Some Un-Sexy Money Stats (and Leaks)…

Happy Friday y’all! I was paging through a recent article in Money Magazine yesterday (one of my favorite still-in-print mags, btw), and thought you might find parts of it interesting too. You know, ‘cuz we’re money nerds like that.

The article was on plugging 35 of your “money leaks” this year, an analogy I love to use myself!, but for the most part I didn’t find anything that new (or useful) in there. Unless you happen to spend $400+ a year on dog grooming or have been paying $1,000+ a year on a storage unit you haven’t used in five years (really??). But the parts I DID like in it were the sidebars of different financials factoids scattered among the “tips.” Those always fascinate me way more than your cookie cutter advice anyways.

Here were a handful of them:

  • 22% of adults don’t have a good idea how much they spend on housing, food, and entertainment
  • $120 – The amount you’d save annually by switching 20 regular light bulbs with Energy Star bulbs
  • 73% – The amount of data plan that goes unused by average smartphone owner
  • $7 Billion – The amount Americans pay in bank fees every year
  • 76% – The percent of supermarket purchasing decisions made in the store
  • $800 – How much more people spend online a year who use lots of coupons vs. a few
  • 29% of workers don’t take full advantage of their employer’s 401(k) match (!!!)
  • 19% of people say they never, or only sometimes, turn off the lights when leaving a room
  • $2 Billion – The value of gift cards that went unspent in 2011

Some of these are more scarier than others, eh? Here’s where I fall in the mix:

  • Spending ideas: I do have these!! Though I need to revisit everything to see what the updated amounts are now that I’ve been self-employed and brought that baby into the world… Admittedly I haven’t stayed on top of this as much a I should (you’ll see a post on this shortly :)).
  • Light bubs: We’ve swapped out a handful of these already, but for some reason they STILL burn out just as fast, if not faster?, than the old school ones? I don’t know if it’s our sockets or the bulbs themselves, but because of this we haven’t been too diligent about upgrading all of them.
  • Data plan: I use every last bit of ours – and sometimes over ;)
  • Bank fees: I would REALLY like to know where all these people are hiding?? I don’t doubt that we all waste that much in a given year, but I  have yet to meet someone who racks a lot up outside your typical mistake here and there… Or maybe I’m just too used to talking with you all who are more savvy than the typical person?
  • Supermarket purchases: Haha… oh yeah. I fall for this ALL the time – especially when I’m hungry! ;) Which is a good time for my yearly reminder: DON’T GO GROCERY SHOPPING WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY. Or drunk, for that matter.
  • Coupons: Well that’s kinda weird… I always figured you’d save more in the end using coupons than spend more – but maybe those stats are skewed cuz those people just spend more *online* vs *in store* but at the end of the day are still saving more?? Either way I *always* check for online coupons when making purchases just ‘cuz it takes like only a second and has saved me up to $100 at times!! A great return on investment ;)
  • 401(k) match: This one always drives me bonkers!!! I can’t for the life of me understand why people would leave all that *free* money just laying on the table like that? Yes you get less in your paycheck every two weeks, but that money usually DOUBLES UP when you’re getting those matches right from the get go! It’s the easiest way to grow your investments for doing nothing other than checking off a box or calling your HR department to up your %. If you’re not maxing out your 401(k) contributions right now, I HIGHLY suggest changing that… Okay, end of rant ;)
  • Turning off lights: This one I def. need to work on :( I’m a lot better than I used to be, but now it matters even more since we have multiple levels and a good 10x more lightbulbs to forget having moved from a 1 bedroom to a house. If we leave a light on in the basement, for example, it could stay that way for days until we go back down there!
  • Gift cards: Yeah, that’s always a shame… We have a few we still need to spend too – one from 2 years ago even – but it’s more of a “waiting for the right time” to use over forgetting or misplacing it. For example we had a Crate & Barrel card given to us on our wedding over 4 years ago, but since we never shop there OR have one around our area, it took us awhile to use it. But when we did, it was awesome :) In fact, we used it to pay for our own wedding gift to someone else! Haha…You can always Google for sites that will allow you to trade them or cash ’em in too which is pretty cool, as long as you’re willing to make the effort.

So that’s how I roll anyways… Always fun to hear the newest stats out there and then compare ’em to your own doings :) Every now and then you get lucky and stumble across something that gets you to stop and take action too!

Any of these strike a chord with you?

