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15 Money Mistakes That Are Costing You Thousands

Want to curb your spending once and for all? Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy, director of education and community awareness at the Credit Counselling Society, shares easy-to-follow solutions to the money mistakes that make it impossible to stick to your budget.

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Money mistakesPhoto: Feng Yu/Shutterstock

Stop making these 15 money mistakes

Discussing money with our loved ones is awkward at best—and intimidating and nerve-wracking at worst. At the Credit Counselling Society, my team and I teach people how to manage their money, debt, and credit so they can feel safe, secure and financially in-control. While budgeting is by no means a sexy topic of conversation, it’s a necessary endeavour to acheiving your goals and creating the life you want.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of financial decisions that cost Canadians dearly—just think about what you could do with an extra $2,500 to $5,000 in your pocket. Even more, it’s not typically one big ticket item that breaks a budget, but rather, “death by a thousand cuts” as the saying goes. The bright side is that your simple mistakes often have simple solutions. Here are 15 money mistakes you absolutely must stop making.

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Using credit cardPhoto: Shutterstock

Using credit instead of cash

Having room on a credit card isn’t always a good thing: research shows that Canadians spend up to 18 per cent more when using credit cards instead of cash. If you have the ability to buy “that extra something,” your impulse spending risk goes up; if you have a points or cash-back credit card, you’re even more likely to spend to get the extra points. To add insult to injury, Canadians use rewards cards more than any other nation in the world!

The solution: Leave your card credit card at home and withdraw cash for shopping—especially for groceries.

On the other hand, these are the money-saving tips you should definitely ignore.

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Man using laptop at cafePhoto: Shutterstock

Making only minimum payments on your credit card

Making minimum-only payments is a financial No Man’s Land. Case in point, if you have a credit card with a balance of $5,000 and an interest rate of 19.9%, you’re required to pay two per cent as a minimum payment on a declining balance—think $100 on the first month, $99 on the second month, and so on. At that rate, it will take you about 65 years—and more than $22,000 in interest!—to pay off your credit card. If you take that same scenario and upgrade to a fixed payment of $125 per month, you’ll be debt-free in just over five years (assuming you’re not reusing the card). Of course, you’ll still pay $3,274 in interest, but your future-self will thank me for the saved time and money.

The solution: Do your best to put your credit products away. If you absolutely must use credit, be sure to make higher than minimum payments.

Our financial experts reveal the best ways to max out the benefits of your credit cards.

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Toyota CorollaPhoto: Roman Korotkov/Shutterstock

Purchasing a brand new car

That new car smell is inviting, but the costs associated with it can sour your purchase. Plus, your car depreciates in value the moment you drive it off the lot—statistics range from a 10 to 20 per cent drop within the first year.

The solution: If you’re in need of a vehicle, consider buying a reliable used vehicle. You’ll save on the value and your monthly payments will likely be lower.

We reveal the best time to buy a new car—a strategy that could save you thousands.

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Credit card machinePhoto: Shutterstock

Ignoring low-interest credit products

Some interest rates on various credit products can be anywhere between 25 to 40 per cent, and payday loan interest rates, when annualized, can be over 400 per cent.

The solution: If you can, consolidate your debt into a product with lower interest rates. If you can’t, consider your local non-profit credit counselling agency for more options.

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Man playing golfPhoto: Shutterstock

Having expensive hobbies

There’s nothing wrong with a round of golf or a dance class for couples, but it’s important to consider the whole cost of your recreational activities. Factors like registration fees, equipment and transportation tend to add up quickly.

The solution: Consider activities that are in line with your budget and look for ways to save some money. For instance, if you love golf, try buying used equipment.

Check out the 13 things you didn’t know were cheaper in the U.S.

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Starbucks CoffeePhoto: BalkansCat/Shutterstock

Buying coffee-to-go every day

A daily cup of coffee on your way to work can cost you $10-$50 per week. Multiply this by 52 weeks in a year and that cost shoots up to $520-$2,600. And remember: that figure doesn’t even include the coffees you may purchase during your lunch breaks or on weekends.

The solution: Purchase a travel mug, make your coffee at home and consider fancying up that cup of joe by adding vanilla or cinnamon. If you absolutely must have that store-bought coffee, buy yourself a coffee card and stick to an allowance of $25 per month.

