Money Basics Part 3: Avoid Spending

Our culture and everything around us are constantly pressuring us all to spend money and buy things constantly, whether we’re conscious of it or not. It can be something as obvious as a screaming, obnoxious radio ad, to something as subtle as the arrangement of the grocery store. Companies spend millions figuring out how to get you to spend millions, so this can be a huge challenge to overcome. This post is going to focus on “frivolous” spending, or spending you yourself have decided you don’t need to do anymore.

Now that you’ve done your budget, and figured out where your money is going that it shouldn’t be, and where it should be going, you probably have a clearer picture of what you need to avoid. On most money-saving articles, they use the example of Starbuck’s, and damned if that isn’t a perfect example. Those place are everywhere! So I’m using that example, too. I tried to branch out, but faberge eggs just aren’t as prolific.

Even concerning yourself with your spending is more than many people can manage

Even concerning yourself with your spending is more than many people can manage

So let’s say you go to Starbuck’s every day, or several times a week, and that’s one of the line items you’ve decided to banish or reduce in your budget. If you have a habit like this, you may have trouble quitting cold-turkey. Certain actions become automatic in our natures, like me telling people how to live their lives (not that I’m stopping), so you need to figure out what triggers you to want your Starbuck’s. It could be as simple as seeing the location.

Changing up your routine can help you stop these automatic processes. For instance, you could take a different route to work, sleep a little later so you don’t have time to stop, and/or make your own fancy coffee at home (which would probably be healthier, if you’ve been buying those mocha-caramel-diabeetus milkshakes they call coffee). Maybe you just can’t bear Mondays, so cutting back to once a week to make Mondays bearable might be acceptable in your budget.

As you all know, I have a thrift store fixation. I love digging through racks and bins for hidden treasures and horrors. Thrift stores are very helpful at cutting expenses, but just because something is cheap doesn’t mean you need it, and a bunch of cheap crap still adds up to too much spending. I had to learn to be MUCH pickier in my picking, especially with clothes. It also helps that my favorite thrift store moved 45 minutes away from me. Limited access means limited spending also.

Do you do too much online shopping? That, to me, is insidious, because it’s so easy to fill an imaginary shopping cart with infinite capacity. I’ve been known to utter “Just $5 more for free shipping!” just like anyone else. Depending on your issues there are a few different strategies you can employ: have a friend put parental controls on the websites you frequent most to lock you out of them, and don’t let them tell you the password; limit yourself to a certain number of items per month, a certain dollar figure, or one shopping day per month. If you aren’t staring at all those adorable things all month long, you’ll have much less pressure on you to buy.

Again, you know your habits, and can hopefully figure out what circumstances exist that are spurring you to spend, and what you can substitute instead. Like when I feel like snacking but I’m not hungry, I chew gum instead. Try reading blogs about puppies instead of shopping. (You should also probably try to reduce the number of ads you see online, because they are targeted toward you and your habits. Here’s an article by someone much smarter than me in this subject).

Simply avoiding the places you spend too much money can reduce your overall spending significantly. Find ways to substitute cheaper or free activities (like reading my old blog posts!), or distract yourself from your impulses. The main trick is being self-aware and honest. We all have those little voices in the back of our heads saying “Just order pizza for dinner”, or “You deserve some new shoes/tech gadget!”. The more you get out of the habit of spending, the quieter those voices get, so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Some of the hardest spending to avoid is with friends, but this post got too long, so that’s a separate post. Until next time, stay thrifty my friends! (<—-See what I did there?! I hope no one breaks a rib laughing at my wit!)

May 20, 2013. Tags: , , , . Thriftiness is Cool. 3 comments.

Money Basics Part 1: Budgeting

I have written several posts, and read dozens more, about how to save money. So many articles seem unsatisfactory to me, so I’m writing my own little primer here, starting with budgets.

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The first step, as almost anyone will concur, is to know where your money is going. Until you know what your costs are, you can’t tell what to target. There are a few ways to do this: take your debit or credit card statements and add up your different expenses, or, if you live on cash, keep your receipts for a month or so and add everything up.