PS: Here’s that article again if you want to check it out: 35 Money Leaks and How to Plug Them

[Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography. Edited by J$]

(Visited 2 times, 1 visits today)

Get blog posts automatically emailed to you!


  1. Brian January 4, 2013 at 7:18 AM

    Is that gift card stat just in US? That is crazy! I wonder how many were cards with under $1 and just tossed.

    Another great article. Thanks for the Friday read.

  2. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies January 4, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    $7B in bank fees works out to what, $20/person? Hmmm…. depending how it’s counted, we might come close to that. Our credit union reimburses all of our ATM fees, so we typically “pay” about $4-5 each month in ATM fees, but then are reimbursed for them on our next statement credit.

    Hopefully that’s a lot of where the $7B is coming from =)

  3. Jen@WanderOneDay January 4, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    My mom was that bank fee person. She had store credit cards racking up interest and late payment fees, checks that would bounce all the time – I think she bounced 4 checks in one day once. I actually got myself a scholarship to high school because of it! I had the chance to interview for a scholarship and in the interview, I talked all about how I had to help my mom get back on financial track by hiding her credit cards, reminding her about payments, etc – I was only 13!

    I’m glad I learned from her mistakes – credit cards can be fruitful if you are smart about it. I just saved over 1700 on two round trip flights to Europe for my mom and myself because of credit card signup bonuses. No spending that I wouldn’t have done already (gas, groceries, christmas presents, etc), paid the card off when it came due every month, and only 206.20 out of pocket for the flights – total :)

  4. Joe @ Retire By 40 January 4, 2013 at 9:30 AM

    I’ll have to take a look at the article when I go to the library.
    Turning off the light – we used to be pretty good at this, but now Baby RB40 insist on turning all the lights on. He’ll throw a tantrum if I turn off the light in his room even if he’s not there. uh uh gotta go

  5. RichUncle EL January 4, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    Hey J.

    I used to work at a bank and yes there are those people who pay a lot in bank fees. They call twice a week to try and reverse fees. My manager used to reverse one and warn them to stop over drafting, but then they would call again the following week. The light bulb situation is tricky because energy efficient bulbs cost double maybe triple the standard bulb. So I question am I really saving money? When a bulb goes out, I swap it for a energy star bulbs.

  6. Liquid January 4, 2013 at 9:57 AM

    I need to get my bank fees lower. It’s hard to find a good institution in my area that lets you open free business accounts though. The coupon fact is a bit of a surprise to me :D I don’t use a lot of coupons so I’m not too familiar with this space, but I guess the study is showing the more coupons people use the more money they’re spending. Kind of like the more cash back or reward points people earn the bigger their credit card balances every month. I kind of see how that makes sense. Happy Friday to you as well.

  7. jennydecki January 4, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Coupons make me think of when people say, “I saved $75!” instead of telling you how much they spent. When you think in terms of how much you saved, how much you actually spend takes a backseat. Not you in particular, of course…I have to get my pronouns under contol.

  8. Serena @ Thrift Diving January 4, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    Oh, I would sooooo agree with the coupons thing! Lots of grocery store coupons, for example, require you to “Buy 2.” Better yet, the damn Pringles coupons always say, “Save $1.00 when you buy 4!” Um….why do I have to buy 4? That means I just spent $7.00 or 8.00 when I really only wanted to buy ONE can for $2.00. lol. Same thing must happen online, too.

    Thrift Diving

    1. Joel January 17, 2013 at 1:11 PM

      What’s funny is that at the grocery stores I shop at advertise these same specials, but if I only buy one I still get the good price. Note that these are grocery store promos, not actual coupons though.

  9. Agatha January 4, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Ahhhhhh the light bulbs! I’m such an eco-geek but am guilty of still using regular bulbs. I must change them – thanks for the reminder :)

  10. Grayson @ Debt Roundup January 4, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    That is a crazy number of statistics. I always use my gift cards and don’t pay bank fees. It makes you wonder what these people are doing.

  11. Holly@ClubThrifty January 4, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    I wish that people would send me some of those unused gift cards! That is insane.

  12. Rod J Rogers January 4, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    Bank fees? Coupons? A people still that out of touch with financial reality? There is a lot of work to be done!

  13. SavvyFinancialLatina January 4, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    I think my coupons do make me spend more! It’s crazy. I always get coupons from ULTA, and I justify my spending with I got a great deal on it!
    I don’t buy too many cosmetics though thankfully. However, I do have to say being a girl is expensive. My hair mousse along is like $17 bucks. Conditioner is more expensive.

