Three Sneaky Expenses That Are Ruining Your Budget

With negative cash flow, I've embarked on a mission to trim unnecessary expenses from my budget. In times of surplus cash before my home purchase, I hadn't scrutinized my expenses for years.

It's not that I was lazy about budgeting; instead, I've always embraced the “pay myself first and spend the rest” strategy. Each month, I allocate a specific percentage to save and invest for passive income, taking care of my retirement needs upfront and allowing me the freedom to spend on other things afterward.

Even in challenging cash flow situations, adopting the “pay yourself first” habit can motivate you to explore side hustles or cut down on expenses. For the sake of re-achieving financial freedom by 2029, I'm more motivated than ever to save.

Three Sneaky Expenses Weighing Down My Budget

My goal was to identify unnecessary recurring expenses and reduce them. Given I'm not willing to cut my private sports club membership for $180/month, I needed to find elsewhere to cut.

Here are the main ones I found that probably pertain to many of you as well.

1) Cutting food costs is the biggest and easiest recurring expense

At the onset of the 2020 pandemic, we made the decision to allocate more funds to restaurant food delivery and grocery delivery. The rationale was that the extra cost was justified in minimizing the risk of contracting COVID by avoiding trips to the grocery store or dining out. With a newborn in the picture, we erred on the side of caution, considering her developing immune system.

Having successfully avoided COVID for two years, we continued our food delivery routine, resulting in an additional monthly expense of $1,000 – $1,500. Sometimes, we indulged in food delivery twice a day, with each delivery costing between $40 and $100. Saving time on cooking while caring for a newborn and homeschooling a toddler was valuable.

Now that COVID has long subsided, there's no longer a need to pay a premium for food, delivery fees, and tips. However, we found ourselves stuck in this pattern of food consumption due to inertia—it had become our norm for over three years.

Save Money, Lose Weight

Upon scrutinizing our budget, we've managed to trim approximately $1,000 per month in food expenses by embracing home-cooked meals. While the routine of eating lasagna for five consecutive days can be monotonous, it's a sacrifice we're willing to make for the sake of saving money.

A delightful side effect of our reduced food budget is the relatively easy weight loss we've experienced. Who would have thought that steering clear of those tempting donuts and cookies on a weekly basis could yield such positive results? I've shed five pounds, and my wife has dropped three pounds since we implemented these changes.

Admittedly, there are moments when hunger pangs strike, affecting my productivity. However, I view my hunger as a gentle reminder to appreciate the abundance in my life. It is the main weight loss tip that has enabled me to wear my same clothes for the past 25 years.

Food is the sneakiest expense because it takes years to witness the effects of overeating. One waffle cone ice cream here and there doesn’t hurt today. But over time, they can really add up.

2) Spending money on premium gas is a waste

When I initially bought my car in December 2016, the gas cap indicated a preference for “premium gas.” Consequently, I diligently filled my tank with Plus gas (89 octane) to adhere to this recommendation, even though it cost around 25 cents more per gallon than Regular gas (87 octane).

With an average monthly fill-up of 2.5 times and my tendency to pump around 25 gallons per visit, I found myself spending an additional $15.62 each month on gas, totaling an unnecessary $1,312 over seven years.

Premium Gas Is Considered 91 Octane Gas

Interestingly, the revelation came to light that “premium gas recommended” actually meant Supreme gas (91 octane), not the 89 octane I had been using. Surprisingly, my car ran smoothly without any issues for over seven years, even though I had been using a lower octane than recommended.

In October 2023, amid a cost-cutting initiative after purchasing my house, I switched to 87 octane gas to save money. The car continued to run just fine.

Three months after my switch to 87 octane gas, my check engine light went on. Uh oh, did I screw up my engine? However, upon consulting the auto mechanic, it was determined that the check engine light resulted from a torn PVC valve and a leaky vacuum pump, unrelated to the gas change. The auto mechanic also agreed the type of gas didn't really matter.

If I had been using premium 91 octane gas since December 2016, I would have incurred an additional 20-25 cents per gallon. Thanks to my unwitting ignorance, I saved an additional $1,000 on gas. But if I had stuck to just 87 octane gas, I would have saved over $2,300 in gas since Dec 2016. Oh well.

Buying Branded “Top Tier” Gas From Chevron, Exxon, And Shell Is Unnecessary

Beyond octane choices, an even greater unnecessary expense is paying a premium of 30-60 cents per gallon for branded gas (top tier gas) from companies like Chevron and Shell. These well-known brands may be considered the Gucci and Prada of gasoline, but similar to luxury consumer goods, their profit margins are significantly higher than the actual product cost.

In the context of gas, the brand is inconspicuous, making the premium for luxury gas a less justifiable expense. At least with a $5,000 handbag or $20,000 watch you can show it off to all your friends!

With gas, nobody knows what type of gas you have. If you want to show off with your car, the only want to show off is with a nicer car. Just make sure to follow my 1/10th rule for car buying so you don't ruin your finances.

A list of top tier branded gasoline

Cost Differential Between Branded Gas And Generic Gas Is Absurd

A local Speedway gas station on the west side of San Francisco sells 91 octane gas at a 40 cents cheaper rate per gallon than Chevron, merely three blocks away. While Chevron boasts Techron, a detergent-containing formula that aids in engine cleanliness, the cost difference is not worth paying the premium.

