Dollar Scholar Asks: What Common Items Should I Never Buy?

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Growing up, I never had a store-bought birthday cake. You know the ones piled high in the window display, with messy cursive writing, plastic balloon decorations, and that delicious-tasting-but-slightly-chalky icing?

My grandmother, who for years owned a candy store where she made wedding cakes professionally, always baked birthday cakes for me and my brothers. We could choose the flavor – chocolate, yellow or marble – and a design that she would carefully illustrate on top with a KopyKake projector. One year she even drew Nick Jonas on mine.

In my family, birthday cakes were just one of those items you didn’t buy. Oma has always covered it. Why would we pay extra for something if we didn’t need it?

Now that I’m older, I realize that this concept extends to other things as well. Take generic drugs, for example. If the ingredients are the same, I don’t need to go for a name brand. Basic ibuprofen works just as well and at a fraction of the cost, so I can skip the expensive Advil.

To that end, I’ve asked experts to help me round up 20 items I (and probably you) spend money on that we shouldn’t. There are exceptions to everything, of course, depending on your personal circumstances and priorities, but in general here is…

A big list of things you shouldn’t pay

ATM fees. You can avoid surcharges simply by plan ahead. Visit an ATM affiliated with your bank or use your debit card to withdraw cash at the grocery store. You can also get a checking account from a financial institution that will reimburse ATM fees.

Booksaccording to the financial coach Lauren Greutman. More libraries now have vast collections of e-books that cardholders can browse online and get delivered “straight to your Kindle or iPad”, she says – “it’s something people can stop buying from. straight away”.

Preparation of declarations.

Your credit file. Under federal law, you can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) every 12 months. Right now, due to the pandemic, you can request one every week. To visit

Credit monitoring. The aforementioned credit reports will not actually provide you with a score. If you’re looking for a number, don’t be fooled by paying for a credit monitoring service. Sites like credit karma and Sesame Credit will generate a score – and keep tabs on your financial activity – for free. Greutman says your credit card may also offer a free credit monitoring service.

Shipping Supplies.

Bottled water. Americans spent a whopping $36.3 billion on bottled water in 2020. Don’t join that crowd – do what Greutman recommends and get a reusable water bottle. It’s also better for the environment.

Some cleaning products, like solutions that remove grime from trash cans and Keurig machines. “Vinegar and water do just fine,” says Greutman. Add baking soda to this list and you have a combination of items that will help you clean just about anything. Same clothes.

super gas.

Unused subscriptions. the average american at five retail subscriptions that total $37.73 per month. If you are one of them and regularly use all your accounts, OK. But chances are you have a subscription or two that you forgot about (free trials that convert to monthly payments are particularly sneaky). “Putting a little reminder in your calendar once a month to say, ‘Hey, yourself, check your Apple subscriptions, then review and delete anything you don’t use,’ is really essential,” Erin says. Skye Kelly, author of Get the hell out of debt.

COVID-19 testing. The federal government recently launched a program that will provide free rapid tests to Americans. Request yours by clicking here or by calling 1-800-232-0233. (Also, if you end up buying more independently, your insurance should pay you back.)

Airline miles.

A background check for employment. Sometimes employers ask candidates to pay themselves background check. There isn’t really any federal law against it; However, States as California and Louisiana expressly prohibit it. Legal or not, it’s a sketchy practice that could end up costing you money and work.

SpotifyPremium. Greutman suggests you “suck and listen to the ads” on the free edition of Spotify and/or Pandora. YouTube playlists can also be a good workaround for you to listen to music for free.

Certain herbs (and by the way, pre-cut products).

Unitaskers. Good food‘Alton Brown celebrates hated sophisticated kitchen gadgets that only do one job. Meat claws? Just use forks. Margarita machines? Get a blender. There are a few exceptions, like rice cookers, but you get the idea. Versatile is the move.

fancy clothes. Greutman says dressing up for events like the New Year or a wedding can be an expensive trap. “Don’t buy something just to wear once and put in your closet,” she adds. Save money by opting for a service like Rent the Runway, where a one-time rental of this $598 floral dress is just $90.

Most extended warranties.

The bottom line

There are a lot of things I pay for that I don’t need. Kelly says it’s good to constantly re-evaluate the items I buy and make sure I’m spending consciously.

“It’s so boring, so not sexy, but it’s the $4 [charges] that kill you – here, there and everywhere,” she says.

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