak moment, after paying it off, I sold it to my brother for about $100. Now I wish I had it back.
Another cousin of mine, Gary Muthert, told me he has camping equipment he never uses. I'm guessing that America's closets are filled with unused exercise equipment, skis, fishing rods, golf clubs, yoga mats and other items that look so cool and inspire new hobbies, but take a lot of effort to actually use if you've never used them before. In other words, if you're going to make a lifestyle change, it's economically safer if you can actually make that change before buying the equipment -- so rent a camper and become a camper enthusiast before you buy an RV.
Weddings. One of my friends, Ann Brooks, a mom who lives near Dallas and is a spokeswoman for T-Mobile, recently commented that if she could do it over again, she wouldn't have spent money on her wedding -- though she would re-marry her husband in a heartbeat. If she could do it over again, "I would have done something much smaller, much less traditional, much less expensive."
I know what she means. I was lucky enough to have in-laws paying for most of my wedding, but if memory serves me right, they offered to just give us money instead of paying for the wedding and reception. Knowing what I know now, and given that the average cost of a wedding these days is $19,000, I think my wife and I would choose to take the money and sock it into a savings account. And instead of throwing a lavish reception in a hall, we'd just invite everyone to a barbecue in a backyard.
Geoff Williams is a regular contributor at WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the book Living Well with Bad Credit.