Ultimately, all gasoline producers must meet state-specified minimum requirements, providing consumers assurance that their choice is satisfactory. In certain states like California, gasoline standards are exceptionally high, further supporting the notion that whatever gas is purchased is more than adequate.

Besides, you're not Carlos Sainz from Scuderia Ferrari F1 who needs all the edge he can get to beat his competition. Nor are you likely going to drive your car for over 15 years and over 150,000 miles. Before some no-name gas brand with low octane and less detergents damages your car, if it does at all, you’ll have bought a new one long before then!

If you're really concerned about carbon deposits building up due to cheaper gas, buy a bottle of Techron for $18 and dump it into your tank every 5,000 miles or whenever you do an oil change. Techron is supposed to clean and lubricate the fuel system, increase the life of pumps and injectors, improve your MPG, and neutralize low sulfur fuel problems.

If you really want to buy Top Tier gas for cheap, I'd check out ARCO. is an Amazon Associate. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

3) Sneaky monthly subscription expenses that have to go

Eliminating sneaky monthly subscription expenses is a crucial step to cut unnecessary costs. A recent revelation made me realize how I've been unwittingly shelling out $9.99 a month for Apple TV+ since March 2023.

The initial spark came when Apple TV released the Severance show on February 18, 2022. Intrigued by the positive reviews and my affinity for dystopian shows, I decided to opt for Apple's free one-month trial to watch Severance. It lived up to expectations, so I decided to commit to a yearly subscription upfront after the trial period, given the cost-saving incentive – around $80 at that time.

Anticipating the release of Severance Season 2 in 2023, I was disappointed to find that it never came. Busy with various commitments, I didn't explore other content on Apple TV, and my subscription continued unnoticed.

It was only in February 2024 that I discovered I had been paying $9.99 monthly for Apple TV+ since my renewal in March 2023. Realizing I had spent over $200 on a service I wasn't actively using prompted me to cancel the subscription promptly.

Cut every subscription you're not actively using

After cancelling my Apple TV+ subscription, I reviewed our credit cards bills to find more unnecessary subscriptions. We found that I had over $260 in credit on a massage app called Zeel. We had paused our subscription during COVID and I had removed the app on my phone. But the subscription turned back on at some point without us noticing.

Luckily, we were able to use the credits by arranging a 135-minute massage for my parents and me when they visited. It was their first professional massage in over 10 years.

For those looking to trim unnecessary expenses, canceling subscriptions can make a significant impact. On an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Vision Pro, cancel subscriptions by opening the Settings app, tap on your name, navigate to subscriptions, and discontinue services that are no longer in use.

Related to subscriptions, the other sneaky expense is your growing cable bill. Cable companies love to catch you with a promotion, then slowly raise prices over time. To cut costs, you must call and bargain with the company provider.

Operating On A Leaner Budget Feels Better

I despise unnecessary waste, which is why we are vigilant about not discarding food and limiting ourselves to only one car. I also wear the same clothes over and over again for years.

For anyone who hasn't scrutinized their budget recently, I recommend a comprehensive examination of each line item to identify potential areas for reduction. Over time, it's easy to accumulate budgetary excess as we acquire and incorporate more items into our lives.

Getting into a lean operating mindset. You'll go farther financially if you do!

Related: How Good Relationships Can Save You Lots Of Money

Reader Questions And Suggestions

What are some other sneaky expenses that could be ruining our budgets? What are some areas of your budget you're cutting to increase your savings and investing?

Track your net worth and expenses with Empower, the #1 free wealth management tool. In addition, use Empower to x-ray your investment portfolio for excess fees that you didn't even realize you were paying. I've been using the tool since 2012 to track my finances to great success.

Empower Retirement Planner to manage your expenses and expand your cash flow

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91 thoughts on “Three Sneaky Expenses That Are Ruining Your Budget”

  1. Josephine Golcher

    I love your columns, thank you so much for your honesty.
    You have given me so much to think about over the years, all of it good solid advice.
    I have never smoked or drank very much and have done most of our family’s meals. We have climbed Mount Whitney, Half Dome and hiked the Grand Canyon from both rims. So probably a healthy life style has helped me get to 82.
    I am still working, twice a week, as a substitute teacher. I love meeting young people.
    Please continue giving excellent advice.
    Thank you for being passionate about your family.
    And please keep on the good work.

  2. Josephine Golcher

    Other ways of saving money:
    1) Pay for gas with cash. That 10c per gallon surcharge on credit cards adds up fast.
    2) Join the library.
    3) See what exercise facilities your local community center offers. Much cheaper than health centers. Also look for cooking classes.
    4) Do your own laundry. Use the dry cleaners sparingly.
    5) Make your own bread. I have done this for over 50 years. Now I use a bread machine. Probably now available at Goodwill (along with a slow cooking pot).
    6) Buy an air fryer. I have 2.

