What makes it so easy to spend money unthinkingly?
Everything financial — from internet stores to credit cards to instant payments — is set up to make things as painless as possible, says Brent Weiss, a certified financial planner and co-founder at Facet Wealth in Baltimore.
And spending is hardly exempt. “Marketers know this,” Weiss said. “Banks know this. They have mastered the art of helping us spend money.”
Exhibit A is Amazon’s one-click checkout. There. Wasn’t that painless?
The desire for instant gratification drives people to allocate dollars that should be saved for their future to their current life, says Patrick Healey, a CFP and founder and president of Caliber Financial Partners in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“We’re in a debt culture,” Healey said. “And people are reluctant to adjust their lifestyle.”
Unfortunately, spending today feels better than saving that amount for tomorrow. Spending is a byproduct of a bad habit. “As consumers we have to be aware of our habits,” he said. “Be intentional about the plan we have for our money — including how we spend our money.”
Find ways to remove temptation. If you subscribe to a lot of retailer emails, scroll down to the very bottom and find the link to unsubscribe (usually in very tiny print). If you habitually order a coffee or more each day from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, remove the app from your phone.
Don’t forget to keep tabs on your account balances. “Evaluate every three to six months, certainly annually, and see what kind of progress you’ve made,” Healey said. Measuring your progress is a great way to feel empowered.
Healey counsels his clients not to try to make up everything all at once. “You have to be intellectually honest with yourself and sit down and look at the numbers,” he said. Basic math, which most people are capable of, is all you need.
And don’t forget to congratulate yourself, says Weiss. When you hit a goal, make sure to build in a reward.
1. Have a plan
It may sound boring, Weiss says, but it’s sound advice: Everything starts with a plan, and a plan generally leads to a budget.
Before you decide you hate the very idea because it tells you you cannot enjoy the things you want to, Weiss recommends reframing how you think about a budget.
Think of this plan as a road map that tells you how much you can spend and helps you reach your goals. Whether you’d like to treat yourself to something or save for retirement, a budget is the way to get there.
“Make your plan simple, balanced and have it have purpose,” Weiss said. “Don’t sacrifice things that are important to you.”
2. Ditch your plastic habit
Use cash or a prepaid debit card or write checks. “The emotional feeling when you have to write out [tells you exactly] how much something costs,” Weiss said. “It will actually change the way you spend your money.”
Swiping a card was designed to be easy. “You don’t know you’re spending the money right away,” Weiss said.
3. Listen to your credit cards
Your credit cards could actually help you keep a lid on your spending.
Bethany McCamish, 25, who lives in Vancouver, Washington, receives alerts to let her know whenever she goes over a certain limit.
Nearly all credit cards have an alert system, says McCamish, a freelance writer and graphic designer who blogs about personal finance. And you can usually customize the alerts.
You have to be intellectually honest with yourself and sit down and look at the numbers.
founder and president of Caliber Financial Partners
Set your notifications to email, text or both. “It’s really convenient,” McCamish said.
Run the name of your credit card and the word “alert” through a search engine. Among the top results will be links to the credit card site, with titles like “Manage your account with email and text alerts” or “Avoid overspending with account alerts.”
4. Wait it out
Every online marketer knows there’s a 70% to 80% drop in the likelihood you’ll buy something if you put it in your online cart and leave it there for a few days.
“It’s a good mental trick,” Weiss said. “Write it down and wait 24 hours.”
You may be able to eliminate at least two-thirds of anything you are buying for emotional reasons.
5. Don’t go it alone