Keep these simple tips for safe online shopping in mind.

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Eating salad for lunch at restaurantPhoto: Shutterstock

Going out for lunch at work

If you eat out for lunch twice a week, it will likely cost you anywhere between $30-$50 per week. If you add this up over the year, it can cost you anywhere from $1,500-$2,600. Yikes!

The solution: Pack your lunch to work and treat yourself monthly to a lunch out with the team. You can even try giving your family and yourself a cash allowance for eating out every month. Once the cash has been used up, it’s dinners at home until next month.

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Grocery shopping ingredientsPhoto: Shutterstock

Disregarding a weekly meal plan

We’ve all been there: you’re at the supermarket with your grocery list in hand and think to yourself, “Wait, do I already have this item in my pantry?” You purchase the product anyway, and lo and behold, it was sitting in your kitchen the entire time.

The solution: Create a weekly or bi-weekly meal plan after checking your freezer, pantry and fridge for items you might already have. Apps like Flipp also allow you to shop the flyers, compare prices and price match. And of course, only buy what’s on your list.

Frugal shoppers use these tips to save big on groceries.

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Outdoor air conditioning unitPhoto: Shutterstock

Overusing utilities

The solutions:

  • Use appliances on off-peak times
  • Make sure your doors and windows are properly sealed
  • Get a programmable thermostat
  • Consider equal payment plans to make budgeting easier
  • Cancelling your cable or landline if you’re streaming content or only using your smartphone
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Two women resting after a shopping spreePhoto: Shutterstock

Shopping without thinking

Impulse spending can wreak havoc on both your budget and your emotions—those “good vibes” from your purchase very quickly turn to feelings of guilt and shame.

The solution: Figure out what triggers you using the TEMPO acronym—T: time; E: environment; M: mood; P: place; O: occasion—and find alternatives to spending money. In the meantime, consider leaving your credit and debit cards at home when you’re out and give yourself a guilt-free allowance.

Want to regain control of your spending habits—and your emotional well-being? Put these mindful shopping tips into practice.

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Birthday party for adultsPhoto: Shutterstock

Throwing big birthday parties

The solution: Have simpler parties, implement a “no gifts” policy or set a limit on the amount of money spent on presents (the latter is a great way to teach your children about budgeting early on).

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Red roses for Valentine's DayPhoto: Shutterstock

Buying gifts for every special occasion and holiday

You may want to have an enjoyable Valentine’s Day, but your monthly credit card statement can take the shine out of any special occasion.

The solution: Find out what occasions are most important to you and your family, and scope out a budget that works. Once you know your budget, divide that amount by the number of paydays you have and transfer that amount every payday to a savings account.

These are the 14 things you should be buying at thrift stores.

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Repairing car batteryPhoto: Shutterstock

Not putting money away for irregular expenditures

Car repairs, dentist appointments, haircuts, work clothes—it’s easy to forget about these expenditures, which means they’re an easy excuse to use your credit card.

The solution: Add up all of the irregular and seasonal expenses that you experience in a year. If you’re not sure, download an interactive budgeting tool at My Money Coach. Once you have your annual total, divide by the number of paydays you have in a year and every payday, transfer that set amount into a specific savings account for these items.

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Happy family on vacationPhoto: Shutterstock

Taking more than one vacation

Vacations are a wonderful way to recharge your batteries, spend time with your family and discover new places, people, and cultures. There’s a time and place to use your credit, but unfortunately, vacations don’t count.

The solution: Set out a SMART goal—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed—and put money aside every payday in order to achieve your vacation goal.

Here are tips on how to plan a summer vacation that’s well within your budget.

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Young couple downsizingPhoto: Shutterstock

Our home

Home ownership is part of the Canadian Dream, but the cost of furnishing and running one might not align with your current financial reality. If your home is simply too expensive for you to maintain, you may need to make a different decision.

The solutions: 

  • Create a realistic budget
  • Look for ways to increase your income (e.g. part-time work, tenant or a roommate)
  • Decrease your expenses
  • Downsize into more affordable accommodations

Want to buy less? Follow these simple steps to building a more sustainable life.