  3. Josephine Golcher

    Do your own shopping, advantage is that you can find good quality price reductions.
    Along with home cooking, cut out trips to Starbucks. At $10 for both of you per visit, that’s $2500 a year. Or $5000 for 2 visits.
    I prepare all our meals at home with quality ingredients. $200 per week including beer, detergents, paper goods, drinks etc. and the two of us have 3 meals per day.
    A home freezer is a must.
    John does pool maintenance, lawn cutting, car washing and we both garden.
    Pay off the mortgage and we installed solar panels years ago.
    No credit.
    Minimal subscriptions.
    And good health.
    I substitute teach twice a week for brain and physical exercise.
    At 82, we are very happy.

  4. Mine is pretty easy… I don’t have a car nor drive. So it’s transit, walking and cycling… last 40 yrs. across 3 Canadian provinces where I’ve lived, worked and biked. Home is 15 min. walk to shops, grocery stores (3 in 2 different directions), major park, transit and doctor. It really does mean a very a conscious choice where home is located.
    I only recently tried rec. centre membership for lst time in my life…@retirement. :)

    However my coffees/snack spending, are sneaking up since retirement.

  5. All gasoline in California has to meet or exceed the same standard. You can’t buy bad gas from an AQMD certified station. So unless you’re buying gas from some archaic mom and pop station in BFE that makes their own or something, you don’t have to think twice about buying gas from any big name station vs any other. It’s all effectively the same.

    Yes, they each claim to have their own special sauce of additives and detergents and so on. But honestly what they’re allowed to add it is severely limited and in negligible proportions. Most sellers are putting the same stuff in the gas, just in different quantities and than they claim their mix is the best.

    If you really want to be anal about it, the best probable results would be to buy from all of them in rotation. But that is seriously overkill. You’d be better off spending the time and effort and attention on regular maintenance, it will do more for the longevity of the vehicle than being a snob about gas brands.

  6. “Nor are you likely going to drive your car for over 15 years and over 150,000 miles.”

    Wait, of course I’m going to drive my car that long and that far. We currently own two cars – 2012 and 2013 models. We bought both used; the 2012 car was only used for 8 weeks by the previous owner, saving us thousands of dollars by buying a slightly used vehicle. We plan on driving them until they no longer work or become unsafe, whichever comes first. The longer you drive the same vehicle, the better it is for the environment. Because the resources that go into creating a new, environmentally-friendly vehicle (hybrid, electric, gas, or diesel) are way more than continuing to drive your existing vehicle, even if it’s not considered an “environmentally-friendly” vehicle.

  7. As far as gas goes, internal combustion engines rely on, well, controlled combustion. If the air/full mixture explodes when the piston is still going up, that’s not good for either power nor engine longevity. Engines are tuned so that, for the most part, the air/fuel mix explodes at just the right time, with a maximum of power production and a minimum of extra stress on the engine. Performance is a selling point, so requiring gasoline that resists self-igniting before it is compressed with air to maximum power advantage means you can advertise more horsepower. You CAN still use lesser gasoline, because the car’s ECU, its computer, constantly monitors if there are excessive “knocks,” instances of the air/fuel mix igniting before it should. If there are too many, it’ll change the fuel and ignition parameters to reduce those “knocks” at the cost of less performance. So if you use lesser fuel, modern cars won’t mind much; they just won’t generate as much power. That’s all. Does that mean to just use the cheapest, lowest gas? Not really. Car computers have their limits. But using one grade lower if you don’t plan on putting the pedal to the metal all the time, no problem.

    1. Sounds good to me. See a 50 – 80 cent price difference when filling up 22-26 gallons is significant enough for me to pass on Premium branded gas.

      The older the car gets, the less valuable the car gets. This means that gas expenditure becomes an even greater percentage of the value of the car overtime.

      Thoughts on dumping a bottle of fuel injector cleaner every 3000 to 5000 miles as a compromise?

    2. Using a lower grade of fuel also means you’ll be driving slower and won’t be accelerating as quickly, which makes you a safer driver, and ultimately saves fuel consumption and reduces greenhouse gas omissions. Sounds like a win all around.

  8. Matthew Drybred

    Owners of direct injection engines must worry the most about the amount of detergent in the fuel.

    Your 2015 RR uses the 3.0L GDI (gasoline direct injected) engine.

    Some brands of fuel are considered “TopTier” because they have the recommended level of detergents that a direct injection engine needs to keep the tops of the valves clean.

    Direct injection engines directly inject the fuel into the cylinder and therefore only air, positive crankcase ventilation vapors, exhaust gas recirculation, and evaporative emissions vapors, cross over the valves. This wets the valves, but doesn’t clean them like the air/fuel mixture that would pass over them in a carbureted, throttle body injected, or multipoint fuel injected, engine where the fuel acts as a solvent.

    Some brands tie their higher detergent gasoline formulations to their higher octane products, however some brands are “TopTier” regardless of the octane level. Look for “TopTier” branding.

    VW’s are prone to owners not opting for “TopTier” fuels and they have issues with coking on the tops of the valves. I’ve even had a little old lady as a customer whose Tiguan’s valves were coked nearly closed and the engine was stalling.

    Generally speaking, most engine mapping systems can make use of 87 octane and will retard timing as required to minimize engine knocking on the lower octane. Depending on the severity of the timing retarding necessary, this can result in lower fuel economy and higher emissions because of more ignition cycles resulting in incomplete combustion.

