5 One-Size-Fits-All Spending Tips That Don’t Really Fit Everyone

by Linsey Knerl on 11 January 2011 33 comments

It’s a new year, and you’re prepared for the onslaught of financial tips aimed at helping you turn over a new leaf, form a resolution, and help your finances enter a period of recovery. But what if you’re doing OK? Is the advice necessary, relevant, or even useful? These five tips seem to be popping up EVERYWHERE, but before you drop your current successful personal finance habits in lieu of these common suggestions, make sure they will meet your personal budget needs.

Common Tip #1: Shred Those Credit Cards

This is one that is really starting to bug me. I know that for those with spending problems or who can’t pay off their debts in a responsible way, a credit card is the ultimate in temptation. (I’ve been there. I understand.) For those who have managed to keep their credit cards as a part of a healthy financial portfolio, however, there is no need to slice and dice your plastic.

Small business owners and the self-employed especially will find the liquidity of a line of credit to not only be necessary at times; it can actually be profitable. By putting my groceries, gas, and small business costs on my credit cards, I earn enough points each month to easily keep my printer ink and post-it notes fully stocked. (And I never pay interest.)

Common Tip #2: Shop Less

Impulse buys can kill the budget, so it makes sense that the more shopping trips you make, the more likely you could be to spend unnecessarily. Add in the cost of fuel for your vehicle (and time away from home and family), and multiple shopping trips a week can be a bad idea. But they can also be an awesome way to realize some personal finance dreams.

My family is hoping to store up three months of non-perishables as part of an emergency planning goal, and this can only be done by faithfully hitting our local stores to purchase their loss leaders each and every time they offer them. With limits set for the 99 cent bags of flour and 25 cent canned veggies, it’s necessary to visit the store at least once a week in order to be sure that our family of seven has enough for the next power outage, pandemic flu, tornado, or period of ridiculous inflation. If we stay on target, buying only what we came for, it can work in our favor, and by combining trips with outings we already have scheduled, we aren’t spending more than a few pennies for the extra fuel to drive around the parking lot.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Common Tip #3: Skip the Latte

I will never follow the "latte factor" — not in a million years. This mom of five rarely indulges in anything. (In fact, I’ve never even had a manicure.) By choosing a simple lifestyle void of a single pair of designer shoes and less than two dinners out per year, you can’t possibly deny me the right to make my own Starbucks lattes at home (via my Tassimo brewer) or to drive through the Scooter’s Java lane on my way home from grocery shopping. We all have our little indulgences, and as long as my bills are paid, I’ll continue to drink my coffee.

Common Tip #4: Cut the Land Line

This is another cliché money-saving tip that drives me to insanity. Living 10 miles from the nearest anything leaves me feeling a bit vulnerable out in the middle of rural Nebraska. My cell phone works sometimes, and my internet works less often. By asking me to cut my land line, you’re suggesting that I’m OK with having my access to an ambulance or police officer limited by the weather or my internet provider’s whims. At $19 a month for a line, it’s well worth the cost to keep it (and possibly save someone’s life, if needed).

Common Tip #5: Take a Staycation

It think it’s great that some people have found a way to enjoy their summer or winter break in the comfort and privacy of their own homes, without the cost of travel and with their loved ones surrounding them. When it comes to my vacation, however, I’m getting the heck out of town. I work from home with my husband and homeschool my five kids. There is no way I am going to fool myself into thinking that camping in the backyard or playing board games is the same as going somewhere warm and letting the kids swim while I sit down for longer than 10 minutes. I know that I’ll pay a premium for this privilege, but I feel like it’s worth it. For less than $1,500, I can rent a van, drive across the country, and stay in a nice family hotel with an indoor water park and buffet meals. I’m definitely budgeting this in!

I love that people are individuals, uniquely made to have their own gifts, passions, and personalities. I think our personal finance choices will (and should) reflect that. We’ve already covered some of your pet-peevey financial advice that you’re tired of hearing. Do you have any others?

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Julie Rains's picture

The credit card thing is a pet peeve of mine also for many reasons beginning with the built-in consumer protection and avoidance of certain fees. Others include CSA (community-supported agriculture) groups as always the best way to save money on food and gym memberships are always not worth it. Sometimes readers may think that a personal finance writer is advocating one way or the other but is simply sharing experiences to allow others to make a more informed decision and providing guidance on instilling financial discipline.

Oddly, we are starting to see the latte as a way of enjoying a minor indulgence in order to avoid major ones.

