These 7 sneaky expenses are destroying your monthly budget: Slash them and save money

Sneaky expenses can suck the air out of your budget and send you into financial purgatory. The worst part is just how many of them there are, from the gym membership you never got around to cancelling to the round(s) of drinks you find yourself buying for friends.

This extra spending can feel necessary at times, but it's not to be confused with basic living expenses — like rent, transportation or groceries. A truly sneaky expense is money you're spending because of impulse (cool new threads that you got on a whim), sheer forgetfulness or good old FOMO.

What makes sneaky costs especially annoying is that they are almost always 100% avoidable — but to get them under control, you'll need some serious budgetary discipline and a little planning.

Here are some of the worst offenders, and how to take back control.

1. Monthly subscriptions for services you never use anymore

The problem: Subscribing to music or video streaming services, gym membership, food delivery or monthly beauty product delivery can be convenient, but they are also an enormous money suck if you aren't using them regularly. After all, that fresh produce from Blue Apron will go quickly — hello, Brown Apron! — if you don't move fast.

It's easy to let services pile up and spend (or waste) about $269 a month, as certified financial planner Kevin Michels found when he evaluated one family's monthly subscriptions. These included Netflix ($8), Dish Network ($80), Amazon Prime ($16.66), Five Four Club ($60), Pandora Plus ($4.99), Blue Apron ($70) and a car wash subscription ($30).

The solution: Cancel subscriptions you don't use every month. If you don't remember what you have signed up to use, review your bank statements for recurring charges. On the fence about whether to cancel? Take a hard look at which subscriptions are actually being used throughout the month.

2. Pesky bank fees you never noticed

The problem: From ATM charges to paper-statement fees, banks regularly milk customers for extras. The average U.S. household spends $290 a year on such annoying bank fees, according money transfer platform TransferWise. Some of the most sneaky include charges for talking to a teller, making a cash deposit and a returned mail fee, according to Bankrate.

The solution: Read disclosures for any account you open and steer clear of banks with an extensive fee list, Bankrate advises. If you still aren't sure about how fees are charged, ask questions. Also, consider banking with a community bank, online bank or credit union. Smaller outfits and digital banks tend to have lower overhead, and credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that pay some of the profits to members.

If you've been paying fees you disagree with, ask your banker to have them waived: "They'll usually waive fees the first time," Nessa Feddis, vice president, senior federal counsel and retail banking expert for the American Bankers Association told Bankrate.

Finally, check out Mic's guide to avoiding bank fees.

3. Being more generous with friends than you can afford

The problem: Celebrations should never be a problem, but when you are hitting wedding season or attending an endless string of baby showers, those expenses can become overwhelming.

"Who doesn't love a reason to celebrate?" Rachel Cruze, best-selling author and member of Ramsey Solutions, said to Mic by email. "Life is full of celebrations — birthdays, weddings, showers — but the costs associated with those happy times can easily sneak up on you if you don't budget. You have three birthday parties to go to that each require a gift or your bridesmaid dress costs almost as much as the wedding gown."

The solution: You don't have to cheap out or make hug coupons as a substitute for a tangible gift; however, you do need a budget and stick to it.

"My clients always think eating out is busting their budget, but more often it is sneakier expenses that fly under the radar, like gift-giving," Nicole Cooley, money coach for Money with Moxie said to BiggerPockets. "Gifts and appreciations are harder to predict when you sit down to do your budget, and it's an area people overspend because they want to be generous for others. Sticking to your gift-giving budget and getting more thoughtful, creative gifts to spend less will help improve your budget month to month."

In other words, find ways to personalize gifts — so they are still valuable without being very expensive.

4. Letting your phone own you

The problem: Cell phone fees are climbing and may not reflect the amount you agreed upon when you signed your carrier contract. Fees include the universal service fund fee, state taxes, state telecommunications excise surcharge, emergency response fees, regulatory and administrative fees, gross receipts and city taxes and fees, according to Time. Some of these fees are unavoidable, like taxes, but others can be negotiated, such as administrative fees.