    Even engines that are designed to run on 87 octane can receive some benefit by running higher octane because the engine management system can take advantage of advancing the timing. However, the gains are small and not worth the added cost of the higher octane fuel.

    Using SeaFoam can help, but the issue with low-detergent fuels is that the carbon deposits are building up daily and baking onto the valves, so a cleaner can only do so much after 5,000-10,000 miles. Driving the vehicle for at least 20 minutes will also ensure that the engine reaches normal operating temperature and can reduce carbon build-up.

    Ultimately, Toyota opted for a single fuel injector in their intake design and use the fuel to help clean the valves on their direct injection engines and it remains to be seen if other manufacturers will follow.

    And yes, I am a LOT of fun at parties.

    1. Great information!

      You mentioned “Customer“, are you an auto mechanic or work an an auto parts store?

      Thoughts on using Seafoam versus Techron? I literally have been adding premium 89 octane gas or 87 octane gas (30% of the time probably) since December 2016 with no issues. Once I found out, I was supposed to add 91 octane, I decided to go get some Techron. And the O’Reilly parts person said he uses a bottle every oil change.

      Have you seen the check engine light go on because of the use of 87 octane gas when the car says “premium recommended”?

      I have to admit, it does feel good to add top-tier fuel from chevron or shell into my tank. And it’s nice to add the higher octane fuel as well. But the nice feeling does not overcome the $12-$16 premium I have to pay at this moment. When I was cash flow rich, I didn’t mind, but now I do.

      1. Matthew Drybred

        I was a mechanic and then became a service advisor at a VW/Audi/Porsche dealership and sold about $250k per month (in 2018 dollars) in parts and labor for 9 techs. Even with all of that throughput, I can’t claim to have seen it all nor know it all, but I do always side with engineering and combustion science versus conjecture.

        The customer that I was referring to had driven her Tiguan for short trips and likely used non-Top Tier fuel, so after less than 40k miles all 4 of the Tiguan’s intake runners were extremely choked with carbon and the engine was stalling at idle because it couldn’t breathe through intake valve openings that had been reduced to about the size of a quarter due to the carbon deposits. (Think of it like the engine was trying to breathe through a trach.)

        It’s important not to confuse octane rating with fuel system cleaner, or Top Tier fuel. SeaFoam is multipurpose and can clean the fuel system and stabilize the fuel, meanwhile Techron is more of a fuel system cleaner. Which is better? Eh, they are both very similar and made with similar additives and one person will swear allegiance to one or the other.

        However, the purpose and importance of Top Tier fuel is that there is *always* detergent in the fuel so that the crankcase vapor has detergent floating in it to help reduce (not eliminate) carbon deposits on the intake valves. Carbon deposits form from the soot caused by incomplete combustion. Because no internal combustion can achieve 100% complete combustion, there’s always going to be soot.

        Regarding octane, the manufacturer will recommend an octane level that allows the engine to operate at its specified performance level and, generally, forced induction engines recommend higher octane fuel to prevent pre-ignition/knocking/pinging because of the greater pressure that the intake charge is subjected to as the forced induction helps to fill the cylinder to achieve 100% volumetric efficiency and the fuel must remain stable (not pre-ignite due to the cylinder pressure and temperature) for a slightly longer duration than when in a lower compression, naturally aspirated, engine. But most engine management systems will not throw a code if lower octane is used and the engine is operated sedately because the engine management system will detect knock and retard the timing to prevent knock. While it’s possible that the engine management system will sense the lower octane and de-tune the engine to the point where it might not achieve the best fuel economy negating the lower cost of the fuel, your results may vary and the only way to know for sure is to test it out.

        Naturally aspirated engines rated for 87 octane can achieve higher horsepower ratings while using higher octane, but the cost benefit ratio doesn’t make the added performance worth it.

        Here’s a Car and Driver article that dyno tested various cars on different octane fuels.

        Here’s an article discussing carbon deposits:

        1. Good stuff! What is the cost to clean or replace the fuel injectors and anything else that needs replacing due to the carbon buildup? Depending on cost, perhaps premium gas is more worthwhile for those who want to own their cars for 10+ years or drive over 120,000 miles.

          It is my understanding that all has had some amount of detergents / additives to meet state standards, just that Top Tier gas has more.

          1. Matthew Drybred

            It depends on the labor time to remove the intake manifold and either manually clean the intake or walnut blast it.

            On a VW 2.0TFSI, it was about 6 hours if I recall correctly. 2.0hrs to remove the intake, 2.0hrs to manually clean the valves, 2.0hrs to reinstall the intake manifold and reset basics.

            That engine had so many intake manifold actuator issues that VW gave them an extended warranty, so most customers only paid the 2.0hrs to clean the intake valves when the intake manifold inevitably failed and needed to be replaced.

            Yes, Top Tier simply has more detergent to better combat the inevitable carbon deposits.

            Sedately driven high performance direct injection engines are also more prone to allowing carbon deposits to develop.