  14. Chris January 4, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    The overdraft fees are what keep the credit union I work at in the black each month. You’d be freaking surprised and saddened to see people overdraft once and get a -$25 hit. THEN DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN THE SAME DAY! Some people are paying $200+ monthly in overdraft fees alone. I guess giving these people debit cards are what propagates this formula. I think the light bulb thing is a scam. Energy star isn’t anything more than an industrial stamp. I get the cheap bulbs and they last just as long as the expensive ones.

  15. Mike @ financialmemos January 4, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    I am not surprised with the percentage of people that don’t keep track of what they are spending for food etc. I actually expected that it would be higher.

    The 401K statistic though is quite weird. As you say, it’s hard to understand why people do that. It’s free money and there is a tax incentive too…

  16. J. Money January 4, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    Nice to see y’all liked this one today! Some good things to consider while we jump into the weekend here… The most expensive days of the week I feel like :)

    @Brian – Glad you approve :) I think it is a stat only for the US too – imagine if it were world wide??

    @Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies – Huh, that’s an interesting take on it actually. I probabably spend $10-$15 a month too on reimbursable atm fees (through USAA), so that can most definitely skew the stats… Maybe we need it to be super high though to wake up all the slackers out there?? :)

    @Jen@WanderOneDay – NICE!!! I love it that you were only 13 and had it all figured out, haha… that is dope :) If you ever want to blog about it one day maybe, lemme know! Might be a cool guest post, yeah? Your mom’s lucky to have you :)

    @Joe @ Retire By 40 – Haha… that is one damn good exception to the rule, my friend – I know how frustrating screaming kids can be!

    @Lance at Money Life and More – I know :( Hurts my heart.

    @RichUncle EL – I don’t get why people do that?? I mean, if you don’t have the money you don’t have the money and I can see being in tough spots like that – we all were at one point – but to keep trying to “beat the system” like that? Knowing you’re just going to do it all over again? It would frustrate me as a bank manager too… Though on the other hand, I do give credit to people who DO call because in the end they do save a ton more than those who don’t. I just wish they’d figure out a way to avoid it all if possible.

    @Liquid – I struggle with a *good* business banking account too, though Capital One (formerly Chevy Chase Bank) has been pretty good to me so far over the years… No fees for having the account, but also no real perks either. I heard through the grapevine that USAA may be finally going down this route, and the second that happens I’ll be all on it!

    @jennydecki – Haha… I agree with you. Especially when the words Groupon and similar are in the mix ;) Yes, you saved $100, but you just spent $300 to get it! I’ve been saying that for years… The only exceptions being if you were *already* going to buy something anyways, in wich case it’s totally flipped and you become a total Savings Pimp!

    @Serena @ Thrift Diving – Yup! Unless you were going to buy 1 pack of them every week anyways for the month, in which case you just saved some good $$ :)

    @Agatha – Thanks for being so wonderful! I hope this doesn’t come off the wrong way, but every time I see your face pop up in any of my streams I immediately smile :) No matter what you say… for all I know you’re telling me to F off and I don’t even notice! Haha…

    @Grayson @ Debt Roundup – Not reading our blogs, I guess ;)

    @Holly@ClubThrifty – That would be cool! Maybe you should start a new site: :)

    @Rod J Rogers – It’ll always keep us employed, that’s for sure! :)

    @SavvyFinancialLatina – Haha, agreed… unless you’re a guy with a mohawk :) Though I don’t wear make-up, fortunately for me.

    @Chris – That does make me sad :( Especially since $200 for THEM a month can go soooo much farther than $200 for any of us who are more financially secure. Def. an unfortunate thing to see.

    @Mike @ financialmemos – Yeah, me too actually. Though I wonder if most people *think* they know what their budgets are, but in reality don’t. Which would certainly skew the numbers more. Btw, love your blog name! made me want to click over right away :)

  17. John S @ Frugal Rules January 4, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Those are some crazy numbers! Nothing really new, per se, but always makes me shake my head when I see some of them. The 401k thing still stupefies me. It’s free money! Yea, it lowers what you take home, but it also lowers your taxable amount as well. Added to that the importance of thinking beyond tomorrow in regards to finances.

  18. Ross January 4, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    I’m guessing you are replacing standard incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, right? This is certainly a great energy saver, but it’s worrying that the bulbs don’t last longer. CFL’s should last about 8X longer. Early burn-out could be caused by a number of issues, but I’d suggest you try out an LED. LED’s are more durable in almost every respect, they use less energy, and they last 20X longer than incandescent bulbs.

