It's not easy to keep track of where your money is going each month (though a budget is a great place to start). Still, if you want to regain any sort of financial freedom and start saving for future goals — remember retirement? — you'll need to stop blowing through your paycheck.
We've rounded up 10 sneaky ways your money is leaving you before you even have a chance to use it. Read on to see how you can keep more of your paycheck for yourself next month.
1. Bank Fees
Many banks charge a monthly or yearly “maintenance fee” that can cost you upwards of $25 per month, or $300 per year. Read the fine print associated with your bank account and find out if there are ways you can avoid a maintenance fee. If you can’t, switch to an account without one.
Other bank fees can also add up fast. The average overdraft fee will run you about $30, according to a Moebs Services report — if you overdraw at least once a month, you’re paying $360 a year just in penalty charges. Other sneaky bank fees to watch out for include ATM fees, withdrawal penalties and minimum balance fees.
2. Recurring Payments for Services You’re Not Using
Netflix ($7.99 a month), Hulu Plus ($7.99 a month), Spotify ($9.99 a month) and other recurring monthly services allow you to watch movies and shows, listen to music, and indulge in other media for a lower rate than cable (which can run you over $100 a month) — even combined. Still, if you aren’t taking advantage of these services, you aren’t getting your money’s worth.
Services like Pandora, YouTube and the basic version of Hulu allow you to watch and listen for free. Cut these monthly recurring payments in favor of cheap or free alternatives and reroute the money to your savings account.
3. Outstanding Credit Card Balances
If you maintain a balance on your credit card, you’re signing away a portion of your paycheck before you even get paid. The average interest for credit cards is hovering around a whopping 15%, which means you're paying $15 for every $100 that isn’t paid off at the end of each billing cycle. These fees can drain your paycheck extremely fast, especially if you're maintaining a high balance.
You’ll owe a mandatory minimum payment every month your credit card has a balance. The minimum allows you to pay interest and a portion of the principal so you can eventually get out of debt — but the fastest way to stop paying any interest each month is to pay off your balance in full.
4. Car Payments
Last year, new cars averaged a price of $31,831, according to TrueCar. That means, depending on your interest rate and loan term, you could end up shelling out $500 or more a month in car payments — a huge chunk of your paycheck.
Used cars, on the other hand, only averaged $16,335, cutting your monthly payment almost in half. If you have a high-interest rate auto loan, you can also try to refinance for a lower interest rate or trade your car in for a cheaper model.
5. Student Loans
Student loans can vary widely depending on where you went to school, how many loans you took out and what kind of interest rates you got — but they can easily be a huge drain on your income. The average student graduates college today with more than $30,000 in student loans, according to a report by Edvisors.
One way to reduce the amount of interest you pay is to consolidate your loans into one single payment with a lower interest rate. You can also negotiate a payment plan with your lender if you're unable to meet the minimum monthly payments — but be careful that you don't harm your credit score in the process.
6. Gym Memberships
Gyms, spas, shopping clubs and other monthly memberships are great for health, socializing and buying in bulk — but they can be awful for your budget, adding up to hundreds a month. If you aren’t using your memberships as often as you’d like, it might be time to cancel that monthly payment and find a cheaper (or free) alternative.
Gyms and spas are highly competitive, which means you can almost always find something cheaper. Certain gyms, community centers and nonprofits (like the YMCA) offer low-cost options ranging from $10-$50. Additionally, newly opened gyms and spas will often run promotions to encourage new business.
Otherwise, skip the group workout altogether and do it from home: Try one of these 10 cheap fitness apps.
7. Unused Coupons
Coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are great resources for finding deals and discounts on products, services and experiences. But these deals are only worth it if you would have bought the service anyway. A 2013 North American Technographics survey found that the average Groupon user spends about $675 online within three months — compared to just $467 spent by the average consumer.
Since you pay for the coupon upfront, it’s up to you to follow through and use it. Unused coupons eventually expire and become difficult to redeem, which means you forked over a big portion of your earnings and didn’t actually save any money.
8. Phone Payments
That fancy new iPhone 6 you just bought set you back by hundreds of dollars — and upfront costs aside, you’ll also be making monthly payments that could range anywhere between $40 or $50 and hundreds of dollars. Unless you realistically and regularly use 128 GB of space and 10 GB of data, you’re overpaying for your phone and phone plan.
Alternative carriers like Republic Wireless will sell you phones and service plans for a lot less. And if you're willing to part from the latest Apple product, you'll save even more by choosing a cheaper (if slightly less flashy) phone.
Unfortunately, taxes are a paycheck deduction that you can't avoid. Still, by adjusting your W-4 form, you could maximize the amount of cash you get to keep each month. If you tend to get a large refund each year, you're a prime candidate for keeping more of your money each paycheck (and forgoing the big payout April 15).
Additionally, when you do your taxes, make sure you're taking advantage of the full range of deductions and credits available; don't leave money on the table that should be going straight to your savings account.
10. 401(k) Contributions
It's incredibly important to start saving for retirement now — and you should try to set aside as much savings as possible. Still, it doesn't make sense to put aside so much that you're going into debt or overdrawing your checking account in order to make ends meet at the end of the month.
Sit down, write out your budget and find the perfect number to contribute to your retirement accounts each month. If your employer matches a certain amount (say 3 or 4 percent), you should aim to contribute at least that much — you don't want to be leaving money on the table. Keep in mind that your retirement savings should always be a priority; if you're having trouble padding your 401(k) while still buying groceries, it might be a sign you need to cut down in other areas of your budget — specifically, "wants," like dining out or going shopping.