            1. Question regarding Toyota/Lexus models that share the same engine.

              I have a Lexus GX460, with the 4.6l v8, which shares the same engine as the Toyota Tundra and Sequoia in the states, and several models overseas. All the Toyota models recommend 87 while the Lexus recommends 91. They both have the same compression ratio- why premium for Lexus? Detriments in using 87? Thank you!

              The same could be said about the 5.7l v8 used in Land Cruiser, LX570, Tundra, Sequoia.

              1. Matthew Drybred

                You didn’t mention the model year, but a 2020 LX570 is rated at 383hp and 403lb/ft of torque meanwhile a 2020 LandCruiser is rated at 381hp and 401lb/ft. Of torque.

                The Car & Driver article above notes that vehicles tuned to run on 87 octane can take advantage of higher octane fuel, however the gains are negligible and not really worth the cost difference.

                Perhaps if a driver was going to Death Valley with a fully loaded vehicle, it would not hurt to run higher octane fuel even if 87 is considered the minimum acceptable level.

                1. Matthew Drybred

                  Regarding any service or repair, I always presented the data to my customers to let them decide, made the recommendations based on the service manual, and then noted it accordingly in their file for future reference.

                  It’s ultimately up to the owner/driver how they maintain their vehicle.


  9. Hi Sam, Perhaps a payment tip. I use capital one ENO and set expire date to pay subscriptions. Example a channel for Olympics or interesting content subscribe for one month with automatic expiration. We purchase almost all food at the excellent Amish market one mile from the house. Every other week shop Harris Teeter for other stuff with $10 coupons and 5% senior discount Thursday, When on Big island for 2 month scuba we shop farmers markets Wed. & Sat. and Foodland. Thank you for the ideas. Keep Smiling ! Steve

  10. I ended up dropping cable completely and shifted to Roku. There are certain shows we like to watch, so pay for Philo for $20/month. We’ve switched in and out of Curiousity Stream, Netflix, Paramount Plus, and others. Hubby has Amazon Prime, so he watches that a lot.

    It was scary to drop cable, but everything has been great and the money savings incredible. I think if you’re into sports, it can be spendy.

  11. 10000 miles per year at 20 mpg is 500 gallons. Even at a $1 per gallon premium over regular you are talking about $500 per year? This has to be a joke, right?

    1. What’s wrong with saving money? These are expenses that add up over time, especially if you add up savings from all other categories.

      How rich are you? It will help give us perspective on why you’d look down on me and others for trying to save money.

      1. I am less rich than you. Troll articles like this are why people don’t care for some of your articles. “multi millionaire looks to save $1000 per year on excessive spending to make ends meet”. joke.

        1. Financial Samurai

          You’ll just have to work on getting into the saving mindset and boosting income then.

          Sorry you’re having a bad day. If you want to share what has really gotten you angry, maybe I can help.

          To make you feel better, I can also write about how much money I spend if you wish?

          Maybe you’ll like this article: A Private Sports Club Membership Is Well Worth It

        2. Everything OK? I hope you aren’t a writer or offer financial coaching services. You would fail based on how prickly you are.

          I love these type of articles because they keep me in check. Because of this article, I’ve gone through my budget and cut a bunch of subscription expenses. I’m also going to save $10-$15 every time I fill up my tank of gas now from a generic gas station.

          Several hundred dollars a month adds up.

        3. You sure must be fun at parties, not. Lol

          Did your wife leave you for another man or something? Because I sure would if I was with someone with your attitude.

          Cutting our expenses, no matter how small, is good training. Got to get out of being wasteful and back to being lean.

        4. haha, how bout ” 46 year old who fired at 34 and now has 10 million net worth HAS to go back to work because he spent 3 million cash on a house”

            1. OK , so 4 million, will u please just move to Hawaii and enjoy life and stop worrying, your kids will never need to work and you know that, you have run the numbers a million times over, just relax and waaasssaahhhhhhhhh

    2. Sorry you’re in a lot of personal pain and are lashing out. I recommend you look inward before attacking others especially when your reasoning doesn’t fit. Finding ways to save and not waste money is the core to personal finance. How else do you think Sam got to where he is now?

  12. Good stuff and timely article. I’d add as it relates to food:
    1. Go to restaurants when they have deals: e.g., lunch specials, 1/2 off appetizers, smaller portions on the kids menu and cheaper.
    2. Do your grocery shopping at Aldi if there’s one nearby. It’s much cheaper than other grocery stores and the quality is still good.

    1. Honestly, the quality of Aldi varies by location. I had fruit and veggies turn bad quickly on
      a consistent basis near me. I’m a Costco fan. Good for gas too!

  13. I actually decided to help out a relative in overseas who has fallen on hard times to make sure the kids stay in school. I honestly could totally afford the 200$/month but decided to go through my budget and trim the fat to make up for it.
    Netflix was an easy cancel; I barely watch it due to lack of good content. Coffeeshop cancelled, I have a milk frother at home so make myself fancy drinks. Definitely have cut back on Door dash and eating out and cook better meals at home (shot out to my air fryer, the best investment ever). Cancelled an airline credit card with annual fees. Also, instead of buying winter clothes, I just bought couple of nice base layers and wear them under my regular clothes (works in California though).
    Also shopping at Costco for certain Items saves a lot of money. I am actively shopping around for a more affordable internet carrier and also better rates for insurance (car and home).

