13 Ways Americans Throw Away Money

Lottery ticketBlame 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
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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.

Last year, deals site CouponSherpa launched a movement called Gift Card Exchange Day, during which consumers could sell their unwanted or slightly used gift cards for 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.

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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.

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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.)

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Most candy has negative nutritional value. We're going to go ahead and call it a waste of money.
How much? U.S. confectionery sales totaled $29 billion in 2010, with 60 percent spent on chocolate.

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Americans spent $59 billion on lottery tickets in 2010. Most of them did not get rich. The average lottery ticket pays 47 cents on the dollar, meaning that Americans wasted around $31 billion on the tickets.

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Americans burned $44 billion on tobacco, according to the BLS.

Between the base costs and the hefty taxes, the price of a pack has gotten so high that the average low-income smoker in New York City spends a quarter of their annual salary on cigarettes.

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.

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Americans spent $50 billion getting drunk, according to the BLS.

One might argue that booze isn't a waste of money, but, well, we're not convinced.
And again, we're not counting indirect costs related to drinking.

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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.

You seriously need to stop wasting money on credit card interest and end the debt cycle for good.

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Casinos earned gross revenue of $125 billion in 2010.

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.

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The U.S. soda market is worth $76 billion, according to Beverage Digest. As your mom told you, these drinks provide no nutritional value, and you're better off drinking water.

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That's our calculation based on $443 billion in annual home energy costs, and the claim that consumers could cut energy costs by a third if they followed recommendations from the government-backed Energy Star program.
Energy Star's website has a whole host of suggestions to save you money:

• Changing your air filter every three months at the minimum and using a programmable thermostat could save you over $180 a year.

• Lowering your water heater thermostat from 140 to 120 degrees can save you more than $400 a year.

• Replacing five light bulbs with Energy Star bulbs or fixtures can save you $70 per year. Americans waste $9 billion a year on energy inefficient lighting.

• You could save $40 a year by only using cold water to wash your clothes and up to $36 per year just by using the right sized pots on your stoves.

• In the average home "75% of the electricity used to power home electronics and appliances is consumed while the products are turned off."

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When you toss out food, you throw out money. The habit costs $165 billion nationally, according to the National Resources Defense Council, which means it costs $529 per person.

If you're tempted to pitch old food, then pick up new habits.  Hit up Google to find creative uses for certain foods, offer leftovers to Fido, or plan meals around weekly sales so you don't overbuy.

Another option is to pile up your plate with veggies. They'll help you lose weight, and are often cheaper than the packaged and processed goods at the front of the store.

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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.

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