14 things we buy and then almost never use

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I’ve been decluttering for years, long before Marie Kondo—the tidying expert—was a household name. One of the techniques I use is to try to buy things that I will use regularly.

I tested this strategy a few years ago. My husband and I were discussing buying a foldable table to host large groups. It was only $40. But will we use it enough to make it valuable? We decided to do it, and tested this assumption: every time we used the table, I recorded the event and the date on the underside of the table.

We used the table recently, and when I put it on its side to add the new date, I calculated the uses: 14 – a whopping $2.85 per use. This was indeed a worthwhile purchase.

But not every purchase has such a strong economic rationale – or easy to test. Here’s a look at the things we usually buy but few of us use that often. Think twice before making financial mistakes like these.

1. Online Subscriptions

African American woman working on computer at home.
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You’ll find websites for every hobby and interest. Premium TV services allow you to stream endless entertainment, genealogy sites help you build a family tree, and alumni sites bring you and your classmates together. It’s easy to get a credit card and sign up.

However, keep a close eye on those monthly bills. Are you still studying Spanish with these online lessons? Do you really read your hometown newspaper online? Can you get the free options on “15 Free Streaming Services to Watch at Home” or “10 Ways to Find Your Family Tree for Free”?

Stick to the subscriptions you use. Uncheck the ones you don’t want. If you don’t want to do the work of reviewing your bills and canceling subscriptions you no longer use, a service like Trim can do that for you.

2. Extended Warranties

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You’ve finally decided to make a big purchase. But you are not finished yet. At the cash register, the employee is sure to try to sell you an extended warranty.

Should you bite? In general, no. But it depends. Extended warranties cost more than they’re worth, says Stacey Johnson, founder of Money Talks News. Stacy recently told me that many of the new products seem fragile and complex, and so his opinion fluctuates a bit.

What should you do?

When my home bought new kitchen appliances, the oven warranty was lost. We got it for the fridge because the ice machine and other features will be heavily used and may require expensive repairs.

3. Filing Cabinet

Close-up of a filing cabinet with a 401K file
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My goal is to get rid of my two-drawer and four-door filing cabinets. They take up space, and technology makes them obsolete.

We’re used to keeping files on utility accounts, taxes, warranties, operating manuals, and auto repair receipts — the list goes on. But now much of what was once paperwork can be accessed digitally. These large cabinets only take up space.

Here’s a tip: Money Talks News retirement course advises, The only retirement guide you’ll ever need Scans all your important documents and stores them in the cloud.

4. Expensive home exercise equipment

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I have thought about buying an exercise bike. Where we live, winters are often rainy and cold. Riding a bike outside—even just going to the gym—may be impossible, so it might make sense to have an exercise bike as an option.

But I resisted. I’ve seen relatives buy a treadmill or elliptical that ends up as a glorified clothes rack, throttle space. And would a machine downstairs give me more motivation than my unused gym membership?

If you must have a big, expensive exercise machine, here’s a tip: buy a used one. Lots of other buyers have gone down this path in front of you and are willing to part with their mistakes on the cheap.

5. Silly stuff baby care

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New parents get nervous, which makes them vulnerable to marketing during the first days with the baby.

Talk to a seasoned mom or dad before you spend money on warm baby wipes or fancy shoes for a baby who can’t walk yet.

Experienced parents will tell you the things they loved and used in those early days that never left the box. Here’s a better idea: Instead of spending, put every penny you can into a kid’s college fund.

6. Cookbooks

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I admit, I love a great, print cookbook. I was reviewing them, and preprints were filling my bookshelves. I even got the Instant Cookbook because I love this device. But honestly, I only opened the cookbook twice.

It is easier to search for “IP butter chicken” online than to search for the book. Do you use your cookbooks? If not, prevent yourself from collecting more.

7. Gym Memberships

riding a bicycle
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Confession: I have a gym membership.

Every year, when the annual fee comes due, I think about canceling. There are reasons to stick with it:

  • The gym is close to home and my daughter’s school.
  • It has easy parking for days when I can’t walk there.
  • I bought the membership on Black Friday, so it’s pretty cheap: $28 a month for unlimited use for both my husband and I.

But is it a good deal, in terms of money? Not close, because I rarely use it.

If you’re looking to cut expenses, especially if you live where the climate is bearable year-round, take another look at free exercise outdoors.

8. Planners and magazines

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I bought a beautiful planner early last year – a spiral planner, with a marble cover, gold lettering, and spaces for daily, weekly, and monthly planning. I told myself I would use it to keep track of my freelance story assignments so I wouldn’t miss a deadline.

I used it once. It’s easier to keep track of my articles on my Google Calendar or in a Microsoft Word document. Finding a planner and pen, jotting things down and remembering to check them daily, isn’t for everyone in this digital age.

9. Single-use devices

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I love appliances and kitchen utensils. More than once I’ve been swept up in buying single-use devices that looked promising in late-night TV ads.

A hot dog roaster, cotton candy cart, muffin maker and electric crepe tray—just a few examples—may be fun for a few minutes. It’s a great start to the conversation. For most of us, they are not helpful.

However, my imagination tempts me by coming up with exceptions: Maybe anyone can teach French and demonstrate crepe making to class. Or make a monthly sale on baked goods where cake balls like…Hot Cakes will be sold out. Fact: They are likely to collect dust and take up space.

10. Travel accessories

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As someone who loves to take long summer trips and smaller trips year-round, I can tell you that airfare and accommodations are reason enough to take advantage of a vacation savings account.

There’s no need for fancy passport covers, money belts, and packing cubes. If you have a smartphone, you don’t need foreign language dictionaries or paper maps. The fewer things you take with you, the easier the trip. Happy trip!

11. Souvenirs

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I recently took a fun trip with friends but resisted buying souvenirs which I saw wandering all over the place. Who needs a keepsake keychain, fridge magnet, or coffee mug?

Instead, she brought home some inexpensive treats, such as jam mix and cake made with local fruit. The best souvenirs – your photos and memories – are the cheapest.

12. Camping equipment at the highest level

If you have a tent and some sleeping bags, you can give your kids a taste of the camping experience by simply placing them in the backyard.
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Sure, get a tent. sleeping bags. A lantern and perhaps a simple camping stove. But walking into a camping equipment store will show you the many ways in which campers can be persuaded to buy luxury camping gear.

You can camp comfortably without these things. I am grateful for our inflatable mattresses. But we don’t need a s’mores maker, a single-serve Keurig coffee maker or a fancy headlight for a midnight trip to the bathroom. Flashlight will work fine.

13. Specialized sports equipment

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I still remember when my husband came home after playing broom ball for the first time, a winter sport somewhat similar to hockey. We lived in Minnesota then, and he loved to do outdoor sports and have fun with friends. He bought broom ball shoes with rubber soles, and he probably never wore them.

It’s a lesson: Introducing new sports into your life is a huge health booster, but you may be able to live by borrowing or renting special items until you turn out to be a serious competitor.

14. Petty Pet Purchases

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We all know what our pets love most: one or two nutritious meals a day, a treat, a favorite toy or two, and lots of love from their two-legged friends.

What usually remains unused? Doggie dental care gel, Microwaveable Heated Bed Pads and other specialty items, Halloween costumes for pets and 90% off their toys.

If most of the pet items get any attention, that means they are new. And then, they are discarded after a sniff or two. Save your money. Or make a donation to a local pet shelter or rescue organization.

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