  14. I think you nailed it with food costs. They are sneaky as heck.

    Start eating out once a week more for $50 that is $2,600 a year.

    Do it one more time and that is $5,200 a year!

    Plus when you add in inflationary effects on restaurants – you can easily overspend in this one category alone. WILD!

  15. Sam, just an interesting tidbit on your gas octane comment. Cars that require higher octane gas run at higher internal compression in the motor. When you put a lower octane gas in, the fuel will combust too soon from the pressure causing engine knocking (which is bad). However, modern cars have sensors that detect this and will dynamically lower compression ratios to eliminate knocking. Lower compression leads to less power and efficiency, but this is why your car runs completely fine on lower octane fuel. Some brands (BMW for sure) have an error message that will come up warning of low octane, but this is just a ploy to get you to waste $300 going to the dealer to reset it, despite there being zero damage to the car. You will definitely notice the difference is you are trying to accelerate aggressively with different fuel for what it is worth. Thanks for keeping the blog running for 10+ years. I spent a long time on Wall Street myself and have always appreciated your perspective about finance and lifestyle in general.

  16. Anyone else have comments on the gas. I’m also advised to use premium and actually plan to keep the car for multiple years. It’s a mini

    1. We have 2 Mini Cooper S vehicles, one from 2012 that we bought in late 2012 after the first owner used it for only 8 weeks, and one from 2013 that we bought in 2022. Both demand premium gas and my spouse and I have disagreed about the octane since 2012. I always put in the lowest octane and he always puts in the premium. There’s a noticeable difference in acceleration with the lower octane, but who cares? I’m not a racecar driver. I only accelerate hard when trying to get out of a sticky situation, like an aggressive driver tailgating me (in the right lane, no less). That happened today, and even with the lowest grade fuel, I was still able to accelerate from 55 to 70 mph in 3 seconds to get away from this roadrager. After getting enough distance between us (and leaving him in the dust), I switched lanes and coasted until I got back down to 55 mph. All on cheap gas. I don’t see the point in expensive fuel but to make my husband happy, I told him I’d fill up with premium every few tanks.

      1. By cheap gas, are you referring to 87? My tank says min of 89 so I thought about that. Currently using 93 as no 91 around me

        1. What type of car do you have? I’ve never seen a tank say min 89.

          I’ve been thinking more on this subject. I drive between 20-35 mph in the city 90% of the time. This is another argument for why I don’t need high performance gas.

  17. As many others have mentioned, Top Tier gas has value in the additives. You either pay at the pump for brand name gas, including Costco, or you pay per mile in reduced mpg. AAA did a study on it.

    “A 2016 AAA study of six separate 4,000-mile test drives found that Top Tier gas reduced intake-valve deposits by a factor of 19 compared to the generic stuff. AAA further discovered that continued use of non-Top Tier fuel could result in 2% to 4% lower fuel economy over time and hasten the likelihood of maintenance issues. Top Tier fuel can even reduce the carbon residue of loyal generic gas use on an engine by 45% to 72% over 5,000 miles.”

    1. It’s good marketing. And it does make me feel better when I buy “brand name” gas.

      But practically all gas has some level of detergents/additives to them. And again, you can just buy a bottle of Techron on Amazon for under $20 every 5,000 miles if you want.

      Have you noticed a difference in gas mileage and performance? And how long do you own and drive your vehicle? Thx

      1. Part marketing and part data driven. The numbers don’t lie in carbon deposits and I’ve experienced engine knocking when using bottom barrel fuel on my 1st car.

        More recently, I’ve used some random gas when on a road trip and did notice the car felt a bit sluggish than normal. Obviously this is just by feeling, but seems consistent with lab testing results. Typically I’ll use Costco or Shell for fuel as they’re the cheapest in my area and I’ll take 30 seconds to confirm on beforehand.

        I keep vehicles between 5-10 years. Covid forced my hand to sell my previous vehicle as I had equity due to the used car bonanza.

          1. No high-performance vehicle here and never had a car that requires premium. Currently in a Mazda CX-5 turbo. Great blend of size, power, and reliability for the price. I know premium gas will provide a bit of additional performance, but their engines are designed to run safely on regular unleaded.
            Regarding Costco gas – their blend uses 5x the EPA detergent requirement. Awesome stuff!

              1. I’m a bit confused. Your article states Premium Gas Is Considered 91 Octane Gas. I don’t use 91 octane…I’m merely enjoying regular unleaded 87 octane with added detergents above the EPA minimum.

                1. Got it. Good to hear. You’re free to do whatever. I’m just make two suggestions on octane and brand gas. For regular cars, even higher performance cars, I don’t think more expensive gas is worth it. I’ve driven M3s, G500s, 6 series, and a RR Sport and paying the premium has not helped.

            1. Buddhist Slacker

              I buy all my gas at Costco. In addition to being top tier at all the octane levels, and of course I buy the lowest octane, I calculated that the savings and gas alone more than pay for my Costco membership due to the amount that I drive. Costco is always always the cheapest gas. That’s why you have to wait in line for it lol. Another pro tip, The gas pumps are actually open 30 minutes before advertised open time if you really want to be the line.