    Let’s say you use your 60W incandescent lamps 4 hrs/day. If you buy a $15 LED 60W equivalent replacement, the electrical savings will pay for the bulb in just under 2 years (50% ROI). Let me know if your interested and I can recommend some bulbs based on what you have in your house.

  19. Anne @ Unique Gifter January 4, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    I sure do love me some drunk shopping. I get fantastic food if I ever go drunk shopping, now. When I was in school, I would most frequently grocery shop under the influence, as the 24 hour grocery store was on the walk home from the bar so it was always convenient :-) Thankfully I was pretty darn broke then so never really got anything crazy.

  20. Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget January 4, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    Stats like these are why my husband and I love Money Magazine (esp. my husband)… it actually has substantive content. Our subscription didn’t show up for like two months and my husband was freaking out, haha.

    And I’m actually pretty impressed that over 70% of people DO take full advantage of the 401k match! That’s a good percentage of people who have given *some* thought to their financial future… there is hope for humanity!! :)

  21. Financial Black Sheep January 4, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    Spending: I know exactly what gets spent where, except I forget to figure out how much gas my hubby spends. He uses a gift card that he refills, because he gets a $0.10 discount on already cheap gas.
    Light bubs: I have had CFL since I first moved into my home 7 years ago. I am trying out more led’s though, which are pretty nice.
    Data plan: I use a very inexpensive phone service which is approximately $8 per month for each phone (only have two). I use wifi more.
    Bank fees: Heck no. My bank has almost no fees, although I almost made a mistake yesterday. I paid with the checking account I only use when I transfer money to it. I wasn’t thinking with all the back-up pipe mess. Thank goodness the plumbers took the correct info over the phone.
    Supermarket purchases: I don’t see how people buy things when they are drunk. Hungry yes, drunk no. I made it easier now that I have a debt payoff plan coming up quick. Make a list of must haves, ignore everything else, have only me or my husband go shopping. (We spend more when we are together.)
    Coupons: I always check for online coupons too, but I probably spend less. I get gift cards for Amazon from a survey thing I do and normally don’t shop online except maybe eBay occasionally.
    401(k) match: I can understand the frustration! I found out the people my hubby works directly do not have a 401k at all. They don’t get a match any more, but still they never even had a 401k at all!
    Turning off lights: I always turn them off. I found an article explaining that a CFL barely takes electricity to turn on and off. It’s enough power to compare it to only a few seconds of regular running time, so turn them off…
    Gift cards: I always use the ones I can for groceries, gas, or whatever then transfer the money to savings. That takes care of that right away. Everything else I sell online.

    I love Money Magazine, but alas my discount magazine subscription service doesn’t have that one. Maybe after I am out of debt I will get it :D

  22. Manette @ Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance January 4, 2013 at 5:49 PM

    I must admit that I felt sad when I saw the amount of money wasted over the year. Despite the economic crisis, people have not learned how to save for the rainy days and spend wisely.

  23. Edward Antrobus January 4, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    I think where people get in trouble with coupons is using them to buy something they wouldn’t have gotten without the coupon. “Hey, look! I can save $.75 off this $4 pre-made lunch!”

  24. Punky Coletta January 4, 2013 at 11:06 PM

    I so need to get better at the lights thing and the supermarket thing. One thing I am super proud of hubby and I for is knowing what we spend on housing, food, and entertainment. Last year, I read ‘Your Money or Your Life,’ and the biggest thing I took away from that book was tracking everything, no matter what (even if I feel bad about spending money on something and don’t want to write it down because that means I would have to look at proof I spent it – the author repeated this phrase, telling readers, ‘no shame, no blame’ when tracking to relieve guilt and focus on tracking as a personal educational tool. I say that phrase a lot in my head now).

  25. Kin January 5, 2013 at 5:26 AM

    It always amazes me how much wastefulness go unobserved and unmitigated, be it in energy usage or simply being unaware of banke fees. I think the bottom line is, we should have a better grasp of what are our “resources” and learn to how to use them efficiently.

    Personal finance wise, people should always have a ball-park idea of what and where they monthly spendings are going… This is before making any kind of sexy budget :)

  26. Cat January 5, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    $2 Billion – The value of gift cards that went unspent in 2011

    WOW! Send those gift cards to me! hahaha. I’d use them that’s for sure.