I've never had a manicure either.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Oh! I forgot the mention the gym memberships. I've actually written on how to set up a cheap gym at home, but my preference is to actually join a gym. We live so far away from everything that many of my tips for saving money come from necessity, as we are very rural. I think it's important (like you said) that we as personal finance writers are careful to give tips but not make broad assumptions. Thanks, Julie, for making not feel like a freak for never having had a manicure. ;)

Guest's picture

Julie and Linsey,
Great points for all PF bloggers. Personal preference shouldn't be as big a part of the content strategy as it is at most PF blogs. Options should be the focus. But with that said, there are a lot of circumstances where sharing personal preference is a good thing. It can help the community understand where you're coming from as a writer so they can determine if your PF blog is the right fit for them. Afterall, each PF blog is not created equal, nor should we all pretend we are.

Take for example the PerkStreet Financial Blog, which I edit and operate. It's a corporate blog, but we want to make sure we're sharing a myriad of tips from different kinds of PF bloggers -- so we know we're reaching and taking care of the different types of customers we have. It's why so many different PF bloggers contribute to that content. They each represent different tacts to personal finance, any of which might be suitable for our readers. We're using personal preference to actually create a more widely enjoyable PF blog... in much the same way WiseBread does!

Moreover, we know that most PerkStreet customers are pro-debit (It's our core product.). So right now, we're co-sponsoring a project called ShredYourCreditCard.com that's aimed at helping people band togeter to dump their debt and inspire one another to spend smarter in the new year. (...Did this comment just come full circle? haha.)

With that project, shredding your credit card is the purpose and the thing that bonds the community. Is it right for everyone? No way! Is it right for the people who have already made the decision to move away from debt? We hope so!

Meanwhile, keep thinking outside of the box and calling all us PF geeks out like this. It keeps us on our toes and makes us more useful to our readers. Thanks much!

-Kyle

Kyle Psaty
PerkStreet Financial

Guest's picture
Mandy

Great article! I think you hit the nail on the head - the only one I would add is "find a job with a shorter commute, or telecommute". I hate that one because my husband travels 85 miles round trip each day for work. He is in Public Safety so telecommuting is not an option, and he already works 4 10 hour days. We do all we can to maximize his car's fuel efficiency, but gas is not an insignificant part of our monthly budget. And in this economy, with most of the surrounding cities enforcing a hiring freeze, or even laying off public safety workers, another job isn't an option. Besides, then he would lose all of the benefits he has built up over the years, such as a "normal", family friendly work schedule. And with Arizona still one of the leading states for foreclosure rates, moving closer to his work isn't an option right now.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Another great example of one-size-fits-all not being the case. Unique people.. unique needs. Thanks for sharing your experience, Mandy!

Guest's picture

Thanks so much for this! I always feel a little guilty after reading some PF blogs about NEVER using credit cards and cutting back on small, incidental purchases. While it may wreck havoc for some, I've got my emergency fund fully stocked, my debts paid off and my retirement on track. Thanks for realizing that it's truly not one size fits all when it comes to the rules of spending.

Linsey Knerl's picture

My emergency fund was the first thing I stocked. So happy that you have one working for you, as well! Thanks for the comment!

Guest's picture
Guest

THANK YOU for writing such a common-sense article! It's been recommended on another site that people should cut back on expenses such as Netflix. Do people really think having a Netflix plan that costs $4.99/month will put them in the poor house? Come on! Having Netflix is a great way to keep up with tv shows we don't get on our cable plan (Dexter, etc.) and a great way to catch up on movies in general. Also, treating oneself to a $4 latte once in a while is a small price to pay for happiness.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Really?? People have suggested cutting Netflix? I always thought it was the poor man's cable! I shudder at the thought of canceling mine.

Guest's picture
Betty

I loved this article Linsey! My peeve is when people tell me I'm throwing away my money because I have a cleaning lady every other week. I swear I would eat less before I gave her up! I don't treat myself to much...not a big shopper, I work the coupons at the grocery store, etc., and I love a bargain. Bottom line is I can afford my cleaning lady. I worked very hard to get my financial house in order. If I chose to pay a cleaning lady as opposed to buying a new outfit, it's really my business.

Linsey Knerl's picture

A cleaning lady is a dream of mine.. although I don't know if anyone deserves to clean up after my family. LOL Good for you!

Guest's picture
Alex Work

I really liked this article...

And while I don't plan on shredding my credit cards any time soon, I've found it easier to ditch the morning coffee. Paying $5 for something that isn't all that good for me is an easy call to make!

