Live Your Best Millennial Life: 4 Money-Wasters You Should Ghost Forever

What are we wasting money on? Here are four places to look.

Brunch on Instagram

Mainstream news outlets are full of sensational tales of people who make stunningly bad spending decisions ($1,500 a month on nonessentials). Instead, we’re told to spend that money on “more important things,” like life insurance policies. But unless you have dependents or own a business, life insurance isn’t really an essential expense, either.

It’s the personal finance industry’s dirty little secret. Financial service products — like life insurance — are far less fiscally astute than companies would have you believe.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Strategy newsletter from Inverse. Sign up for free here.

The best way to avoid whittling away your bank account is to make a household budget, but few people actually do. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, only one in three households have one. More recent surveys from less rigorous sources have consistently offered similar results.

Though they’re obviously no substitute for living wages and health care, the reason a budget is so important is because most people tend to overspend when emotionally compelled. People also underestimate those emotionally charged moments. The actual budget itself is important, the Journal of Consumer Research found, because purchases seem more exceptional in isolation than they do when you can see the purchases as part of a bigger picture.

So what are we wasting money on? Here are four places to look.

Brunch is awesome. Just remember you're over-paying and be OK with sort of getting ripped off.
Brunch is awesome. Just remember you're over-paying and be OK with sort of getting ripped off.

4. Restaurant Money-Makers

Far and away, the most common “regret purchase” is dining out. Survey after survey suggests this is the case, regardless of income level. Eating in a nice restaurant and being taken care of is one of life’s great joys. But there are various ways that restaurants are bilking you.

The best advice for getting the most out of eating out comes from the great Anthony Bourdain, who, in his classic memoir Kitchen Confidential, lays out a number of big money-wasters that face unscrupulous diners. These include daily specials (leftovers), Monday fish (been there since Friday), and brunch (cheap, mostly idiot-proof food like eggs that you can make yourself). Desserts are also often pretty skippable, as they’re usually frozen or shipped in from some supplier.

And of course, there’s also…

The second-cheapest wine on the menu can be the first-biggest rip off.
The second-cheapest wine on the menu can be the first-biggest rip off.

3. Expensive Wines

When you’re ordering off a wine list, never order the second-cheapest wine. Restaurants know that this is usually the go-to for people who want to impress but don’t really know what they’re doing, and tend to fatten the margins there.

Even the cheapest bottles of wine at a restaurant are going to be marked up 3-400 percent, meaning that a BYOB restaurant should be a no-brainer. Even if there’s not a markup, expensive wines are a great way to get scammed. While there is a difference between the fancy stuff and the two-buck chuck, you’re deluding yourself if you think your palate is really sophisticated enough to tell the difference.

And I say that as a Francophile.

Lots of supplements are actually helpful, but the market is flooded with supplements designed for one thing only: To get you to subscribe to taking them and pay routinely for it.
Lots of supplements are actually helpful, but the market is flooded with supplements designed for one thing only: To get you to subscribe to taking them and pay routinely for it.

2. Supplements and Mind-Boosters

The long-used multivitamin has come under scientific question in recent years, and the data on nootropics — brain drugs or other cognitive enhancements — is also inconsistent. The problem is that the FDA can’t really regulate supplements, which means snake oil abounds among the actually helpful multivitamins and other specialized dietary additives. So spending on supplements just hit an all-time high for all ages, including millennials, according to Pew.

Credit Cards in a wallet
Did you know you have a shot at getting your APR lowered? It just takes a phone call. (Credit: HostReviews.co.uk)

1. Credit Card Fees

Financial services firms, including credit card issuers, are more likely to negotiate on things like annual percentage rates or even late fees more than you might think. An oft-cited 2016 CreditCards.com study found that three quarters of people who called their issuer to request a lower APR got one. Overdraft fees can also be waived. Ramit Sethi, the author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, has some useful scripts to try should you work up the courage to give your bank a call.


What I’m Reading This Week

  • Quartz hired writers on Fiverr to write about the Fiverr IPO, and the results were … mixed! in Qz
  • Thank God, I may finally get a chance to ride a damn electric scooter, in The Verge.
  • The Atlantic has the final word on how and why a Malaysian airplane disappeared, in The Atlantic.

More Strategy

A version of this article originally appeared in the Strategy newsletter from Inverse. Sign up for free here.