Remove the invisible drains from your wallet — once and for all
Read: 4 minutes
See if this sounds familiar: Somewhere between payday and the end of the month, you discover that your bank account is emptying out faster than expected. When you take a closer look, you realize that small expenses—automatic payments, little daily charges, and other extras here and there—are slowly bleeding you dry.
It's a common problem: with busy schedules, it's easy to overlook a few $5 or $10 fees. The trouble is, they add up: "There are so many inexpensive monthly services that seem cheap individually, but collectively can really eat into your budget," says Andrea Woroch, a national consumer savings expert.
Here are some tips for closing up all the little holes that are draining your account—and finding extra pockets of money that you didn't even know existed.
1. Cut the cable cord
The average cable subscriber pays $85 per month, which translates into over $1,000 per year. And, if you have more than one cable box in your home, that can be another $3-$12 per month.
If you're tired of paying for channels that you don't watch, streaming services offer hundreds of programs, often for a fraction of the price that you're paying your cable provider. And even if you stick with cable, take a good look at those extra cable boxes. If you aren't watching in more than one room, it might be time to disconnect and get some extra cash.
2. Decaffeinate your spending
The $6 latte you pick up on your way to work each morning may not seem like a big splurge, but it can add up. Studies show the average American spends approximately $1,100 on coffee each year.
Instead of watching money drip out of your account, why not pay the one-time fee for a coffee machine or brew your favorite blend once you get to the office? Not only will you save money, you'll save the time you usually spend waiting on that long line at your local coffee shop!
3. Pay as you go
Setting a budget (and sticking to it) is easier said than done, especially when you're faced with a higher-than-normal utility bill or are booking an upcoming vacation. One way to keep splurges to a minimum is by using a pre-paid debit card for all of your day-to-day expenses.
"If you top up your card each week, you can't overspend," says certified financial planner Mitchell C. Hockenbury. "If you spend all the money at once, you'll need to wait a week."
4. Burn calories, not money
According to a recent study, the average American will spend approximately $112,000 on wellness in their lifetime. That's more than the average cost of a four-year college! If you have an unused gym membership, you're burning money instead of calories.
Luckily, there are lots of affordable alternatives. You can invest in some home workout equipment—a few barbells and a yoga mat probably cost less than a month of your membership, and will enable you to do dozens of exercises in the comfort of your own living room. You could also look into your local YMCA or community center—many have weight rooms or other facilities, and offer low-cost classes. And then, of course, there's the great outdoors, where you can get a hefty workout with little more than a pair of sneakers and the open road.
5. Phone a friend
When it comes to budgeting, it's easier if you don't do it alone. If you're having a hard time, Hockenbury recommends enlisting a friend or family member to help analyze your finances. Having a loved one offer their two cents can give you a fresh look at your spending and help you notice the little expenses you usually overlook. Beyond that, you might find that putting a little more accountability into your spending can be an impetus to keep it under control.
As you trim your bottom line, keep in mind that cutting back isn't a punishment or a chore: instead, you're freeing yourself from the unnecessary costs that are keeping you from spending on the things that matter. Whether you want to travel, own a home, retire in comfort, or achieve another dream, those little unused memberships and monthly withdrawals could be holding you back. By taking them away, you could be opening the door to the things—and the future—you really want.
Andrea King Collier is a Chase News & Stories contributing writer. Her work has appeared in O the Oprah Magazine, Country Living, Essence, and on NBC and National Geographic, among other media outlets.