    And coupons are really tricky. I think they change your mind set. Almost like ebay does for me. For instance I sold 2 things on ebay yet some how I find myself looking for things to buy. Am I buying they because they are a good deal and I would have bought them anyway? Or because I am on ebay already? or because I feel awesome because I just made 10 bucks?

    … I have got to work on that…

  27. Michelle January 5, 2013 at 5:03 PM

    This post is so on point! When I look at all the leaks in my budget it’s eye opening-and really frustrating. I have found unused gift cards, noticed a large number of fees (not overdraft) just bullsh$t fees from the bank, book fines from the library. The list goes on. I had to think about the online coupon thing. And now realize that if I hadn’t received coupons maybe I wouldn’t have purchased the last outfit that I bought online. Huh.

  28. debtgirl January 5, 2013 at 9:21 PM

    Those are interesting stats. I can believe the gift card stat. I use em up to the end, but lots of people toss them with the reciept when they get down to the last buck or sol Hey, I will send ya a stamp, send’em to me! ;-)

  29. JD Maybe January 6, 2013 at 1:13 AM

    Still @ it? wow! It’s been too long! I have some catching up to do! Thanks for still providing entertaining, relevant, and important info for those of us on a budget!

  30. Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle January 6, 2013 at 8:33 PM

    I believe the unused gift card statistic. I will never give my sons a gift card again. They just seem to stress the seams of their wallets and never get used.

    There is a cash machine at the Costco I shop at. A friend shopping with me used it and was charged a $3.00 bank connection fee or some other absurd justification for the fee. Now, whenever I am at Costco, there is always someone using the machine. Seems very wasteful and I think it is safe to assume that a lot of machines in gas stations and other stores charge a similiar fee.

  31. Sharleen January 6, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    I am guilty of the giftcard one, but good on all others, I live in Australia and here it illegal to sell standard light bulbs so everyone has no choice but to buy energy efficient ones.
    I am fairly good with turning things off but I have an energy meter in my house that tells me how much electricity I am using at any given moment, and avarages for day, month etc, It motivates me to aim for 4cents per an hour when it’s not hot (when hot I run the house at $1 an hour (got the energy meter from the government as they were offering lots of energy saving things for $50).

  32. Rebecca January 7, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    I always have partially-spent gift cards around. It’s illegal for them to expire in Canada. So if I have any money at all left on a card, I keep it until the next time I spend at that store. Once, I only got 26 cents off a gift card and paid the rest in cash — but it was 26 cents!

    Sometimes it takes a really long for me to get back to the store. Sometimes it does take a year or two for me to spend an entire gift card. But eventually, they all get used.

  33. J. Money January 8, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    @John S @ Frugal Rules – Yep. It’s insane that people don’t take advantage of that.

    @Ross – Oh cool, thanks man! We haven’t tried LEDs yet but I’ll give it a shot :) And then if those burn out we’ll know that it’s something jacked up with our electrical or something – it would have to be? :(

    @Anne @ Unique Gifter – HAH! Awesome. I love you for that :)

    @Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget – Haha… I’d freak out after 2 months too! That’s crazy talk right there ;)

    @Financial Black Sheep – You can probably just read it online too if you prefer – I know a lot of people do (I don’t though cuz I like holding real-life things in my hand! Esp since I don’t have to stare at another screen for more hours on end).

    @Manette @ Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance – It will always be that way too :(

    @Edward Antrobus – For sure. Coupons are not always sexy!

    @Punky Coletta – First, I love your name :) Second, I still need to read that book!! I’ve had a copy of it for years now but keep forgetting to place it on my nightstand to remind me! So thanks – gonna go find it and drop it off there so I can start picking it up again :) Glad you got so much out of it!

    @Kin – Exactly. You can’t make a budget on numbers you don’t know about!

    @Cat – Haha def. tricky :) Same thing happens to me but on Amazon.

    @Michelle – Well it’s awesome you at least USE your library! I always forget about those places :( So I’m sure you’ve saved plenty over the years to make up for your fees, haha… keep it up!

    @debtgirl – That’s a GREAT idea for a new site btw ;) “!” Haha…

    @JD Maybe – Hi friend!!! Always be hustlin’, right? :) Hope things are well in your hood too – it’s def. been a while.

    @Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle – I’m sure of it. And people will ALWAYS use them too as they’re just so convenient.

    @Sharleen – Nice!! I love it that they’re illegal in Australia! I bet it’ll get that way here too shortly, if it’s not already on the books. Cool you’re reading this from Australia too :)

    @Rebecca – Sweet!! We need to follow in your country’s footsteps :) In many ways…