5 Ways You May Be Spending Money Without Even Realizing It

Quick Answer

Here are five ways you may be spending money without realizing it:

  1. Forgotten subscriptions
  2. Junk fees
  3. Impulse spending
  4. Food waste
  5. Overpaying for bills
Cheerful teenagers spending money at the shopping mall.

Finding ways to reduce your spending can make it easier to keep more in your pocket or save for a rainy day. And, if you're feeling financial pressure, you may be making a conscious effort to limit everyday spending or cut back on discretionary areas in your budget. But what about the spending you do unconsciously?

"Budget leaks" are money that you spend without thinking about it, or money that leaves your bank account unbeknownst to you. These hidden expenditures can add up. The first step to plugging leaks in your spending is to identify them. Here are five ways you may be spending money without realizing it, plus what to do about each.

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1. Forgotten Subscriptions

If you're paying for unwanted streaming, music, news or other subscriptions, those payments can add up. It's easy to sign up for a subscription in the moment, then forget about it. You may not even realize you're being charged each month at all.

Taking inventory of your monthly subscriptions and cutting out what you don't need can help you keep more money in your bank account. It's a great idea to periodically look through your bank and credit card statements for any recurring charges. Then, cancel anything you don't get value out of.

2. Junk Fees

Junk fees are sneaky surcharges tacked on to the goods and services you pay for. For example, you book tickets to a show or reserve a stay in a hotel, only to find that your total at checkout has a bunch of previously undisclosed charges tacked onto the advertised price. Those may be junk fees. And junk fees can also be attached to more unavoidable spending, such as an unexpected monthly service fee from your apartment rental company.

Avoiding junk fees comes down to staying vigilant anytime you're making a purchase or signing a contract. If you're charged an unexpected fee, you can contact a customer service representative and ask for it to be waived. Last, comparison shop to look for options that don't charge exorbitant junk fees.

3. Impulse Spending

It's not uncommon to swipe your card on a whim for purchases that feel inconsequential—a quick cup of coffee, an enticing new health or beauty product, or that new glossy mag off the rack in the checkout aisle.

But those relatively small impulse buys can add up to form notable budget leaks. In fact, a survey from online shopping company Slickdeals found that respondents spent an average of $151 a month on impulse purchases in 2023. That's almost $2,000 a year in unplanned spending.

Of course, treating yourself isn't a bad thing—as long as you're intentional about it. You can stop impulse spending by setting boundaries for how and when you'll swipe your debit or credit card.

If you need to cut back, find replacements for impulse purchases. For example, if a mid-morning hankering for caffeine has you routinely hitting the coffee shop, try packing extra coffee in a thermos to circumvent the need. If runaway clothes shopping is burdening your bank account, try setting a more affordable retail budget and committing to it.

4. Food Waste

The average family of four throws out $1,500 worth of food each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That's about $4 a day that could stay in your bank account. Or, it could go toward covering your morning latte, guilt free.

Cutting back on personal food waste can take a little bit of planning, but implementing some new habits can help you toss less. Planning your meals to make use of ingredients already on hand, using up fruits and veggies that are nearing expiration in smoothies or soups and being a bit more committed to getting through your leftovers can all help you limit waste—and save money.

5. Overpaying for Bills

Bills are a fact of life, but you may be paying more than you have to. Periodically assess your phone, internet, cable, utilities and insurance to see if you can lower your rates. You can call your individual providers to ask if they can offer you a lower rate. Or, consider Experian BillFixer™, a feature that helps you negotiate your rates to reduce what you pay each month.

It's also a good idea to check up on your insurance policies once a year to make sure you're only paying for coverage that you need and comparison shop for lower rates. Experian's auto insurance comparison tool can help you view different car insurance quotes to conveniently compare pricing.

Plug Budget Leaks

Spending leaks can spell trouble from your budget. Plugging them up comes down to taking a critical eye to your spending and looking for areas to target. Then, take practical steps to cut back there. Doing this periodically can help you tighten up your budget and keep your spending working for you.