Penny Foolish: How 6 Tiny Money Leaks Cost Me $1702 Annually

I hate it when I see people waste food.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been that way.   Somebody who believes in reincarnation once told me that I probably starved to death in a past life.   Okay.

Another pet peeve of mine is carelessly wasting money on things that can be easily prevented.   Although I haven’t shared that little characteristic of mine with the reincarnationist, I wonder what she’d say.   Then again, on second thought, I don’t really care.

While I am very diligent about not wasting food, I still have a lot of work to do when it gets down to plugging all of my money leaks.

I recently did a quick audit to see where some of my biggest leaks currently reside and then evaluated my odds of repairing them.   When you’re done checking them out, let me know if: 1) you suffer from some of the same money leaks that I do; and 2) if you have a few others currently plaguing you that I didn’t list.   Thanks.

1. Buying lunch at work.

My (lame) excuse: Hey!   Every once in awhile I get hungry at work.   Besides, who has time to make and pack their own lunch?
Short term impact: A grilled cheese sandwich here, a bag of chips and a cookie there – add it all up and I’m currently averaging about $10 per week at my workplace cafeteria.
Long term impact: $500 annually, assuming my appetite doesn’t get bigger between now and then.
The obvious solution: Pack my own lunch the night before.
Odds of this actually happening: 50/50

2. Over-paying for our satellite television service.

My (lame) excuse: Although I watch the same 25 channels 99.5376 percent of the time, one day I may want to watch something on one of the other 1,746 channels I’m paying for.
Short term impact: I pay about $20 per month extra for the additional satellite channels I watch 0.4624 percent of time.
Long term impact: $240 annually.
The obvious solution: Dump the extra channels and resign myself to the fact that I will miss a show I really really really want to watch 0.4624 percent of time.
Odds of this actually happening: Although this one is a no-brainer, the answer is slim and none.   This is yet more proof that people make irrational decisions about money all the time.

3. Paying almost all of our bills by snail mail instead of the Internet.

My (lame) excuse: As the household CFO the Honeybee pays the bills, and she insists on paying them the old-fashioned way because she “doesn’t trust computers.”   (Don’t say it.   I know.)
Short term impact: On average she writes about 10 checks per month for bills that she could pay online or automatically.
Long term impact: $60 annually, assuming 50 cents per bill (for the price of the stamp, envelope, and check).
The obvious solution: Well, short of finding a second wife – which I still believe is illegal in most states – somehow convince the Honeybee to start “trusting computers” and pay our bills online.
Odds of this actually happening: I stand a better chance of being hired as a back-up singer and off-stage cabana boy for Lady Gaga on her next world tour.

4. Paying to use the express lane when it’s not really necessary.

My (lame) excuse: Even though I am on the road by 5 am when traffic is still relatively light, it’s insurance against getting stuck in an unexpected traffic jam down the road.
Short term impact: Over the past two months, I have “chickened out” and taken the express lane in the wee hours of the morning an average of twice per week.
Long term impact: $402 annually, assuming the toll road rates don’t go up – which they will.
The obvious solution: Look fear in the eye and bypass the express lanes at 5 in the morning.
Odds of this actually happening: A near certainty.   After evaluating the long-term impact, I’m already feeling braver.   Wait; I changed my mind.

5. My insatiable addiction to iTunes.

My (lame) excuse: Why listen to some lame radio station with a puny play list of 400 songs – half of which I don’t like – when I can listen to my own personal music library?
Short term impact: Last month I spent almost $100 – although that is not typical.
Long term impact: I expect to spend about $500 annually, give or take $100.   Okay, okay.   Give $100.
The obvious solution: Limit the monthly growth of my iTunes collection by 80 percent.
Odds of this actually happening: One chance in three.   My intentions are good here so I will try my best, but this is easier said than done.

6. Not replacing the weather stripping on my front and back doors.

My (lame) excuse: Look, I live in Los Angeles – not Moscow.   How much energy can I really be wasting?
Short term impact: I’m not sure, but the US Department of Energy says weatherstripping pays for itself within one year via reduced energy costs.
Long term impact: Based upon the data from the Department of Energy, I’m guessing less than $20.
The obvious solution: Get off my butt and weatherstrip my external doors.
Odds of this actually happening: 99 percent.   I know.   It’s ironic that the money leak with the lowest financial impact will be the one most likely to be fixed.

As you can see, if I am successful in plugging all of these money leaks I could conceivably end up saving $1702 per year – or more!   Unfortunately, the odds are I will continue to be penny foolish and let most of these leaks just keep on draining the hard-earned money from my wallet.

Well, that is unless Lady Gaga happens to come a calling.


  1. 1

    Yokel says

    Perhaps you could remind the Honeybee that once she lets go of the check, most of the processing of the payment is done by the computers she doesn’t trust so it’s not as if she’s bypassing them in any meaningful way.

