Are you grappling with finances? Advice on how to make money is everywhere – from investment planners, successful start-up CFOs, online gurus, and self-proclaimed experts sitting next to you at the bar. They’re all focused on getting more income into your wallet, which is great! But no one talks much about where your money disappears to. I’m not offering a complicated output analysis or turning you into a miser. Consider these suggestions to keep expenses in check. Whenever you’re tempted to purchase on impulse, I’ll be the voice in your head that asks ,”Will you die if you don’t buy?”
Here’s an interesting statistic: Black Friday is a peak U.S. shopping day. A National Retail Federation Research shows the total spent on Black Friday in 2013 was a staggering US $57 Billion! That’s a lot of buying.
Let’s begin with questions that help you find and plug the holes in your wallet.
1. What do you spend the most money on?
You won’t forget the restaurant bill last weekend anytime soon but how much in any given month goes to groceries, eating out, fuel/car maintenance, the children and school-related expenses? Numbers in black and white jolt you with a picture of your spending patterns. You’ll know your monthly expense totals per spending category and payment medium like cash, credit card, or check payments. You can then plan which areas to cut down on. You’ll also see exactly why your expense total shot up. If you don’t buy unnecessarily, you’ll stay within limits.
Tracking expenses requires that you keep all receipts and spend some time once a month to record and add them up. Initially, you need to prepare customized templates using any spread sheet – one form for cash payments, the other for credit card and check payments. Tally your expenses by relevant categories such as groceries, eating out, phone and other utilities, car, etc.
2. Do you know how much money you have?
Sure you know how much you make and yes, you have money squared away, but do you make sure there is money left after paying your monthly bills? Again, recording your funds in black and white guides you to prioritize your necessary expenses. Don’t buy anything else if your funds are low.
3. Are you able to pay your credit card bills in full?
If the answer is no, don’t use one. In her book Women and Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny,” Suze Orman describes this as “the downward spiral of paying less than the entire bill and being charged interest on everything you don’t pay off.” Imagine if you had multiple credit cards! Interest on credit card debt is an expense you can avoid. Don’t buy on credit if you cannot pay the statement amount in full each month.
4. Do you know when bills are due?
It’s when bills catch you by surprise that you hastily issue a check and don’t realize that it is not supported by your account balance. Or else, you opt to pay the bill late. You get slapped a penalty for issuing a bad check or you pay interest for late payment. Both are avoidable. Prepare a monthly and yearly schedule that shows when mortgage, taxes, insurance, school fees, and utility payments are due. Don’t buy at all on the week or month when big payments are scheduled.
5. Don’t buy before asking, “What if?”
You’re thinking of buying a new outfit for a close friend’s wedding. What if you look deep into your closet for that cocktail dress you hardly used and jazz it up with a glittery wrap? What if you borrow a dress from your sister? You want to buy a new grass cutter and a tent for monthly barbeques. What if you rent instead? You’re shopping for a present for your favorite aunt. What if you make her a bead necklace or an embroidered pillowcase? It’s your hobby and you have the materials already! Buying is not the only option.
6. Mindful shopping can be guiltless, rewarding, and fun.
Review your intention and answer these questions.
Why? Shop only to buy something that’s needed or to get a treat you’ve been saving up for.
How? Make a list and keep to it. Learn the discipline of buying only one major thing at a time. Don’t buy an expensive pair of shoes plus an outfit or a bag at the same time. It builds restraint and guards your cash flow.
When? Shop only when you can afford to. It’s best to time it during a sale. Don’t go shopping every weekend or simply because there’s a sale. That’s the reason you have a closet full of unused stuff and higher-than-usual expense.
With whom? Don’t shop in a group. You’ll end up with purchases made from getting carried away. Maybe someone else bought it or somebody said “Buy it. It’s such a good deal!” It’s hard to think clearly with opinions flying about, but going with a level-headed friend can curb your impulses.
Working as hotel expatriates, a group of 5 of us single women often shopped together. We were of the same built and shoe size. We bought – in one go – similar outfits and shoes in varying colors and styles. It was really fun but even then, I was the voice of reason (and party pooper) always asking “Will we die if we don’t buy?”
What? Buy the original. Go for quality and versatility. Be willing to pay expensively. The number of times and ways you’ll use good-quality things will be worth their price. There is no real excuse to buy knock-offs or pirated stuff which don’t last and add to landfills. Instead, save up and buy the original or choose good quality, unbranded products. Never buy products from endangered species. Animals should not unduly die just so you can buy.
Where? Have a list of personally preferred brands you use and shops you buy from on the basis of quality of product and service. This builds relationship and rewards. It also keeps you from unscheduled purchases in random places.
Who? Consider the makers’ and sellers’ corporate social responsibility record: do they pay fair wages, sustain the environment, minimize waste, and give back to the community? Choose to spend your money in support of people who’re doing good things.
By sticking to a set of criteria, you simplify buying decisions and actually save money. Check out these other money-saving enjoyable experiences, too.
7. Do you block the flow?
Doing all these suggestions could reveal you’re not doing so badly, financially. Don’t forget other people who are not doing so well financially and be willing to help them out. Help could be in the form of a small monthly donation or a one-time donation to a cause you care about. Or it could be a loan to a struggling friend. Be part of the flow and respect the law of abundance. When you cascade some of what you have to others, you also make space in your wallet for more.
Featured photo credit: cohdra via morguefile.com