Sometimes spending a little extra is worth it: the cab that takes you right to your door on a rainy night, the takeout when you’ve worked late and are too tired to cook. But convenience usually comes at a cost—and not all costs are worth it. Read on for conveniences that may not match up to how much you pay—and the money hacks to consider instead.
1. Always going to the closest ATM
Scrambling for cash with just your phone and debit card in hand can send you searching for the nearest ATM. But if you’re not withdrawing from an ATM associated with your bank, fees could reach nearly $5: a combo of what the ATM charges you plus what your bank charges you to use an outside ATM.1
In the moment, you could instead get money fee-free by using your debit card at a nearby pharmacy or grocery store. Buy something you need anyway and ask for cash back. Just check that the price on that item is a good one. Or if you can swing getting to your own bank instead, go there. A money hack for the future: Consider withdrawing larger amounts of cash and stashing it somewhere safe so you have more to pull from for longer—and less need for trips to the ATM.
2. Picking up fresh flowers
Grabbing a bouquet on the way to a friend’s home or as a centerpiece for your kitchen table? Think beyond traditional arrangements that only last a few days. Many florists are branching out to affordable dried florals as well as budget-friendlier flowering plants. Both options could help you save more than a couple bucks while serving as uplifting décor for months, not days.
3. Reaching for bottled water
A bottle of water at the supermarket isn’t usually a bad deal, but at other places—such as airports, restaurants, and stadiums—it can feel like a small fortune. Consider carrying a lightweight or collapsible reusable bottle that attaches to your bag to fill with tap water when you’re on the go. (Pro tip: Look for refilling stations at airports and other venues.) Or request a cup of tap water to save money on dining out. Tap water might even be safer to drink than bottled water because it’s more regulated.
4. Buying a gift card or prepaid card
It’s enticing to buy prepaid cards offering, say, $110 worth of coffee for the price of $100. You might want to resist the temptation—whether as a gift or for yourself. The round number is likely to leave you with unused funds that can be tough to spend without going over budget. In some instances, the cards might expire or lose value over time.
5. Choosing individually wrapped food
Packaged snacks are easy to toss in your bag and could help you manage portions. But most single-portion packaged items—be it popcorn, nuts, or another snack—cost a lot more than buying full sizes or even in bulk. Doing the portioning yourself, especially if you opt for reusable containers, is usually more affordable for not much more effort.
6. Grabbing a greeting card off the shelf
A card that says it all could be a lifesaver when a loved one’s birthday sneaks up on you. But some greeting cards run between $5 and $10, adding a significant amount toward the cost of a gift. Instead try this money hack: Pick up a set of blank stationery. The per-card cost is much less. Writing a personalized note could be more thoughtful too.
7. Making dry-cleaning a habit
Manufacturers love to put “dry clean only” tags on garments, but there are quicker, less-expensive ways to freshen up clothes. For instance, try a wrinkle releaser or home dry-cleaning kit. At-home options often work well and are more cost-effective than paying for pro service, especially if the clothing doesn’t have a stubborn stain.
8. Ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant
Restaurants with an extensive wine menu tend to mark up prices by roughly 300% from what’s sold in a store.2 Rather than sacrifice during your meal, consider calling ahead to see if you could bring your own bottle if restaurants in your area tend to allow that. Just ask about a corkage fee so you budget for that. You might even be able to get a higher-quality wine from the store for less than you’d pay for a lower-level one in the restaurant.
9. Filling a brand-name medication
Brand-name medicine (both OTC and prescription) is generally more expensive than generic—yet they’re often placed more prominently on shelves and have better advertising. Ask your doc or pharmacist about generics, which often contain the same ingredients and formulations as their brand-name counterparts.
10. Shelling out for express shipping
Need something in a hurry? Expedited shipping fees can cost as much as the item you’re buying—and might not make your package arrive much more quickly, if at all. If the potential extra few days waiting won’t make a big difference, opt for free shipping if it’s offered. Or see if you can pick up the item in person. Some retailers offer curbside pickup, which still offers some convenience without the express-shipping expense.
11. Visiting convenience stores
They’re called convenience stores for a reason. It can be easier to find what you’re looking for in a smaller store and faster to get in and out. But the convenience-store items might be more expensive than what you can get in a larger store. In fact, convenience stores lower prices on a few items to draw in customers while hiking prices on many other items. Unless you’re in a bind, it can pay to wait until you get near a bigger retailer.
12. Shopping for precut fruits and veggies
Ready-to-serve veggies might seem like the ideal solution when you’re low on time. But these prewashed and peeled foods could sell for double the price of regular produce. Many precut produce options also have a shorter shelf life—so they might spoil before you have a chance to eat them. That could cause you to spend even more on fresh replacements. To save, go for whole produce and, if you’re able, wash, peel, and cut it yourself.
13. Exchanging currency in a touristy place
Traveling internationally? It could take less effort to exchange cash at the airport or your hotel. But most of the time, you’ll want to skip the first currency exchange site you see. Rather than pay hefty fees for cash, you might be able to get by abroad with digital payment forms. Just make sure the credit card you use waives foreign transaction fees. If you know you’ll need cash during your stay, find a bank abroad that partners with your home bank. They might have lower fees and offer a better exchange rate.