The solution: Aside from reducing your cell phone usage (which may not be realistic), reduce fees by comparison shopping with carriers for the lowest plan. New activation fees can be high, but Good Housekeeping recommends buying your new phone through a third party like eBay or just trading in the old phone when you change carriers. If you opt for the trade-in, ask about trade-in discounts, which could result in a better phone — without the activation fees.

5. The dreaded late fee

The problem: Habitual late fees can be a few hundred dollars per month because late fees are applied to nearly everything, from movie rentals to credit cards. "We all love Redbox, but make sure you return that copy of The Girl on the Train because for each extra day you keep the rental, you'll be charged for another rental period plus taxes," Cruze says. "Lose the DVD, and you'll be charged $25 plus tax or more!"

The solution: Sign up for automatic bill payment to meet rent, credit card and any bill deadlines. That way you don't have to remember to pay the bill and the cash is automatically transferred on the day you schedule payment. For any pesky rentals, set up an automatic reminder on your calendar or cell phone the minute you rent the item, so you won't let the return date slip away.

6. Outrageous airline fees

The problem: Airline fees are constantly on the rise with rebooking and extra baggage fees increasing, according to travel app Hopper. But how can you discern between which fees are fair — and which are outrageous and negotiable?

The solution: Familiarize yourself with the airline's baggage and amenity policies before you commit, because every airline has different fee policies. That way you will be in the know about charges for an extra checked bag or choosing your seat. Also, make use of the 24-hour cancellation or change window, even on a nonrefundable ticket, according to Business Insider.

7. The FOMO factor

The problem: FOMO, otherwise known as the fear of missing out, is an emotional but real reaction to wanting to have the same (or better) monetary items or experiences as your peers or family.

"You look on social media and see your friend's new car or vacation to a tropical beach, and you start to compare your life to theirs," said Cruze. "Comparisons steal your joy and your paycheck!"

The solution: Resist the urge to fall for the FOMO trap: "This is not really a tangible expense, but what I have found is that I felt entitled to the same lifestyle my parents had because (sarcastically) I was a college graduate," Phil Risher, founder of Young Adult Survival Guide, said. "I urge my peers to not get into this mindset because lifestyle inflation will consume your finances."

This might mean spending less time on social media — and more time hanging out with friends and family who will help keep you grounded.

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1. Stress

One of the biggest spending triggers is stress, said Cullen Hardy, a clinical psychologist and owner of business consulting firm The Hardy Group. “Human beings hate feeling stressed and love quick relief,” he said. “Spending can give that feeling of quick relief.”

Although stress can lead some to increase spending on necessities to gain a sense of control, it can lead others to increase spending on nonessential items rather than save money, according to a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research. Be careful if you’re spending to relieve stress. It could create lasting financial problems and make your stress even worse, Hardy said.

See: 10 Best and Worst Ways to Handle Financial Stress 

Photo credit: Getty

2. An Emotional Event

The end of a relationship or other emotional event can trigger people to spend money, said Bruce D. Sanders, a consumer psychologist and author of “Sell Well.” A little retail therapy isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it can make you feel better, he said.

But you need to be careful about how often you’re dealing with your emotions this way so it doesn’t result in overspending and racking up debt.

Photo credit: Getty

3. Social Pressure

You might think you left your days of succumbing to peer pressure behind in middle school. But the desire to keep up with others can spur spending in adulthood.

A recent study by Stanford professor Pedro Gardete published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that social influence can lead people to spend more. By studying purchases made during flights, he found that airline passengers were 30 percent more likely to buy something if the person sitting next to them did.

Spending to keep up with others can be even more pronounced in elite social groups when people are buying expensive items, Sanders said. Problems arise when people spend more than they earn and go into debt to maintain a certain lifestyle. So before you make a purchase, ask yourself whether it’s something you actually want or something you want to impress others.