The categories you use in your budget need to make sense to you. Maybe you need one called “Road snacks” for when you stop at Starbucks, gas stations, or Jack in the Box while driving. Some people have a broad category called “Automotive” which includes car payments, gas, insurance, and maintenance. I, even as analytical as I am, only have our budget broken down into about 10 categories. One is called “Legit Other” which includes anything from car repairs to doctor visits, and another is “Extra Other” which means “crap I shouldn’t have spent money on”.

Let’s say you’ve made a budget before, but you couldn’t stick with it. Try to figure out what you didn’t like about it. Was it hard to read? Was it too detailed, too time intensive? Maybe you need to physically write it out on paper, maybe you need an app to help you. This process can be fluid until you find out what works best for you.

You can also build your budget from the ground up: list your costs like rent, car payment, utilities (I usually use a number a little higher than our average), gasoline or transportation, credit card payments (if applicable), and food. Hubby and I also each have an “allowance” of spending money to keep us sane. I can go buy crafty things without impacting the house budget, and he can buy action figures or pirate swords. Figure out your total basic costs, subtract this from how much you earn, and the left overs (assuming there is any) can be used for goals or fun.

Prioritizing your spending is a whole other blog post, but keep in mind that you’re tracking your spending because you have a goal you want to meet. It can be paying off debt, saving up for a car, a home downpayment, a van to tour with your band, or just to have an emergency fund so you don’t charge up your credit cards.

You need to come up with an amount that’s feasible for you to put toward your goals. Beware of over-enthusiatically budgeting for 100% of your excess income to go toward your goals. Living like a monk gets tiresome fairly quickly, and you can’t actually live on Ramen noodles. At the same time, don’t run the opposite direction: “All this leftover money is for fun! I’m off to Spain!!” (I mean, unless that was your goal, but still).

If you need a “rule” dedicate at least 75% of your after-necessities money to goals, and 25% to fun, like eating out and movies. If that is sustainable after a couple months, try increasing the amount going toward goals. If it’s making you insane, and driving you to throw the whole system out the window, ease up a little until you can handle it. We’re trying to build a system you can live with easily, without thinking, so you can meet your goals.

If you can’t bear to face your expenses, you can also look at your statements or receipts and just tally the number of times you went to a specific place last month. Did you go get a fancy coffee 20 times? What you may be considering a “rare treat” may actually be much more common that you are aware. Keep in mind, knowing how much you were spending gives you a fantastic starting off point to work from. Knowing you immediately cut your expenses by 10% or more is very motivating. Don’t be too scared or ashamed of the numbers.

That’s all for today, kids. To sum up, figure out where your money is going so you can have more control over its destination in the future.

May 7, 2013. Tags: , , . Thriftiness is Cool. 7 comments.

Book Review: Alas, Babylon

My dear friend Kornberg is going through an insane level of purging her house: she’s getting rid of almost all of her books. While I think this is nuts, I profiteered from it guiltlessly. She gave me at least 30 to 40 books I’ve never read before, and I can’t wait to dig into them! The first one I read was “Alas, Babylon”, by Pat Frank.

babylon

This novel, from 1959, is about a small group of people in Florida who survive World War III. The Russians nuke the US almost into oblivion. We then follow this group through the immediate panic, and later privations and difficulties of survival.

The characters are very well-written, and do their absolute best in a tough situation. I’m often frustrated with books like these because the plot seems to be driven forward by the main character doing something stupid: “I should really call someone and tell them I’m going to investigate this abandoned mine shaft….no, they’d just tell me it’s a bad idea. Down I go!” This book had none of those problems.

This book very realistically portrays what would happen if the infrastructure of the US was destroyed, and it all holds true today. It made me want to start hoarding canned goods and medical supplies. I highly recommend it, and this is one I’m definitely keeping.

May 3, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , . Book Reviews. 3 comments.