Personal Finance

The drip-drip-drip of spending you hardly see is killing your finances

Key Points
  • Like a slow leak from the faucet, you may not even notice the money that’s quietly going down the drain.
  • Fees at the “wrong” automated teller machine, the breakfast sandwich you grab on the run and an expensive gym membership are just some of the ways people let their money seep away.
  • No matter what you’re buying, shop around for better deals. Swap out some of your more expensive habits for cheaper versions, whether it’s cooking at home more often or drinking wine at a friend’s house before dinner out.
Thomas Barwick | DigitalVision | Getty Images

Whatever your financial goals, small money leaks will stand in your way.

Maybe you are living paycheck to paycheck, or you just got slammed with an emergency car repair you had trouble paying for. Here's how to get a grip on your finances and still live your best life.

Shane Mason, a CPA and certified financial planner, says most of the money his clients in their 20s and 30s are laying out is going to student loans.

Those monthly payments make it even more crucial for millennials to learn to handle finances in the best possible way.

The word "budget" is a buzzkill for millennial clients, said Matt Price, a CFP and senior vice president of advisory firm The Price Group.

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While it's harder for them to grasp the concept of deferred gratification, they still need to learn something about balancing present needs with future goals. "Instead, we talk about cash flow management," Price said.

Price works with his father, Randy Price, also a CFP and the advisory's executive managing director. Together, they offer the perspective of different demographics.

Both Prices said that paying down any debt, whether from credit cards or student loans, should be a top priority. "Most people don't realize that anything outside a mortgage should be attacked with a vengeance," said Randy Price.

Whatever you call them, budgets are personal. One person's luxury may be another person's pointless waste of money. Mason helps his clients set specific savings rates. "They can spend the rest," he said. "We don't care what they spend the money on as long as they're saving the correct amount."

It sounds cheesy, but coupons work. If Warren Buffett does it, I should do it.
Matt Price
senior vice president of The Price Group

Matt Price, meanwhile, said the daily weekday latte and croissant is an example of money over time most millennials can understand. One day's purchase might be $7 with tax, or $35 a week; over 52 weeks in a year, that totals $1,820.

But that is an incomplete answer. Price goes further to say that weekly $35 cost, invested at what he termed a conservative 7 percent rate of return, could yield about $75,000 over several decades. "That is the difference between working a year longer," he said.

"Every financial decision you make is a variable at some point," said Randy Price. You can spend less on something, or go without it altogether, for some future gain.

Save on restaurants

Social experiences, such as eating out, tend to be the prime budget-killers, said Randy Price.

No matter where you live, cooking at home instead of eating out, while easier on the wallet, can be a difficult decision to make.

Millennials, in particular, want to cut down on this expense, but "it's an opportunity to be with their friends and that provides a lot of joy," Mason said. "A lot of people don't like to cook, especially in a small kitchen."

"So it's a big behavioral change that's probably not going to happen."

For his part, Matt Price points out that there's no shame in shaving some dollars off a restaurant tab with a coupon. "It sounds cheesy, but coupons work," Matt Price said. "If Warren Buffett does it, I should do it."

Another easy way to save money is by cutting down on alcohol, the highest profit margin item in most restaurants.

Bizarre ways these rich business magnates save money
Bizarre ways these rich business magnates save money

Have drinks at home before going out, said Price, who lives in Texas and cuts costs by inviting friends over to grill in the backyard.

Though cooking in a small city kitchen can be a challenge, sometimes a new culinary appliance, such as the Instant Pot, can spark some creativity and save you some dough.

Eating out three meals a day will add up fast, but even buying lunch every workday is expensive. Cut one lunch and save the money instead.

Save on bank fees

Most people forget that paying a lot in ATM fees can add up to a couple of hundred dollars each year. "Some people will go to the wrong [out-of-network] ATM five times a month," Mason said. "It's an easy thing to save on, going to ATMs that don't charge."

All those swipes add up. "Too many people forget there are two sides to the coin," Mason said. "There's the ATM fee and your own bank fee" if you don't use your bank's ATM.

Another possibility: Open an account with an online bank that can give a 2 percent yield on cash, Mason said. "They are more willing to switch," Mason said. "There's no ATM, but they reimburse you for the fees."

Some online accounts have a monthly cap on reimbursements for fees. The bottom line is, you can stash some money over the months and put it a much better use.

Save on transportation

The busier you are, the more cabs you need. "There's a lot of guilt over Uber," Mason said.

One strategy: Try the cheaper Uber pool, though you will have to wait a bit longer and share your ride with a stranger.

"Everyone in Texas has a car," Randy Price said. The cost difference between a new and a used car is substantial. "Take a new car, drive it off the lot," Price said. "A week later, it is now a used car."

If your heart is really set on a new car, buy a quality vehicle, which could give you about 250,000 miles. Now that cars are more durable, you can expect to get that much mileage out of one, given a good maintenance schedule of repairs and upkeep.

Save on housing, phones and gyms

Another financial headwind for city dwellers is rent. Most of Mason's clients, for example, live and work in New York, so housing takes a big bite out of people's paychecks.

"If you live alone, it could be $2,200," Mason said. Some people save money by living with roommates. Having one roommate can drop each person's share of the rent to $1,500, and someone who is willing to have multiple roommates could pay as little as $1,000.

Get in the habit of comparison shopping. Mason pays $45 for a month-to-month AT&T cellphone plan.

"There's always a cheaper gym," Mason said. "It's rare we see someone paying as little as $30 a month, but it does exist in Brooklyn." He knows of three separate gyms that charge that rate.