They say you have a better chance of being struck by lightening than winning the lottery. But that doesn't stop people from trying.
Consumers bought more than $70 billion worth of lottery tickets last year, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. About $38 billion was awarded in prizes.
Gary Thurber, assistant director of community relations at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of New York, said most of the clients he works with spend between $10 to $20 a week on lottery tickets -- mostly on the scratch-off variety. That adds up to a whopping $520 to $1,040 a year. So far, none of Thurber's clients have hit the jackpot.
Infomercial Impulse Buys
Only $19.95! Call now and we'll double your order! Such promises have lured in many unsuspecting consumers to what they thought was a great deal.
The infomercial industry brings in about $400 billion a year, according to the Electronic Retailing Association. But it's no secret that many impulse purchases go unused.
Thurber said he has several clients who spend around $200 a month purely on infomercial purchases -- most of which they admit go completely unused.
Logan Sachon, a writer for personal finance site Bundle.com, has spent at least $500 worth of quick-fix products that she never used, including the Magic Bullet Blender, the Topsy Turvy tomato planter, the Perfect Push-Up and Debbie Meyer's GreenBags. And she said another $500 worth of purchases has probably ended up at Goodwill or put in the trash.
Food products from popular brands may come in prettier packages, but that doesn't mean they're superior to their generic counterparts. While a 9-ounce box of Rice Krispies costs $4.79 at one New York City grocery store, its 12-ounce generic brethren costs only $1.99, with an identical list of ingredients.
And a $2 or $3 price difference can add up.
"Part of the time we're not even [buying brand names] consciously, we're doing it because it's familiar and we don't have to think about it," said Diahann Lassus, co-founder of wealth management firm Lassus Wherley.
Lassus said the prices of generic items are typically 5% to 10% lower than brand-name options. Even if there are only generic options available for some of the items you buy, she estimates you could save at least $50 to $75 a month if you're spending $500 to $600 a month on groceries for your family.
If you don't want to let go of your brand name items, shop at discounters like Wal-Mart or shop in bulk.
Unused Gym Memberships
Automatic monthly fees are one of the easiest ways to waste money. And it's not easy to cancel a gym membership when next week is always the week you'll finally begin that New Year's resolution fitness routine.
But gym no-shows are throwing away hundreds of dollars a year (maybe even a month, for some upscale gyms).
Lassus said one of her clients had been spending $75 a month on a gym membership she never used, so she realized it would be cheaper to just buy an exercise bike for her home.
"We all come to the end of the year and say, 'It's time to start getting in shape,' but we don't think through whether we are willing to make that time commitment and if it is going to be worth the dollars we're spending," she said.
Bundled Cable or Phone Services
Bundled packages aren't always a deal, if you're not using the extra services you're paying for.
Consumers are often lured into bundled cable, Internet or phone packages because of the reduced rates offered during the first year or a limited period of time. But paying for 500 channels that you're not watching, or unlimited text messages or airtime that you're not using, is just a waste of money.
"People will often just pick the plan they think they can afford, and then they won't check their usage compared to what they're paying for," said Tom Orecchio of Modera Wealth Management. "You might be paying for the silver or gold cable package with lots of channels when you're only watching the same 10 channels, and the same goes for cell phones -- you could be paying $100 a month for your cell phone plan and only using $50."