  2. 2

    Olivia says

    Just a few ideas.
    1) Buy some especially cool things to pack in your lunch once and a while as incentive. (Like a special mustard if that’s your thing.)
    2) Would HULU or fancast work for the oddball programs?
    3) I’m with your wife on this one, but buy my stamps discounted at Henry Gitner thus saving 90% on postage.
    4) No ideas. Don’t have them around here.
    5) Ask for iTunes gift cards for Christmas or look for free downloads at Wisebread Deals.
    6) Good for you. I’m sitting at the computer right now as the cold air puffs around my bare feet. Gotta write myself a note on that one.

  3. 3


    Hey if you can actually get away with only spending ten dollars for food while working per week, I definitely would not even consider packing a lunch. (Lunch packing is a pain!)

    I have a friend who is just like your wife. However, she is a step further and will drive to the store to pay her bill when it is getting a little too close to the due date. With gas over 3 bucks a gallon now, that is a huge waste of time and money. However, I know she will not change, so I have given up trying.

    Money is made to be enjoyed as long as you are being responsible, so I am glad you are not giving up all that you like to save a few bucks!

  4. 5

    Sandy E. says

    I swithed to Bill Pay when I saw the t.v. commercial where the lady turns on her bath water, to get it ready for a bath, goes to her laptop, pays her bills, then goes back to the bathtub and turns off the water! Could monthly bill paying be that fast? I tried it; it was! Meanwhile, you can always buy envelopes from the $1 store – my checks are free – and she could pay double the amount, then pay every other month or so and the bills would show a credit. (Occasionally I’ll get a neighbor’s mail, so that’s another reason why I like bill pay). I’m in CA too and have never done weather stripping. I rarely need to use my heater, and living close to the ocean, don’t need a/c.

  5. 8


    Not laughing AT your wife but it is funny lol! I pay all my bills online, and have chosen paperless for all of my statements as well. Saving money and the environment at the same time! I just never have “time” to go to the post office to do it the old fashion way. I am, however, a slave to the Fresh & Easy and other eating options walking distance from the office. I could pack a lunch, but I like variety. A money sink, I know for sure.

  6. 9


    I think its okay to have a few money leaks. So what if you spend a little here and there on things you enjoy or ways to make your life easier. It is wise to evalate these leaks however to see whether they are worth the money you are spending. Sometimes we spend money mindlessly that can be cut once you really think about its value. For instance, I dropped cable a few months back and missed a few shows that I used to watch, but I’ve replaced those with new ones (over the airwaves) so it was only a temporary loss.

  7. 10


    The TV one is the one that doesn’t make sense me…CANCEL the extra channels OR at least threaten to and see what they offer you

  8. 11


    We spend $120 a month on high speed internet, 200 cable channels of which we watch about 10, DVR (which we adore), and HD service (which we also love). I could probably call and get a $20 discount a month, so I’m wasting $240 a year by being lazy right there…

  9. 12


    First off, we’re on the same page with the online bill paying. I hope you can influence things to change over there. I was hesitant to change 3 years ago, and resisted…until I was shown the light, and now I’ll write checks for occasional reasons but not for recurring or standard bills.

    As far as the $10 in food – Len, that seems extremely inexpensive to me. Are you eating next to nothing? If that’s all you’re spending, which is $2 per day, you’re hardly overspending.

    So go ahead and pat yourself on the back for doing great with spending so little on lunch each day! You’re lucky to have a corporate cafeteria with such inexpensive food. Why waste your own time when you can spend so little and buy it? As long it’s not more unhealthy, of course…

  10. 13


    @Yokel: I’ll do that. Great point! It probably won’t work though.
    @Olivia: 1) I like your thinking here. But mustard – eeww – I *hate* mustard! 2) I don’t know , but it’s worth looking into and another great idea! 3) 90 percent on postage? Wow. I’ll need to look into that too. 4) That’s probably a good thing – that you don’t have toll express lanes, not that you have no idea. Besides, I was getting a real inferiority complex because of all your great answers prior to this one. LOL 5) Oh, iTunes gift cards are ALWAYS on my Christmas list! 6) I’m glad to see I could actually help *you*, Olivia. (One out of six ain’t bad.) Thanks for all the great suggestions! :-)
    @Everyday: I’m human, Kris. I definitely have some guilty pleasures I like to spend a little money on.
    @Bret: I’ll suggest Bill Pay to the Honeybee, but I won’t hold my breath. She’s stubborn.
    @Sandy: Weather stripping is such an easy task too. Even I can do it without my father-in-law’s help!
    @Jenna: We have a few express lanes out here in Southern California that charge motorists to use them. The price fluctuates based on the time of day and traffic volume.
    @Briana: Oh, it most certainly IS funny, Briana! I’m laughing at the Honeybee as I type this. 😉
    @Norman: I totally agree. The important thing is identifying as many leaks as you can and then evaluating which ones to fix and which ones to ignore. Unfortunately for me, I don’t seem too inclined to fix mine right now. LOL
    @Evan: Those other 1000+ channels are like a security blanky for me. Tough to part with.
    @BIFS: That makes two of us.
    @Squirrelers: I’ll pass on your testimony, Wise Squirrel, but the Honeybee is a tough nut to crack – and I know you can appreciate that. 😉 Here’s the thing on the food. I usually eat one big meal per day – dinner. I nibble on small snacks I bring to work when the urge strikes me, but sometimes I decide I want a little more and so it’s off to the cafeteria. I admit, at $10 or so per week it’s not a big money leak, but it’s one I feel I can avoid if I really wanted to. Does that make sense? Probably not. I don’t think I even understand what I just babbled about.

