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Top 10 Things Americans Wasted Money on in 2016

We had quite a year in 2016. The Rio Olympics came and went. Leo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar. And, oh yeah, that election.

One other thing, though—we probably spent a little too much money.

Some of the ways it happened were small—others, not so much. No matter how it occurs, it’s important to know where we collectively spend so we can make the tweaks to fix it. Here are 10 big ways Americans spent money this year.

1. Student loans.

Students who graduated in 2019 had an average of $36,900 of student loan debt.1 Don’t take the buy-now-pay-later approach to schooling. Go to a university you can afford, apply for scholarships, and work throughout the year. Is it tough to graduate debt-free? Sure. But give it the ole college try.

2. Smartphone apps.

We love our games. Americans spent more than $20 billion on apps in 2015.2 That’s more than double the amount spent in 2013. What about 2016? Well, the numbers aren’t in yet, but you can be pretty certain we downloaded and spent more on apps than ever before.

3. Gym memberships.

Tons of people buy health club memberships in time for January 1—but by that month’s end, the treadmills are empty. With the average membership costing $58 a month, that’s a big expense with small results if you rarely go.3 Cancel your unused gym membership and its automatic draft. Then when the urge to get in shape hits, take a jog around the block or do some push-ups.

4. Daily coffee trips.

Back before coffee shops started popping up on every street corner, people brewed it themselves. We as a culture seem to have gotten away from that. You don’t need the caffeine to get your heart thumping—just take a look at how much money you dish out for that sugary concoction over a month or two.

5. Car payments.

Experian reports that the average car payment is $554 a month!4 If you’re paying on your car, you’re paying too much. Sell the vehicle and buy something used with cash. Then you can save that $554 a month, upgrade to a $6,000 vehicle in one year, and be well on your way to driving cash-only cars for life.

6. Car leases.

Let’s stick with cars for a minute. The average car lease payment in 2019 was $461 a month.5 Most auto companies make more money when you lease the vehicle than if you just buy it outright. They charge super high interest rates and structure the deal so you pay more for the car than it depreciates. The result is a sweet profit for them. For you, it’s the most expensive way to operate a vehicle. Steer clear of this setup.

7. Car wash upgrades.

Don’t worry about getting the foam wax, clear coat sealant, protective coating, wheel rocker, rust inhibitor, undercarriage flush, or whatever other add-ons are offered at the drive-thru car wash. With all those "upgrades," it’s like getting one wash for the price of three. Save those few extra dollars for something else, like fuzzy dice or one of those little tree-shaped car fresheners.

8. Lottery tickets.

For every 259 million people who play the Mega Millions lottery, one will strike it rich. Don’t like those odds? Neither do we. How about these: If you invest $100 a month in a good retirement plan for 40 years, you’ll almost always retire a millionaire. See, boring can be fun.

9. Timeshares.

The average cost of a timeshare is around $16,000, according to MarketWatch.6 Between that price, the maintenance fees, and the fact that timeshares are dang near impossible to sell, the stress will suck the joy out of your getaway. Get a simple hotel room at the beach instead.

10. Shipping charges.

Don’t be so desperate for that pair of boots or the new tablet that you pay extra to have your online order shipped overnight. Wait four to 14 days. We’re pretty sure the boots will still fit when they arrive.

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Avoid the traps and manage your money the right way with Financial Peace University

There’s nothing wrong with buying stuff you can afford. The trouble comes when you spend too much because you aren’t paying attention. Keep an eye on your spending now and you’ll keep more of your money later.

Financial Peace University will guide you through spending wisely and saving consistently into the future! Classes are starting near you throughout January. Find a class in your area right now!

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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