              Years ago, I bought super cheap crappy gas to save money. In just a few months I had to replace the fuel line injector thing or whatever it was because it was clogged from the dirty gas. Plus the car wouldn’t start in San Francisco and I had to get it towed and the cost to repair it was like $1,500. So the cheap gas turned out to be not so cheap at all.

              Also, I happen to live 7 minutes away from my Costco. I love Costco I’m there every week.

  18. I love a good budget audit. I just canceled Hulu since we finished watching the TV series we wanted to finish (Only Murders in the Building – so good!). The sneaky subscriptions can really add up. Amazon Subscribe and Save is great, but I have to be careful I don’t get a delivery for something when I already have more than enough.

    Another thing I do occasionally is try to finish (almost) everything in our fridge/freezer/pantry. Get creative with meals and only buy what you need to fill in the gaps. I like to do this before going out of town on vacation to help reduce food waste, but also to save a good amount of money. It adds up quickly for a family of 4.

  19. Interesting points…. most are common sense… besides, subscription expenses are for suckers. Either buy it onc e or not at all!! With that said, I would have to disagree with comment on gasoline. Each brand (Shell, Chevron, BP, Phillips66…) have their particular additives… and it is not so much for the so called hyped up environmental hip of BS, but they are good for the engine. In my 30+ years in oil industry, I have always gone with Shell premium (even though I worked for Chevron!!).

    1. Agreed on the Gas point – people with performance cars or who plan to keep their cars forever should stick to manufacture recommendations.

    2. Can you share the actual benefits of Shell premium versus the rest?

      Because your comment contains no evidence or substance on why it’s actually better. You just say it’s better.

      How many miles do you drive your car and how long do you on them each? I really don’t think it matters whether you buy shell or a no-name brand with the appropriate octane.

      1. Shell premium/V Power has probably one of the better (if not the best) fuel combustion metrics in the market place. Vehicle maintenance also benefits substantially from it (25+ years and I have never used any other gas in my personal vehicles). As Chevron employee, we were given 15 cent per gallon discount when using Chevron gasoline, and though I would put Chevron gas in the company car, I would ALWAYS go with Shell Premium. In the end…. to each his own.

        1. Fascinating! But why? And if all you’ve used is Shell gas for 25+ years, how do you know the other gas brands won’t work as well? Got to try others for an extended period of time to have a fair comparison.

          Btw, a business school classmate, who worked at Chevron says Chevron is the best. But again, how does anybody really know? To each their own indeed.

          1. I beg to differ on Chevron being the best! The company pays its professional staff real well and has excellent 401K benefits. HOWEVER, staff are not paid to think… but MUST FOLLOW procedures to the letter!… kind of “lemmings”. It has also a huge population of brown nosers…. hands down.

  20. I have started to price out airline tickets in segments and found at times the savings can be significant. Supposedly websites like Kiwi do this but I have found prices they did not.
    On a recent trip from Monterrey (Mexico) to Paramaribo the fair was approximately $1200. However, if I booked a Monterrey – Panama and a Panama – Paramaribo the fare was approximately $800. This also gave the flexibility to spend a few days in Panama and the savings more than covered the travel costs in Panama.
    I have finally started traveling more frequently and inflation has been horrendous with respect to hotels, restaurants, etc.

  21. Gotta track down all those subscriptions and keep track of them on a spreadsheet. I finally started doing it. Discovered I was getting double-billed for one of them. Not many I’m willing to cut, but I feel like I need to know what and where they all are.

  22. Sam a trick we use for subscriptions is to scan all your credit card charges and look for .99 as most, if not all, subscriptions typcially charge $nn.99 per month, quarter or year. Then sort this list to make sure you are using the services/subscriptions and they still make sense. Often we find things that surprise us and we remedy. Thanks for all you do!

      1. I download my credit card monthly statement to excel and literally review every charge. Then I know where every penny is going. But I’m also an accountant…

  23. The last few yrs insurance premiums have gone up an avg of 10-15%. I make it a practice to call all insurance carriers and either change the deductibles, coverage limits or change companies to reduce expenses. One yr I caught that the home insurance company had been charging for addl square footage that wasn’t our house. That resulted in a reduction that yr but also a rebate for the yrs they over billed.

    1. Fascinating! I’m assuming the blended average price is cheaper than if you just went 91.

      We don’t have 91 octane here in San Francisco.

      Have you noticed any performance difference with the type of gas you use?

      1. No lack of performance. We have 93 and 89 and 87 in Illinois. Car calls for 91, so my poor math skills figure 93+89/2 = 91.

        1. Might as well save money filling up with 87 or 89 octane then. The other thing is, as our car ages, its value depreciates. So spending more on brand gas with high octane is an even greater expense as a percentage of the cost of the car. If the engine ain’t knocking and pining, your car is good!

  24. +1 on Costco Gas. It’s always about 5-10% cheaper than the big brands + you get a Costco rebate with their Visa of 4%.

