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Smart Strategies

Wisdom for the life you want. At Athene, we’re driven to help take your financial journey to the next level by providing expert advice on finances, health and lifestyle.

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Sneaky Expenses That Can Wreck Your Budget

How to stop these five common small expenses from derailing your finances.


When it comes to your budget, have you noticed that your bank account has slowly been shrinking while your debt has been steadily growing? If you haven’t made a major purchase, such as buying a car or taking a big vacation, this change in financial status could leave you scratching your head. You may be surprised to learn that it’s not the big-ticket items that are likely to blow your budget. The real culprit is the gradual increase in your spending habits on the little, almost unnoticeable, things in life. We’ve uncovered five common causes of “expense creep,” which can add up to more than $5,000 a year—and identified easy ways to help you reverse the trend.

  1. The $1,000 Cup of Coffee
    If you’re “treating” yourself to coffee out every day, you might as well be drinking it out of a gold cup. Spending $5 on fancy coffee drinks once a week may not seem like a big deal, but doing it every day, well, that adds up. It’s estimated that the average American worker spends close to $1,110 annually on coffee. Start brewing your joe at home and you could reduce your monthly budget by $50.
  2. Hidden Costs on Your Cellphone Bill
    When was the last time you closely reviewed your cellphone bill? Well, now may be the time to take a look. You’ll want to make sure you haven’t been incurring any data overage fees, and that you aren’t being charged for parental controls you no longer need. If you spot any of these, call your provider and update your account so that you’re only paying for what you actually need. And if data overages are plaguing you, consider an unlimited data plan, or make sure your settings only allow you to stream music, videos, and games when you’re on Wi-Fi.
  3. Unused Monthly Services
    If you signed up for a gym membership back in January in an effort to reach your New Year’s goals, chances are you opted in to an automatic credit card deduction. But if you haven’t stepped foot on a treadmill in months it might be time to cancel that membership. An unused gym membership could be costing you $700 a year. Or, look for a gym that offers a “pay-as-you go” option so that you’re aware of how much you’re spending on classes when you do attend.
  4. Carrying a Credit Card Balance
    If you’ve gotten out of the habit of paying off your credit cards in full each month, you may need to either rethink your spending or cut down on credit card use. Why? Because carrying a balance and paying interest could be setting you back more than $2,500 annually. Look for zero percent balance transfer offers to reduce interest spending immediately (assuming you can pay off the balance before that zero percent offer expires). In the meantime, start using cash exclusively so you don’t incur additional debt.
  5. Throwing Away Food at Home
    Cooking at home is a great way to save money. But throwing away food in the process is not. Many Americans with good intentions go grocery shopping but never use up what’s in the refrigerator. This common occurrence adds up to about $900 a year in wasted food costs. The best way to cut down on this is to shop more often (maybe a few times a week) so you have less food sitting around, and plan out your weekly meals—and make a detailed list—before you hit the store.