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13 Times When Paying for an Upgrade Is a Waste of Money

Let's be honest: We get so wrapped up with having the best of everything that sometimes we are suckered into buying things that aren't actually better. These are the upgrades that you're better off skipping, experts say.

Close up of stack of white clean bath towels on bed sheet in modern hotel bedroom interior, copy space

Purchasing sheets with a high thread count

Truth be told, quantity does not guarantee quality in the bedroom. While thread count does indicate a sheet set’s comfort and durability, beware of thread counts that are too high or too low. The Wirecutter, a product review site owned by the New York Times, writes that the best sheets have a thread count of 200 to 600. Any higher, and you’re not actually paying for better bedding, textiles experts say.

fill up fuel at gas station

Putting premium gas in your car

If you regularly fill up your vehicle’s tank with premium gas, we have some bad news: It’s not doing your car—or your bank account—any favors. In fact, The New York Times reports that “there is no advantage in performance, fuel economy, or emissions control” to use premium gas, unless your car is one of the rare few that require it. And with premium gas running around $0.50 more per gallon than the normal stuff, car owners waste about $2 billion per year on an unnecessary expense. Watch out for more ways you’re wasting money without knowing it.


Using sunscreen above SPF 50

Most of us assume that the higher a sunscreen’s SPF, the better it protects our skin. But when it comes to sunscreen, less could actually be more. “SPF is not a consumer-friendly number,” Florida dermatologist James M. Spencer, MD, told WebMD. “It is logical for someone to think that an SPF of 30 is twice as good as an SPF of 15 and so on. But that is not how it works.” According to Spencer, SPF 15 blocks about 94 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB rays, and SPF 45 blocks about 98 percent of rays. Any SPF higher than that is not much more effective.

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Flying first class

When The Economist calculated the price of flights between Heathrow and JFK airports, they found that the average economy ticket costs about $1,544. The price to fly across the pond in first class, by comparison, was a whopping $10,735. Think about it: Are the perks of flying first class really worth paying seven times more? Unless you can use frequent flier points for a seat upgrade, it’s best to tough it out in economy—especially for flights that are less than three hours long. That extra cash can be put to better use on a fancy hotel or upscale dinner once you reach your destination.

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Replacing your old smartphone

The launch of a new tech product does not, by definition, make your old tech outdated. Though it’s tempting to get the latest and greatest smartphone every couple of months, skipping an upgrade is often the wiser (and wallet-friendly!) choice, financial experts say. “Sure, you’ll miss a few new bells and whistles, but in the grand scheme of things, today’s smartphones are fully equipped” to last at least one year, Louis Ramirez, senior editor at DealNews, told Bankrate.com. Plus, there are plenty of simple tricks to upgrade your old tech—no purchase required.

luxury apartment with indoor pool, wooden ceiling
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Installing a backyard swimming pool

You might think that adding a backyard pool will make your home look expensive. But believe it or not, having a swimming pool can actually lower the value of your home and turn off future buyers. Not only are pools costly and time-consuming to maintain, but parents of young children view them as a safety risk. Experts recommend installing a pool for your own entertainment and pleasure, rather than potential resale value. You should skip these home upgrades that are a waste of money, too.

Young Caucasian Woman in Black Apron Holding in Hands Ripe Beautiful Halved Organic Australian Avocado with Pit. Healthy Lifestyle Vegan Vitamin E Oil. Creative Minimalist Food Poster Banner. Kinfolk

Shopping for organic foods

It’s no secret that organic foods and beverages can carry a hefty price tag. According to Consumer Reports, organic items cost 47 percent more, on average, than conventional alternatives—and in some cases, the markup can be more than 300 percent. To make your grocery dollars go further, shop for organic produce that would otherwise contain high levels of pesticides, like spinach and strawberries. Produce with a skin you discard, such as bananas or avocados, are generally okay to buy non-organic.

White pills close up
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Buying brand-name medications

Get this: You could be paying up to 85 percent more by purchasing brand-name medication instead of its generic counterpart. Aside from the cost, however, there are virtually no differences between the two. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that generic medication must have the same dosage, effectiveness, strength, safety, stability, and quality as the original. Talk to your doctor about swapping your brand-name prescriptions for generic ones, and check out generic over-the-counter meds as well.

A brown cardboard box is left on the front stoop after being delivered while no one was home.

Adding express shipping

Itching for your latest online shopping spree to arrive? A few extra bucks for faster shipping may seem like no big deal, but those little charges can add up fast. If you are truly in a rush to receive your order, check out FreeShipping.org to get free shipping codes for popular brands or consider buying the items from a brick-and-mortar store, instead. In the end, express shipping is just one of the 14 tiny splurges that end up costing you way more than you thought.

Close up of keyboard of a modern laptop

Choosing a faster internet speed

Companies like XFINITY and Google offer home internet speeds of up to 2,000 Mbps (or 2 Gbps), but unless you are a hardcore online gamer, that blazing fast internet service is probably waste of money. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends internet speeds of 12 to 25 Mbps for families or those who frequently stream games or videos. Anything faster won’t make a big difference for your everyday online browsing, but it will make a big difference for your bank account.

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Unlocking an extra app feature

Though they are free to download, those trendy games on your smartphone can cost you a fortune if you’re not careful. In addition to advertisements, these apps make money by encouraging users to pay a little more to skip a level or unlock a new feature. Tempting as those extra bells and whistles may look now, they will mean nothing once you move on to the next trend. Resist the urge to splurge on a temporary luxury; trust us, your wallet will thank you.


Getting a deluxe cellphone plan

Before upgrading to a phone plan with more perks, take a close look at your data, talk, and text usage on your current plan. If what you use right now falls well within the plan’s limits, sticking to a cheaper plan could mean enormous savings. Phone providers will make it easy—not to mention enticing—to automatically opt for a deluxe phone plan with extra features. In most cases, however, what you already have will do the job.

coffee machine mug maker

Opting for an extended warranty

Admittedly, buying a warranty could pay off every once in a while; a smartphone, for instance, might be more likely to get damaged from daily wear and tear. But according to Consumer Reports, it’s rare for products such as appliances to break down within the extended warranty period. What’s more, many products and services already come with at least one-year guarantees, US News & World Report notes. By the way, these “money-saving tips” don’t actually pay, either.

Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for RD.com.