Don't waste your money on these 23 things
Reader's Digest US|April 2021
Avoiding unforced spending errors will let you save for the stuff you really want
By Jody L. Rohlena and Amanda Walker

It’s easy to get into a spending rut, buying the same stuff you’ve always bought out of habit or just because your mom always had that kind of soup in her pantry.

But sometimes the same old, same old can cost you, whether we’re talking everyday purchases, monthly bills, or occasional big-ticket items. In many cases, making a simple swap can save you money, time, and even headaches. We checked with experts in more than a dozen fields to find out what you should stop wasting your money on— and what to spend it on instead.

RUNAWAY AC AND HEAT

According to energystar.gov, a typical U.S. household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills, with nearly half going to heating and air conditioning.

“A programmable thermostat can save you 10 percent a year on your cooling and heating bills,” says Mary Farrell, senior editor at Consumer Reports. Set your thermostat seven to ten degrees higher on warmer days and the same amount lower on chilly days and see whether the money you save doesn’t feel better than being slightly warmer or cooler than you’re used to. Even easier, make these adjustments when you plan to be out of the house.

SUPERMARKET FLOWERS

They might look pretty, but resist the temptation to buy bouquets kept in buckets of water near the produce. Some fruits and vegetables give off ethylene gas, which can shorten flowers’ lives, says Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful. “Instead of lasting a couple of weeks,vector art throughout the story: getty Images (3) unrefrigerated flowers near the produce section are only likely to last a few days,” she says. If you want flowers that will stay fresh longer, buy blooms that have been kept in a refrigerator. Skip gerbera daisies, hydrangeas, dahlias, gardenias, and sweet peas, which will probably start wilting within five days. Instead, choose Oriental or Asiatic lilies, chrysanthemums, garden roses, gladiolas, or sunflowers.

FANCY SHEETS

A high thread count—and the accompanying high price tag—doesn’t necessarily mean the softest or best sleeping sheets. According to the product-testing group Wirecutter, sheets with thread counts in the 200 to 300 range should be plenty soft and durable. Its top pick for bargain-priced sheets is Target’s Threshold line, which costs $50 for a queen set— far less than the hundreds or even thousands of dollars you can pay for premium bed linens.

LARGE RUGS

A lot of work goes into weaving good-quality handmade rugs, and the price can skyrocket when you go up in size. For example, a four-by-seven-foot Turkish rug might be $300, while an eight-by-ten version could cost $2,000. To save money but get the look, Rebecca Hawkins, president and head buyer for furniture retailer Celadon Home, suggests trying a decorator’s technique called layering. Buy a large rug in an inexpensive material such as sisal, jute, or seagrass for around $200. Then place a smaller, more expensive rug on top, like that four-by-seven Turkish model. Result: You’ve spent $500 instead of $2,000. “Designers and home stagers use this a lot to save a bundle,” Hawkins says.

Layering will get you a premium-priced look for less.

A NEW STICKER-PRICE CAR

You should get a good discount on a new car without having to rely solely on your negotiating skills. One secret is timing: Watch for low- or zero-percent interest on loans, cash-back offers, and special lease terms. “Cash-back offers can even be as high as $10,000,” says Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights at the automotive research site edmunds.com. “Every month, there are new incentives available from every automaker,” he says. “It’s pretty rare that someone looking for a car has no incentives available.” You can check current rebates by make and model at edmunds.com, jdpower.com, and nadaguides.com.

The best time to buy a new car is at the end of the model year (usually August or September) or at the end of the calendar year. The regular deals didn’t happen in 2020 because of the pandemic and the resulting auto shortages, but generally, “buying at the end of the month does yield a bit better deal,” says Drury. The reason: Many dealerships receive monthly volume bonuses, meaning they get additional money back from the automaker if they sell a certain number of vehicles in a month. You probably won’t get a giant discount, but you can likely get another $200 or so knocked off the sticker price.

Don’t be lured by a holiday sale at the beginning or middle of the month, says Drury. “Those holiday deals are usually the incentives you can get all month, so it still makes sense to wait until the end of the month to save a bit more.”

TRAVEL REWARDS CARDS

If you’ve historically put all of your charges on a credit card that pays you in travel rewards, you might want to use another card right now, while you are probably traveling less or not at all, says Loretta Nolan, a financial planner in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. If you pay an annual fee for that card, call to see if the company will waive it, or consider canceling the card.

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