Linsey Knerl's picture

*sigh* I'll be able to give up coffee someday... maybe ;)

Guest's picture
Fanny

Great article! I find it hard to cut up my credit cards too especially with the rewards I earn. And sometimes if you don't use any cards, it may hurt your credit history.

Linsey Knerl's picture

So true! And some cards will charge you fees for NOT using their cards!

Guest's picture
JustAGuy

Linsey,

When posting here at WB you are mostly preaching to the choir. So what you say has a lot of resonance with us. But who are these bits of advice for? Folks on budgets living frugally? No! Lets imagine the real target of this advice - someone who has just declared bankruptcy and is actually trying to make their payments and get a budget that has a positive or at least neutral cashflow. My sister-in-law :)

Should they be using credit cards or shred them? What truly is your advice for this person?

Should they shop more or less? Again tell me truthfully what you would tell them.

Should they continue their daily spending on luxuries?

Should they take expensive vacations?

I think if you answered truthfully, you'd see that this is the best overall advice to give someone who is financially clueless. I suggest that your frustration is not over what advice to give the financially clueless, but you are sick of being treated like you are financially clueless. Maybe we have found the 2012 niche - everybody who learned their lessons in 2008 & 2009 and now seeks the "middle path."

Linsey Knerl's picture

Hey, Justaguy..

Thanks so much for your comment, and you are right. Depending on who the audience is, there will be a much different level of "sacrifice" that's appropriate to suggest. My main frustration is that most personal finance tips that fall into the above are directed at a general audience, and some (not all) don't take even a sentence to explain "who" the advice is best suited for. It would be similar to preparing taxes by sitting down with all your clients and telling them to take the child tax credit -- without even asking if they have kids.

What's ironic about all of this is that many of the same people who are in deep financial despair aren't going to listen to recommendations to "quit the gym" or "skip dessert when eating out." It's often a lack of discipline (not a lack of knowledge) that gets them there in the first place. I should know... I tackled $40,000 of debt on my own, one homemade latte at a time.

Again, I appreciate your insight!

Guest's picture
kiki

I guess it doesn't work for everyone but it does work for some people. You brought up a lot of interesting points.

Guest's picture

Great article!
Some articles I've read have recommended getting rid of cars and using public transportation. I live in the suburbs and I would have to pay $10-$20 to ride to the grocery store for food, whereas I pay the cost of gasoline. I'm quite sure my friends who do not have cars pay a lot more than i do in transportation! Riding a taxi cab 10-20 times a month which is not uncommon for city dwellers easily cost a few hundred dollars!

Linsey Knerl's picture

I hear ya! No buses or cabs, here! Unless you want to ride your horse or tractor into town, driving is the ONLY way to go!

Guest's picture
GuestPam McCormick

So refreshing this article.Finally someone thought about those of us who have done all the "basic" things to cut expenses.Do you know how many times I have read one of these "so called experts" to see the same mundane advice and been thinking "no kidding" really cut spending? At our house each dollar has a responsibility assigned to it,groceries-gas-heat and if there is any left over it goes to the envelope called savings.I try and plan for every little detail like oil changes/tires/routine dental cleanings.There is even an envelope for emergencies(from little to big).I designate the 2 months each year we have 3 paychecks a responsibility.My budget is run on fixed amount every 2 weeks so bonus/increases of any kind go into emergency or the amount gets increased to 401K.I work 2 jobs,hubby does 1 and picks up alot of household responsibilities.House all paid off,obligations all taken care of except working to fund retirement.Thank you for not insulting me and providing intelligent fun information.

Linsey Knerl's picture

You're welcome! And you sound like you're experiencing the rewards of being smart with your money!

Guest's picture

Hey Linsey,

You hit the nail on the head for me. My wife and I love Starbucks latte's as a frivolous indulgence after cutting everything back after bankruptcy a couple years ago.

Every time I hear David Bach talk about the 'Latte Effect' that's robbing someone of achieving their retirement goals I want to punch him in the mouth. That approach to finance is some sort of Purgatory in my opinion.

I think JustAGuy has a great point about having different posts for different targets, but like you quickly pointed out, those that need this advice the most won't listen, and surely won't take action, so keep preaching to us in the choir. It helps us stay sane when all the morons in the media are spewing cliches and catchy soundbites to the masses.

Keep it up!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks Josh and others... while I've never actually "punched anyone in the mouth" I have my days...

