By Andrew Housser
Many Americans have resolved to tighten their belts -- and budgets -- in the new year. Yet many are guilty of letting money go to waste in one small form or another. Over time, these seemingly inconsequential transactions can add up to a big drain on the bank account. Here, a list of eight money wasters offer a chance to keep more of your money in the bank.
1. Restaurant meals
More than 75 percent of Americans eat out at least once a week. In a year's time, spending $60 a week on dining out could amount to more than $3,000. Eating at home is not just less expensive -- it also is healthier. Restaurant servings are often oversized and loaded with extras like fat and sodium. When you do dine out, save money by skipping overpriced soda and costly alcoholic beverages, and use coupons when you can.
2. Brand-name products
Store-brand groceries can cost at least 10 percent less than brand names. That means a family who spends $500 a month on name-brand groceries could save $50 every month. Those savings total $600 a year, or enough to buy an extra month's worth of groceries and have $100 left over. Most store-brand products come with a money-back guarantee, so you can return them to the store if you do not like the taste or quality.
3. Bottled water
Bottled water can sell for up to 1,000 times the price of tap water. But studies show the bottled beverage is not any safer or healthier to drink than what flows from the kitchen faucet. Besides, those plastic bottles are bad for the environment. Buy reusable bottles instead and fill them from the sink when you get thirsty. If you really do not like the taste of your tap water, use a pitcher with a filter, or install a faucet filter.
The average American worker spends $14.40 a week (or almost $750 a year) at coffee shops. And this does not include the costs for coffee consumed at home. With so many one-cup coffee makers on the market now, it is now easier than ever to brew your own cup of coffee at home. It's also possible to save on coffee from these machines by using your own grounds in a reusable cup instead of disposable singles. As a bonus, if you take it with you in a to-go cup, you also will save on the gas money that you would normally spend driving to the coffee shop.
Consumers spend more than $16 billion on extended warranties every year. But the odds of needing a protection plan are slim. Warranties make the most sense for high-priced items like a washer and dryer or a plasma television. With technological advancements, it is highly likely that the computerized devices that you purchase today will be obsolete by the time you need the warranty. Instead, set aside what you might have spent in a savings account to cover emergencies, like appliance repairs down the road.
6. Lottery tickets
On average, Americans shell out up to $1,040 a year on lottery tickets. Very few become rich. In fact, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than of winning a major lottery jackpot. If you are one of those who purchases tickets, stash that money in a safe retirement fund instead.
7. Premium gasoline
Auto experts say that even many high-end, luxury cars can run well without the high-octane gas. If your owner's manual says "premium recommended," you are OK switching to regular. If it says "premium required," however, go with the high-octane gas. And while you are looking at the manual, confirm how frequently your vehicle requires an oil change. Most vehicles can now go 5,000 to 7,000 miles between changes.
8. Daily Internet deals
Consumers spent $3.6 billion last year on daily deal sites (such as Groupon). But an estimated 20 percent of those purchases will go unused. The countdown factor of these deals -- Limited number available! Only two days left! -- can lead to impulse buying. Make sure you only purchase deals for places that you frequent on a regular basis.
If you take a good look at your spending habits and recent purchases, you will likely see other ways that money is leaking from your wallet. Start by making a few minor changes. You will be surprised at how quickly the savings add up.
Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.