Find Out: 10 Ways the Wealthy De-Stress 

Photo credit: Getty

4. Credit Cards

Americans have $712 billion in credit card debt, according to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That figure makes it hard to argue that there isn’t a link between credit card use and overspending.

But can using a credit card trigger you to spend more than you otherwise would? A study by two MIT professors found that customers are willing to pay more for the same item when using credit rather than cash. The reason this likely happens is because they don’t feel the pain of parting with cash.

So before you pull out your card to pay, ask yourself whether you’d be willing to pay the same price with cash. And only charge what you can afford to pay off each month.

Photo credit: Getty

5. Social Media

Your social media use might not just be gobbling up your spare time or distracting you from work. It could be leading you to overspend.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people tend to display less self-control after browsing a social network. And the more often people used Facebook, the greater their credit card debt was. Be aware of urges to spend after using social media and consider purchases carefully.

See: 5 Signs You Have a Spending Problem

Photo credit: Getty

6. A Need to Please

Many people try to buy love, said relationship expert April Masini. So when they see something for sale that will make a person they’re trying to win over happy, they buy.

“The purchase is not really about the item at hand,” she said. “It’s about pleasing someone else and getting a positive, loving reaction in return.”

When people buy to please others, they tend to overspend because they’re not thinking about their finances, Masini said. They’re buying to get a feeling, and their finances suffer as a result.

Their relationship could also suffer. A GOBankingRates’ survey found that overspending was the biggest financial deal breaker in a relationship.

Photo credit: Getty

7. Retailer Tactics

Retailers use a variety of tactics to get consumers to spend. Being aware of these tricks before you go shopping might help limit their effect and help you avoid buying things you weren’t planning on purchasing.

For example, bright colors and animation can get the attention of shoppers and trigger greater activity in areas of the brain associated with impulsive thinking, Sanders said. Fragrance in a store — such as cinnamon during the Christmas season — can stimulate purchasing. And if a sales person demonstrates how an item works, it can create a feeling of friendship and an obligation to make a purchase, he said.

To discretely increase the number of items in your online shopping cart, stores will offer incentives such as free shipping if your purchase total hits a certain price point, said Mike Catania, founder of coupon and promotional code site As a result, consumers buy more to get the freebie.

Retailers also use words such as “expires soon” to create a fear of missing out on a deal and spur buying. It exploits the resource-hoarding part of the brain and prompts consumers to ask,”If I miss this opportunity, will it present itself again?” Catania said.

In addition to being aware of these tactics, Catania also recommended giving yourself some cooling off time before buying things. “If you still want them just as bad the next day, then buy them,” he said. “But odds are you won’t.”

Photo credit: Getty

8. Special Events and Holidays

It’s common for people to spend more than they expected to for special occasions and holidays. For example, a GOBankingRates’ survey of bridesmaids and groomsmen said their spending for wedding-related duties exceeded their expectations by 32 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

Overspending on one event likely won’t lead to financial ruin. But if you’re exceeding your budget regularly on occasions and holidays, you could find yourself racking up debt or sacrificing savings to cover costs. A survey by SunTrust Banks found that 46 percent of Americans felt pressure to spend more than they could afford during the holidays in 2015.

To avoid overspending on holidays and hurting your finances, set a budget for each special event and start setting aside money each month in savings so you’ll have cash to cover costs. Don’t spend any more than the cash you’ve saved.

Photo credit: Getty

9. Shopping Addiction

At the extreme end of emotional and psychological triggers that lead to overspending is compulsive buying disorder. A small percentage of the population can’t bring themselves to stop making needless purchases and end up in deep financial trouble as a result, Sanders said.

Compulsive buying can be so serious that people can’t feed their families because they’re so far in debt, he said. This sort of problem requires mental health help.

Photo credit: Getty


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