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5 underrated ways to stop wasting money in 2020

Getty | Tim Robberts

Most people will admit to wasting money every now and then. But there are ways to stop throwing your cash away.

In the U.S., 64% of Americans agree that their top reason for wasteful spending is when they "really wanted something," according to a survey of 1,015 people from personal finance site The Ascent. Of those polled, 59% of participants also cited "convenience" as cause for wasteful spending, followed by making themselves "feel good" (52%) and "an item was discounted" (40%).

Becoming more conscious about where your money is going often starts with analyzing where you're spending, and why. And with the New Year less than three months away, it's a good time to start setting some financial goals for 2020.

Here are five underrated ways to keep your spending in check.

1. Stop wasting food

An estimated 30 to 40% of America's total food supply goes to waste, according to the USDA's Economic Research Service. Not only is that bad for the environment and a waste of nutritional resources, but it's also not the best for your wallet.

In the U.S., a four person family could lose up to $1,500 annually on wasted food. If you're single, that's still about $375 lost to thrown out food.

There is some good news: Cutting back on food waste is possible. One popular tip is to freeze foods before they have a chance to go bad. "Your freezer is like a magic pause button for your food — and almost anything can be frozen and eaten later: bread, cheese, fruit, vegetables, even milk," Yvette Cabrera, the interim food waste director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), tells CNBC Make It.

Proper storage is another way to help food last longer. Like any plant you're trying to keep alive, herbs stay fresh longer when stored with their stems in a glass of water. Certain types of produce last longer when stored in the refrigerator, such as avocados, broccoli and potatoes. For more tips and food storage basics, see this helpful guide from eatright.org.

Your freezer is like a magic pause button for your food—and almost anything can be frozen and eaten later: bread, cheese, fruit, vegetables, even milk.
Yvette Cabrera
Interim Food Waste Director of NRDC

Additionally, you can make use of food that you would have ordinarily tossed for use in future recipes. To start, try getting a bowl for food scraps that isn't your trash can. There, you can store salvageable foods that can be turned into usable ingredients, such as brown bananas to bake with later.

"Toward the end of the week, I like to let what's already in my fridge inspire the meal. Leftover stir fry from Monday can make a great pasta on Thursday," Cabrera says. "SaveTheFood.com has a bunch of recipes for inspiration."

2. Don't overspend on ride-hailing apps

Americans who use ride-hailing apps, such as Uber and Lyft, typically spend over $4,000 annually on these car services. That's a decent chunk of money, especially if you have specific financial goals in mind. Cutting back on ride-hailing spending has helped people pay off student loans and finally begin building savings.

Of course, there are situations where taking a car service may be unavoidable. In this case, though, there are ways to reduce the amount you'll end up spending. If possible, walk some of the distance before calling a car or choose an app with carpooling options. Some apps also offer other discounts. If you use Uber and preload your account with Uber Cash, for instance, you get a discount.

Additionally, don't forget to check out cheaper alternatives, such as public transportation, carpooling or biking, that can help you get from point A to point B for less.

3. Cancel subscriptions you don't use

Services, such as gym memberships, cable TV and online streaming subscriptions, can add up quickly. But if you aren't using them, that's money wasted every month. While a few dollars here and there might not seem like a lot, you'll feel the weight of that money's absence by year's end.

The standard Netflix subscription costs $12.99 per month. If you don't regularly use it, that's more than $150 wasted per year. Other, more obscure subscriptions can sneakily add up as well: In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, journalist Joanna Stern detailed how she paid $15 a month for three years for an electronic fax service she used just twice.

"That's $240," she writes. "For the same amount, I could have bought 20 rolls of fax paper or 10 real working fax machines."

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To figure out which services you can cut, start by tracking your daily use on a calendar. After a month has passed, check to see which services you're utilizing the least and cancel those first.

If that feels too drastic, look for cheaper alternatives to your current memberships. Maybe you have a friend who wants to split the cost for a shared Netflix account. Or, if it's a pricey gym membership that has you stalled, check to see if they offer day passes, rather than signing up for another year-long contract.

4. Wait it out

Before making any purchase that's not urgent, take a step back and pause. Three days, or 72 hours, is typically a good amount of time to wait, The New York Times reports.

The 72-hour rule comes from Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, who says the three-day waiting period creates space between the stimulus (the item you want to buy) and the response (making the purchase).

If you don't change your mind about the purchase after 72 hours, you can feel more certain that you're not just making an impulse buy.

Another perk of waiting: potential sales. If the item you want is seasonal, it will likely see a markdown at some point. You can also wait to see if it goes on clearance. Even if you still buy the item, if a sale lowers the price, you'll end up saving.

5. Pay off your credit card each month

If you're late paying your credit card bill and don't have an interest-free card, you could be paying hundreds extra in interest each month, depending on how large your balance is.

Every credit card comes with a set annual percentage rate (APR), typically between 14% and 20%. When you don't pay off your balance in full, you owe that percentage in addition to the amount you spent. In other words, the APR is the price you pay for borrowing money and not paying it off within a given period of time.

APR interest, as it's written on your credit statement, is listed in annual terms, but it's actually calculated on a daily basis. That means if your credit card's APR is 16% and you owe $1,000, your daily interest rate is about 44 cents. While that may not seem like much, it adds up quickly. The average credit card debt for balance-carrying households in the U.S. is $9,333, according to 2019 research from online lending marketplace Lending Tree.

To avoid owing extra in interest, you should make every effort to pay your bills on time. Don't let laziness or forgetfulness cause you to waste money. In fact, if you pay more than 60 days late, there is sometimes a higher penalty APR that will be applied to your bill and last for many months.

If your debt is too high and you cannot afford to pay it off in full each month, create a debt repayment plan and do what you can. One strategy is to pay down bills with the highest interest rates first in order to minimize the amount of total interest you owe. 

If possible, look to other areas of your budget where you can cut back so that you can start to pay higher than the minimum on your monthly bills. 

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Don't miss: Suze Orman: If you waste money on coffee, it's like 'peeing $1 million down the drain'

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Here's where Americans say they waste the most money
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