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6 Really Dumb Ways Americans Waste Money

Lottery tickets, expensive weddings are common ways to waste money

Americans are good at a lot of things, and wasting money is one of them. Americans waste $165 billion annually on food just by tossing out what they don't want to eat, according to the National Resources Defense Council. We also do a good job of purchasing items we don't need.

Here are six ways people waste money, and tips for avoiding such spending mistakes.

1. Overspending on Education

Furthermore, college tuition continues to climb in the U.S. and family income hasn't kept up, according to a recent report from The College Board.

Choosing to stay inside your home state for college can be a smart move for your pocketbook. Average in-state tuition and fees at a public university is $9,650. You'll pay more than $15,000 to cross state lines, with average out-of-state tuition and fees at public universities at $24,930. Meanwhile, tuition and fees at private colleges averages $33,480.

Find Out: Student Loan Debt: Is College Tuition Worth the Cost?

If you really don't want to waste money, consider community college, said Timothy Wiedman, a retired associate professor of management and human resources at Doane University in Crete, Neb. The average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a community college is $3,520.

"Completing a two-year transfer program locally while living at home — and then transferring to a more expensive four-year school to complete a bachelor degree — will often save a great deal of money," he said. And the coursework will be virtually identical, he added.

2. Purchasing Expensive Diapers

Diapers are a messy business, and an expensive one for parents. According to Babies R Us, a baby will need up to 3,360 diapers in the first year of life. If you spend an average of 25 cents per disposable diaper, that is $840 for the first year.

Diapers are a necessity when welcoming a new life into the world, but don't use them longer than required. "People waste hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by believing that children need to wait until certain things happen before they can potty-train their children," said Michelle Swaney, owner of The Potty School, where she teaches people how to toilet-train their children ages 18 months and up.

In fact, the U.S. lags in toilet-training when compared to some other parts of the world. For instance, Vietnamese babies are usually out of diapers by 9 months of age, reports NPR. In the U.S., the average age for a child to be toilet-trained is somewhere between 24 and 30 months, which is a conservative estimate, according to Swaney.

America wasn't always so bad at teaching the bathroom habit. In 1957, 92 percent of children were toilet-trained by the age of 18 months, according The New York Times.

Related: 40 Mindless Ways You're Burning Through Your Paycheck

3. Buying Unnecessary Baby Stuff

A baby registry checklist often includes every gadget imaginable for infant care. Just for starters, you'll need a diaper pail that collects dirty diapers, and a bottle warmer that warms milk.

So, stick to buying only what is necessary. For instance, do you really need to purchase a Playtex Baby Diaper Genie Complete Diaper Pail at Target for $34.99? Or could you just simply recycle grocery bags to bag up and quickly dispose of dirty diapers?

The same holds true for a bottle warmer. You can warm up a bottle by simply using warm water. And do you really need a specialty baby-food maker, when a regular blender will do the trick?

4. Betting on Lottery Tickets

We all have dreams, but spending cash to become a millionaire shouldn't be one of them. Americans spent $73.8 billion on lottery tickets in fiscal year 2015, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. A quick look at the Powerball website tells you the odds of winning the lottery grand prize are 1 in 292,201,338. 

Even if you win the lottery, you have to wait to be paid. You also fork over taxes, which can drastically reduce your winnings. Some people believe only the poor play the lottery religiously, but a study in Virginia found that 55 percent of people who play at least once a month have an income of $55,000 or more.

Instead of wasting money on lottery long shots, spend the money on something that's attainable — such as a dinner out. At least spending in that manner allows you to enjoy yourself.

5. Failing to Shop for Bargains

Never shop without scoping out discounts and deals first. Fail to do so, and it's basically like leaving free money on the table — which, of course, is never the smartest idea.

"Although today's online shoppers are very savvy, many do not take advantage of free money, such as cash back," said Brent Shelton, an online-shopping expert at FatWallet. For example, you can earn cash back by shopping through sites such as Ebates, and many credit cards offer cash-back rewards on purchases, he said.

Savings add up when you take advantage of incentives such as these. Missing such opportunities can leave you feeling cash-strapped sooner. In addition to Ebates, other sites that offer promotions such as cash-back deals include:

  1. Coupon Sherpa

  2. Ibotta

  3. CouponCabin

  4. RetailMeNot

Don't forget to check out individual store saving opportunities too. These include the Cartwheel app at Target and Yes2You Rewards at Kohl's. Check details of your credit or debit card for other saving and earning opportunities.

Related: Times It's OK to Buy Used Instead of New

6. Insisting on Lavish Weddings

Your wedding day is supposed to be the best day of your life, so spend a fortune, right? In fact, Americans spend a ton to say "I do" — a record-amount average of $32,641 in 2015, according to the latest survey from The Knot.

Europeans on the other hand, are much more conservative with wedding expenses, spending an average $5,495 on nuptials, according to a survey by ING, the Dutch-based multinational and financial services firm. Europeans would rather spend money on a house than a wedding, the report found. That does make more sense financially than spending cash on an occasion that's here today and gone tomorrow.

So, how can you save thousands on your wedding? Think smaller — reduce the guest list, buy fewer flowers and settle for a smaller diamond.


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