As long as we can encourage each other in truth, the personal finance community will remain strong. Bless you, guys ;)

Guest's picture
Nate

In regards to tip #3, I think you're missing the point. It's not really about the latte per se - you could replace latte with vending machine visit, pack of cigarettes, or bottle of wine, and still get the same result. It's more about the potential savings. The great thing about the latte example is that it clearly illustrates how making a small change in our daily spending can add up to big savings over time.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks for your comment, Nate. My message wasn't to say that there is no merit in cutting out coffee, for example, and stashing the savings away for rainy day. This is obviously one of the only ways to increase your bottom line: you either earn more or spend less. My irritation is with the "bandwagons" that have become so popular these days. "Let's not go out to eat for 90 days" "Put your credit cards on ice and never use them" "Skip the gym membership, you don't need it." When financial experts make a call to their large followings with such a narrow action item, it can do one of several things:
1) It can cause disruption to the industry being "boycotted" -- as a restaurant worker, I'd be really peeved if someone with millions of fans requested that eating out be banned 100%
2) It assumes that people are buying these things in the first place.. I have no coffee place near me, so suggesting that I can save money by cutting this purchase out is erroneous
3) It doesn't teach people to prioritize -- truly. Each person's priorities will be so varied, that it does a better service to them to teach them how to sit down, look at their spending, and see where the cuts can be made in the most effective manner.

I don't discount that cutting coffee may be a great idea for a percentage of the population, and the theory behind it is sound (or wine, or cigarettes, etc.) You have grasped the concept perfectly, so for you, it would work. Others who need a bit more of the personal finance reasoning behind it, however, may not find it as useful.

Again, I appreciate your response!

Guest's picture
RUby22

Oh my gosh- I KNOW! There are things I am willing to exclude and cut back on- like I don't have television, get free (slow) internet and I got rid of my acrylic nails and am willing to give myself mani/pedis......but some things I will not cut back on:

-Donations to charity
-Small purchases- like new nail colors for my own mani/pedis
-Nice coffee- I already brew my own and never order out
-the occasional new clothing item or restaurant visit.

I tried the 30 day no-shopping thing...and failed by day 20. Over what? A picture frame and pillar candle to make my apartment feel brighter in winter...and a pair of new winter boots partially paid for with a gift card. Ugh..I think it's good advice to do the best you can and PRIORTIZE!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Great reasoning..

I've never had a mani, but I love my OPI and Essie polishes. It saves money in the long run, and feels fabulous to treat myself!

Guest's picture
Janet

Lindsey, I hear you on the staycation. I saw Home Depot on some morning show, and they were featuring all of these "staycation products." By the time I buy a grill, hammock and fire pit, I could be well on my way out of town.

Linsey Knerl's picture

LOL... funny how "spending less" was actually a buying niche waiting to happen!

Guest's picture
Guest

Great list, especially the "cut the landline" trope. If you live in the country or if you do a significant portion of your business via telephone, an actual landline is essential.

Guest's picture
Guest

One of my biggest pet peeves is that while all of the above tips (and many more) are great money-savers for people who are already making ends meet and just want more cash in the bank, they suck for people who are significantly in debt and are always billed as "How to be debt-free!" or "How to get out of debt fast!". As someone else already said - most of these people are financially clueless, so the tips might be new to them, but they're also not disciplined enough to follow through.

As someone who's (mostly) disciplined with money, and who has found site after site pandering to the lowest common denominator, I'd like at least one personal finance site that tells you how best to make ends meet when you've followed all 100 tips for slashing your budget (including slice'n'dicing the overdue credit cards and buying food in bulk to save money) and still are running into the red on the budget spreadsheet each month. Are there other tips, like gardening and finding ways to alternate payments so that you avoid late fees (to some degree) but don't have to pay all your bills every month (because paying them all would put the budget into the red)?

THAT is the stuff that I as a smart but drowning-in-student-loan-debt non-spender would like to see. I live a frugal lifestyle and try to avoid paying full price for anything, but it's still not enough and the pf blogs I've seen talk down to readers. I want something smarter!

Meg Favreau's picture

Hi Guest,

Thanks for your comment. I understand your frustration -- it can be really aggravating when you're looking for help and the information you find is better suited for a different audience.

We try to have information for people at all levels, whether they're making their first foray into personal finance or are frugal pros still trying to make ends meet. Here are a few articles you might be interested in:

Emergency Belt Tightening -- http://www.wisebread.com/emergency-belt-tightening

Self-Sufficiency, Self-Reliance, and Freedom -- http://www.wisebread.com/self-sufficiency-self-reliance-and-freedom

How to Raise Backyard Chickens -- http://www.wisebread.com/how-to-raise-backyard-chickens

Also, if you have any other suggestions for articles you'd like to see, I'd love to hear them!

Best,
Meg