Like most Americans, your financial situation may feel out of control. Maybe you overspend for big-ticket items – like a car payment. Or more likely, your money problem is little purchases here and there that add up over time. What financial gurus call the “latte factor.”
For instance, you figure it’s harmless to drop by Starbucks before a shift for a cup of Joe. Before you know it, you’re dropping $15 a week on coffee — which can add up to more than $500 a year. That’s a sure recipe for fiscal disaster. Here are three steps toward more sane spending.
1. Identify your “hot zones”:
Most of us have a particular item or situation that causes us trouble. We’re probably not even aware of it. If you carry a notebook and track everything you spend for a few days, you’ll have a good feel for where your money goes. You can also use an app like Mint, or look at your online banking activity if that’s easier but still reliable.
Do you see a pattern? Are most of your purchases for food – because you’re starved when you get off a 12-hour shift and head straight for take-out? Or is your downfall late night online shopping – to fight off boredom or frustration? Once you’re aware of these hot zones, you can detour around them.
2. Set a Dream Goal:
It’s hard to change habits by saying “No” to yourself all the time. (Willpower is limited.) Outsmart careless spending by imagining a savings goal that’s so motivating you’ll be able to resist the impulse to overspend. For example: a family reunion road trip this summer (immediate goal) or early retirement (long-term goal).
Stoke the power of your dream by visualizing it whenever you’re tempted to fritter away money. Or cut out a photo of an Airstream (to remind you of your reunion or retirement) and keep it in your wallet, right next to your credit or debit card.
3. Set a Budget:
It sounds so old-fashioned, but creating a budget can help curtail overspending. From your money tracking notebook or other records, figure out your average monthly household expenses and income.
Some expenses are fairly fixed (rent), but others are variable (utilities). Don’t forget to budget for savings, emergency buffer, 401K contributions, etc. By prioritizing expenses and planning for seasonal or unexpected outlays, such as new car tires, you’ll feel more in control of your financial life.
Jebra Turner is a freelance health writer in Portland, Oregon. You can visit her online at www.jebra.com.