The 20 Biggest Ways Americans Waste Money

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You work hard for your money but, unfortunately, financial stress is still far too common, and many Americans feel — with good reason — that they don’t have enough cash to cover an emergency or fund a secure retirement.

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One big reason why your money may not be going as far as you want it to: You may be wasting it. The vast majority of Americans — more than 80% of us — are throwing our hard-earned money away on wasteful spending, according to a recent survey of more than 2,000 Americans conducted by Hloom. While survey respondents indicated they were willing to change some of these wasteful behaviors, some habits are hardwired, and people just aren’t willing to change even when they view their spending as wasteful.

The good news is, you don’t have to give up the “wasted” spending that you enjoy to make a difference in your financial life. You can spend smarter, reduce your waste, and still end up with more cash in hand by understanding where your money is flowing out to — and perhaps making a few simple shifts in the way you’re splurging on “wasteful” items.

Top wastes of money Americans are willing to reduce

Just 17.4% of all survey respondents said they weren’t wasteful, but the majority of respondents were willing to acknowledge that they’re blowing their cash on certain items and could make changes. Top money wasters that Americans said they were willing to reduce included:

  • Eating out: 68.89% percent of survey respondents said they wasted cash on dining out.
  • Alcohol or drinking: Over a quarter of respondents — 25.42% — indicated their spending on alcohol or drinking was wasteful. Men, more than women, reported wasting cash on alcoholic beverages.
  • Credit card interest: 19.34% indicated they were wasting cash on credit card interest, with baby boomers more concerned about this source of waste than millennials.
  • Clothes: 13.85% of respondents said dollars spent on clothing were being wasted, with more women than men reporting wasteful wardrobe spending.
  • Electricity: 11.92% of respondents admitted to wasting money on electricity
  • Cigarettes: 11.57% said cigarettes were a source of wasted spending.
  • Heating or air conditioning: 10.58% said they wasted cash on air conditioning
  • Unreturned items: 9.25% wasted money on unreturned items.
  • Convenience packaging: Paying a premium for conveniently packaged products was acknowledged as wasteful by 7.07% of respondents
  • Lottery or gambling: 6.82% wasted cash on gambling expenditures.

For some of these wasted expenditures, the best option is to go cold turkey. Giving up cigarettes, for example, could extend your life, reduce your healthcare costs, and save you as much as $1 million to $2 million over the course of your life. Other habits, like eating out, aren’t as dangerous, and you can reduce costs while still getting to enjoy a bite out. You can save, for example, by buying discount gift cards around the holidays (you can usually get deals like a free $25 for every $100 in gift cards you buy) or from services like You could also go for a late lunch, which is usually cheaper, or split a bunch of appetizers instead of opting for a more expensive entree.

A programmable thermostat, changing your light bulks to CFLs or LEDs, installing motion detectors in closets and bathrooms, and unplugging phantom power users (like your fully charged cellphone or laptop) could help you save on electricity and cooling or heating costs. Shopping sales and thrift stores would allow you to cut clothing costs while still maintaining an awesome wardrobe, and credit card interest can be slashed by using a balance transfer to lower your interest rate or — ideally — by paying off debt. These changes aren’t drastic ones, but even small savings can add up…and you’ll get the benefit of no longer feeling wasteful if you’re more judicious with your spending.

Top money wasters Americans don’t want to give up

While survey respondents were definitely willing to change some behaviors, oddly there were a lot of habits that respondents found wasteful but that they didn’t want to change. Ten of the top money wasters people weren’t willing to work on included:

  • Uneaten or expired food: 32% waste cash on food they don’t eat.
  • Grocery items: 25.37% waste money on groceries
  • Hobbies and activities: 23.44% waste cash on hobbies, with millennials more likely to report waste in this category.
  • Entertainment: 23.10% waste cash on entertainment, with millennials also disproportionately represented compared with baby boomers.
  • Streaming services: 18.55% waste money on streaming services.
  • Cable or digital TV: 17.71% waste on TV services, with boomers much more concerned about spending in this area than millennials. Boomers found cable to be more financially draining than groceries and food they’re throwing away.
  • Cell phone bills: 17.26% report wasting cash on their cellphone costs.
  • Tech gadgets: 15.38% said they waste money on tech products
  • Car costs or gas: Automobile expenditures were seen as wasteful spending by 15.23% of survey respondents.
  • Bottled water: 11.33% of respondents said they were wasting money on bottled water.

If you find yourself wasting your hard-earned dollars on these expenditures but you’re reluctant to make big changes, you could make small shifts in how you’re spending. When you go to the grocery store, for example, make a meal plan first and shop with a list to reduce the chances you’ll spend too much and buy foods that have to be tossed away.

Consider trying to find low-cost entertainment that’s still fun, like free concerts, or seeing a matinee instead of a more expensive late show. Look into new low-budget alternatives to cable, like SlingTV, and consider buying one model down from the latest tech gadget to enjoy considerable savings but still have cool technology. And invest in a self-filtering refillable water bottle to do something good for your wallet and the earth.

Reluctance to change ingrained habits is understandable, but if you see things like throwing away expired food as a waste, you’re right. Americans throw away $165 billion in wasted food every single year , so you could realize substantial savings by just changing your behavior a little bit. If you can redirect some of your wasted dollars to become more secure and build a better financial future, it’s definitely worth it!

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