Ever look at one of your monthly bank statements and wondered: Who made all these purchases — only to realize it was you? You’re not alone. One recent study indicated Americans make three impulse purchases per week.
An unexpected spike in spending from time to time is only one of the reasons many of us have trouble saving our hard-earned money. A 2017 GOBanking Rates survey found that 57% of Americans had fewer than $1,000 in total savings and 39% had no savings at all.
It’s not for lack of hard work, but perhaps more a matter of spending and saving smarter. Small splurges seem harmless, but over time, they can impact your overall financial wellness. Here are seven easy steps to put you on the right track to avoiding that spending statement-sticker shock.
1. Track your spending
The first critical step to pulling yourself out of the spending cycle is figuring out how much money you need to pay for essentials — and how much you have left over. “I suggest dividing expenses into types: absolutely necessary, necessary but discretionary and totally unnecessary,” says Sharon Marchisello, author of Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy.
Keeping track of where each and every dollar goes will help you separate the essentials from the frills. You’ll find it easier to align your spending habits with your monthly budget and savings goals. Digital tools and apps like Clarity Money and You Need to Budget can make tracking your money easier. You’ll put less towards your shoe addiction and more towards your first home.
Goal: Discover where your hard-earned cash is going.
2. Pay yourself first
Transfer a percentage of your income automatically into a savings account every month. That way, it will be in there before you get the urge to splurge, and you’ll be one step closer to your goal with every paycheck. Your savings will build quickly and you’ll be saying “Aloha” to Hawaii sooner than you thought. You can also set milestones, such as saving a certain amount by a certain date. Small changes in behavior can lead to longer lasting habits.
Goal: Save with minimal effort.
3. Nip impulse purchases early
With 24-hour access to alluring online deals, it’s harder than ever to resist a sale. But there are some easy tips to avoid going overboard with mindless online spending: Don’t elect to save your debit or credit card information on your computer or with online retailers. While you take time to dig out your card, pause and ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” This quick mental check-in will give you the opportunity to reevaluate the spend.
Timesheet spending is an old — but valuable — trick. Before you purchase those trendy headphones, calculate how many hours you’d have to work to pay for them. A full week of work might be enough for you to empty that cart.
Goal: Be mindful of your spending urges.
4. Consider personal financial products with incentives
Are you passionate about traveling? Do you have a home renovation project in mind?
Reach those goals with the help of credit card programs that offer the kinds of rewards (points, miles, access to exclusive member perks) that enrich your life. Whether it’s earning a flight with travel rewards or collecting points to get that kitchen appliance you’ve had your eye on, leveraging instruments like a rewards card may bring you closer to your dreams without sacrificing your savings.
Goal: Collect on points and rewards.
5. Schedule regular financial check-ins
Just like making a regular visit to the dentist, your finances also need that same attention to care. Consulting a financial advisor on a consistent basis will help you set clear financial goals and keep you on a path towards the life you’ve always wanted.
Kara Stevens, author and founder of the website Frugal Feminista, recommends that financial check-ins should also include, “Digging deep into the 'why’ of each purchase, so you can adjust your saving, investing, philanthropy and spending percentages throughout various legs of your financial journey.”
Also, once you’ve defined those goals, share them with select friends and family who can help hold you to — and better realize — them. Stevens adds, “This includes communicating these shifts with your partner and children so there’s transparency and shared goals.”
Goal: Check your financial health.
6. Invest in yourself and your community
Financial health also means investing in your personal well-being and that of your community, too. “Financial health and wellness also includes financial self-awareness and really knowing your values and aligning your spending to those purchases or experiences so they are more meaningful,” Stevens says.
Whether it’s attending a weekly yoga class to benefit your long-term health, or making a charitable donation to a cause you’re passionate about, you’ll be reaping rewards long past the swipe of your card.
Goal: Sometimes you have to give to receive.
7. Reward yourself – if you’ve earned it
“People rationalize [their spending] by saying, ‘I work hard, I deserve this,’ even when they can’t afford it,” says Mary Beth Storjohann, certified financial planner, founder of Workable Wealth and author of Work Your Wealth: 9 Steps to Making Smarter Choices with Your Money. “But that only continues the cycle.”
The problem escalates when those “rewards” extend to bigger-ticket items, such as the latest designer bag or rare vintage sneakers, that can plunge you further into debt. Plan for well-earned rewards and avoid impulse buys by building a reward system into your budget. Create savings milestones and timelines for when you want to reward yourself.
How do you know when to treat yourself? When you’ve demonstrated financially responsible behavior. And remember: don’t spend more than what you’ve set aside. It’ll make your “treat” that much more worth the wait.
Goal: Be flexible, but responsible, with your budget.
You’ll quickly see how the small financial moves you make every day can bring you closer to the bigger goals that matter most.
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