  25. I had a laugh at your lasagna for five days note. Been there, done that and still do that now actually. I’ve also had pot roast, cabbage soup, and minestrone for many 5 day stints. It does get boring but sure helps save on food costs. When I hit day 3 and just can’t take it anymore, I pack up the rest and put it into the freezer. I’ve saved a fair amount that way and it definitely comes in handy during weeks when I just can’t get myself to whip up something in the kitchen or am too busy with other things. Now if only I would organize my freezer…

      1. Wow, this new you sure is a delight to read lol. You’re an insanely smart guy, but some of the things I’m realizing you aren’t aware of, like this frozen food comment, really makes me chuckle. Everyone has their areas of expertise, yours is certainly finance! Truly not picking on you… just gave me a laugh this morning. Thanks

        1. No worries! But I don’t understand your comment. Would you rather eat frozen foods? I find fresh foods taste better. But more power to you if you enjoy frozen foods. Lots of yummy frozen instant dinner choices at the supermarket.

          Moisture loss and ice crystals evaporating from the surface area of a product produces freezer burn — grainy, brownish spots where the tissues become dry and tough. As a result, the taste and texture declines.

          Heck, even Five Guys doesn’t freeze its burgers and cooks their fries fresh. That’s why it costs so much more.

          “ One of the most notable aspects of its operation is its decision to never freeze its burgers. The reason is straightforward: There are no freezers at the restaurant, only coolers.

          The primary reason behind Five Guys’ choice to never freeze its burger patties is its dedication to delivering a superior dining experience. Frozen meat is perceived by many as inferior because the freezing process can harm its overall taste and texture. According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, ice crystals formed during slow freezing can rupture the cell walls of the meat, leading to moisture loss and a change in consistency when it’s cooked. Although rapidly frozen meat does not suffer these quality issues, Five Guys doesn’t take any chances. By refusing to preserve their patties in frigid temps, the cult-favorite burger joint ensures its patrons enjoy the full flavor and juiciness of ground beef in every bite.”

          1. No, it was way more surface level than that. The “I wonder if frozen food taste different” like you’ve never frozen leftovers before. Maybe you haven’t! I’m a simpleton at the beginning of my financial journey so I’ve become accustomed to, for example, cooking a large lasagna for my wife and I, and freezing half for a later date. I don’t know, like I said, just surface level and for lack of a better term, it’s “cute.”

        2. Why not add value instead of making fun of Sam for asking a question? You remind me of the bully jock in high school who makes fun of other students for raising their hand in class when they don’t understand something. But because of people like you, you make other people too shy to ask questions and learn, so they keep to themselves.

          Were you that bully jock in high school who ended up not going to a good college or a college at all and doing menial labor? If so, I would recommend you be more open-minded with the way you learn and help people if they have questions.

          FYI, fresh food tastes better and has better texture than frozen foods.

          1. Whoa. I’m not bullying at all. I know the internet is hard to decipher intentions, so bare with me.

            1. You sure about that? If so, why not answer the question and share some of your thoughts instead of laugh and poke?

              Even if you are a low income person who eats a lot of frozen food, that’s fine. Why not share some of the best money saving tips on frozen food or some strategies you have?

              If you laugh at someone you’re not gonna make any friends on the Internet or in person.

              1. Yes, very sure. It’s alright to have a laugh every now and then. It’s not that serious.

                Point was clearly missed. I don’t eat frozen foods. I freeze fresh foods and reheat them. There’s a discernible difference. I just found it funny that someone has gone however many years of life without having fresh food frozen. He then told me he’s had frozen food. I was good ending in there

                Thanks for the tips on making friends.

          2. Look at the guy trying to call out someone as a bully by taking a serious dig at non-college educated people who work in the trades.

      2. Sam, it is very true that some foods freeze/reheat better than other. Usually it is the change of texture of the food that causes the food to not taste right. You have to experiment to figure out what works. In our family, we find that homemade lasagna freezes very well and my favorite is to freeze tomato bisque soup. When I don’t know what to do for lunch or dinner it is super easy to defrost and reheat this soup on the stovetop. The frozen lasagna, allowed to defrost first, reheats like a champ in the microwave. It’s a huge time saver, money saver, and more healthy for you than take out! Win-win-win.

        1. Financial Samurai

          Good tips! Thanks. When we make our food, we always finish everything within three days, hence, my lack of freezer knowledge.

  26. I’m the type who would fall for the unnecessary premium gas scenario. That’s good to hear from your auto mechanic that it doesn’t really matter. And smart call on just buying a bottle of Techron to add manually-sounds like a way cheaper middle ground.

    I hear ya on the subscription costs. Technology has made it too easy to rack up lots of these recurring, sneaky expenses. I manually turned off all of my auto renews so that I have to make an active decision for annual subscriptions.

    An unused gym membership and an unused paid photo app were two of my past subscriptions that were wasting money that I cut off. The rest of mine I run pretty lean and I just recently adjusted my cable rates down in December. Thanks for the reminder to stay vigilant.

    1. Good call on the unused gym membership and gyms counting on people to just sign up and get lazy.

      With how much fun tennis and Pickleball is, I’m definitely using my membership often. But if the Membership was just a workout room, then I might neglected. So boring.

  27. A hack we use is to go to Costco for all gas. Not sure if the Costco in downtown SF has a gas station, but in our area (greater NYC) Costco gas is Tier 1 (detergent – like Chevron) typically for $0.25+/gallon cheaper than anywhere else.

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