  11. 15


    Oh that eating out thing for lunch is starting to get me now.

    I am seeing what everyone means!!! :)

    My only defense is a really good offense, and by offense I mean making killer lunches I cannot refuse to eat :)

    I always pay everything online, seeing as I have no real fixed address… but I can see your points :) Surprisingly, I too have run out of cheques. Darn these people who won’t take cards!

  12. 16


    Len, if you’re only paying $10 a week for lunches you are in great shape! Back when I worked in the city, I would have a very hard time getting by with $10 a DAY for lunch…..of course i eating out and and probably consume more than most.

    So I say eat up!

  13. 17


    In regards to #5, why not grab a jug and washboard, or maybe even a kazoo, and make your own music for free?

    Although, who am I to judge…. to me my XM radio is worth every penny!

  14. 18

    Olivia says

    1) Will keep the mustard thing in mind.
    3) OOPS I meant paying 90% on postage (thus saving 10%). We actually do direct pay for some things, but the Sweetie set those up.

  15. 19


    @Leslie: Oh it is awesome! Expensive, but awesome. As I told Jenna, on some freeways here, there are certain low volume lanes that motorists can use to save time and avoid traffic. The price fluctuates based on the time of day and traffic volume.
    @FB: Your killer chicken soup recipe is definitely worth bringing to work! I’m glad winter is around the corner, so I can make more of it!
    @Coach: Yeah, ten bucks per week is pretty cheap. Still, if I was smart I could eliminate it completely. That would pretty much pay for my iTunes addiction.
    @Style: Great idea! Unfortunately, I tried your suggestion this afternoon and almost crashed the car trying to play a jug and washboard on the way home. Any other ideas? 😉
    @Olivia: Darn. I thought 90% off sounded a little *too* good to be true.

  16. 20


    I go through this exercise now and then and fall prey to the “I deserve it” syndrome. Today, I bought an overpriced cafe mocha because I had a crazy day, a crap lunch and I was tired. It was 3 bucks. I don’t do it every day. But I “justified it to myself”. I think in order to not have this guilt it’s important to take inventory of your entire financial situation – are you out of debt, saving for retirement, putting away for the kid’s college? Then buy the mocha!

    These were good leaks you pointed out though; gives me a few ideas to check on.

  17. 22


    I think that if you make all of these changes right now, and give yourself a month to miss them, you may not want to go back. It doesn’t sound like you’re going to have a lot of success with Honeybee, but maybe she can give online billpay a go for a month or two and give the computers a chance to gain her trust.

  18. 24


    Hey Len,

    I overcame my iTunes addiction when I joined Just having a CD in my Wish List makes me feel like I own it for some odd reason…

    Anyways, I picked up ~150 old CDs on Craigslist for pretty cheap and listed them. About 20 or 30 got requested in the first week, and then I had my choice of 20 or 30 CDs to get on the site. It ends up costing me about $1.50 per CD, nearly 90% off the iTunes price, and I can rip them in any format/quality I want.

    Just a suggestion.

  19. 25


    @Darwin: I’m like you, bro! I, too, will break down sometimes and splurge on a nice coffee from Starbucks – or a couple of chili cheese dogs from Weinerschnitzel – because I deserve it. LOL
    @Olivia: I’ll have to try that. I actually have one of those shoulder harness thingies.
    @Khaleef: I talked to the Honeybee again today and she is adamant that she will not be deviating from the stamps and envelopes anytime soon. :-(
    @Forest: I used to do that at times too – me and a colleague would have weekly meetings at the coffee shop. I enjoyed it, but the meetings were costing me $5 – $7 bucks a week because I found it impossible to be there and NOT buy a coffee and pastry.
    @Tom: Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out, although I hate dealing with CDs anymore. I have over 400 of them now and I rarely use them anymore.

    • 26


      I hate dealing with CDs too, and I just store the away. The advantage is that I always have a physical backup of my music and it is full CD quality, unlike the compressed files that iTunes and Amazon sell.

      • 27


        I have one of those 400 CD changer/players that I use to store my CDs. You’re right, the CDs do provide nice back-ups of my music. Unfortunately, some of my CDs are so old, the music files won’t copy over to my computer. :-(


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