balanced spending en-US Weight Watchers for Your Wallet <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/weight-watchers-for-your-wallet" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="red wallet" title="red wallet" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="166" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>As both a financial blogger and an &ldquo;amateur nutritionist&rdquo; (and no, those are not sugar cookie crumbs on my chin, and you&rsquo;ll never prove otherwise), I have often noticed that many of the behavioral tips for dieting really overlap with the behavioral tips for paying off debt. In fact, the willpower necessary for avoiding spending temptations is very similar to the willpower needed to avoid the office donut box &mdash; and just as difficult to harness. Changing your habits and behaviors is what really leads to long-term changes in both your overall and your financial health. So, with that in mind, let&rsquo;s look at four common diet tips out there and see how they relate to paying off your credit card debt. With these tips, you can kill two New Year&rsquo;s resolution birds with one stone. (See also: <a href="">4 Tips for Making Resolutions Stick in the New Year</a>)</p> <h3>1. You Should Consider Whether You&rsquo;re Really Hungry</h3> <p>At first glance, this advice from <a href="">WebMD</a> seems to have little to do with your Visa bill. But getting in touch with your body&rsquo;s hunger cues has a lot to do with listening to your own emotional state. Just as we will often eat mindlessly when we are bored, stressed, or upset, we will also find ourselves heading to the mall or surfing Amazon to relieve an emotion that has nothing to do with our need for more stuff.</p> <p><strong>How to Implement This Advice</strong></p> <p>If you truly have a hard time determining the difference between a shopping need and want, go on a fast. Even though completely cutting out food is an unhealthy way to learn what hunger really feels like, going on a week- or month-long <a href="">financial fast</a> can be truly cleansing. It helps you to determine the difference between shopping to fill an emotional need and buying things you truly need. The bonus is that at the end of a financial fast, the money you saved by not spending at all can be added to your credit card payment.</p> <h3>2. You Should Step on Your Scale Daily</h3> <p>This tip comes from <a href="">Cosmopolitan</a> (that bastion of excellent reporting). You can&rsquo;t know what work you have to do on either your diet or your debt payoff plan if you don&rsquo;t know where you are in the journey. That means you have to do two of the most dreaded personal chores: weighing yourself and logging into your credit card account. Often, the first time you step on the scale or check out your credit card balance, it&rsquo;s enough for you to shut down and try to forget you ever knew how bad you let it get. But as long as you are willing to do work to improve your situation, your daily weigh-in/log-in will become first informational, and then inspirational, as the numbers improve day after day and week after week.</p> <p><strong>How to Implement This Advice</strong></p> <p>Check your account balances. Right now. And don&rsquo;t just look at the big total &mdash; go back over your individual purchases. This might give you some ideas for things you can return or help you to find <a href="">charges you need to dispute</a>. Taking care of those right away will help that big, scary number go down. (The only way to get such immediate improvement with a scale is to strip down to your birthday suit &mdash; and even then it&rsquo;s rarely an improvement worth freezing off your tooshie.)</p> <p>Then keep looking at your accounts online regularly. It is a habit that will help you to remember why you are working so hard to send every extra penny to your credit card bill. And it will keep you honest if you fall off the wagon and go on a shopping spree.</p> <h3>3. Go Ahead and Have That Cookie</h3> <p>Follow this advice from <a href="">Shape Magazine</a>, because going cold turkey on your favorite things, whether they be Mallomars or shopping with your Mom, is difficult. So difficult, in fact, that deciding that you will <em>never do that again!</em> is a great way to set yourself up for failure. Because ultimately the cookie or the mall will call your name, and once you&rsquo;ve cheated a little bit, why not go ahead and cheat a lot?</p> <p>Psychologists and behavioral economists refer to this as the <a href="">&ldquo;what-the-hell&rdquo; effect</a>, and we have all felt it. (In point of fact, psychologists actually call this &ldquo;counterregulatory behavior,&rdquo; but calling it the &ldquo;what-the-hell&rdquo; effect is much more concise, if slightly profane.) This effect explains our sense that dieting or refraining from spending money is either all or nothing, so the moment we have given in to temptation a little bit, we might as well throw our own guidelines out the window &mdash; &ldquo;What the hell! I&rsquo;ve already bought myself a new lipstick/eaten a brownie, I might as well go buy some new shoes and a purse/have a burger and a milkshake.&rdquo;</p> <p>The way to combat this effect, both when you are dieting and trying to pay off debt, is to allow yourself cheats and consider that part of your plan. No one is capable of always avoiding temptation, and our brains our wired to think of ourselves as either dieting/refraining from spending or not, so the first time you slip up is often an opportunity to binge on whatever you&rsquo;ve been denying yourself.</p> <p><strong>How to Implement This Advice</strong></p> <p>Plan ahead for when you will indulge in little shopping treats, and save up the cash to pay for them. If you love buying new clothes, save up about $100 in cash and go for a spree at a consignment store, where that amount of money can buy quite a lot. You will not only satisfy your desire for shopping, you can also feel virtuous because it&rsquo;s not detracting from your debt pay off plan.</p> <h3>4. Celebrate Success (but Not With Food)</h3> <p>One of the universal truths of the human makeup is that we are wired to want immediate gratification. According to Dan Ariely in his book &quot;<a href="">Predictably Irrational</a>,&quot; &ldquo;if a particular desired behavior results in an immediate negative outcome (punishment), this behavior will be very difficult to promote, even if the ultimate outcome is highly desirable.&rdquo; In English, that means it&rsquo;s really hard to give something up now even if what it&rsquo;ll get us later is, in a word, awesome.</p> <p>So, we need to bribe ourselves to behave. That&rsquo;s what celebrating little successes is all about. Every time we reach a small milestone &mdash; whether that&rsquo;s losing the first two pounds or getting our credit card balance below a particular dollar amount &mdash; we need to reward ourselves for all that hard work we&rsquo;ve been doing.</p> <p>Where this gets tough is in choosing the right type of reward. If you&rsquo;re dieting, rewarding yourself with a hot fudge sundae after running five miles leaves you basically where you started. Similarly, if you&rsquo;re trying to pay off your credit card, buying yourself a new video game to reward your thrifty ways will mess with your debt payoff mojo.</p> <p>Following advice from <a href=""></a>, if you&rsquo;re only dieting <em>or </em>only paying down credit card debt, the fix is easy: you can spend money on rewards for weight loss successes, or you can eat something sinfully fattening as a reward for debt payoff successes. Now, the problem is if you&rsquo;re trying to do both (or at least, you&rsquo;re trying to be generally healthy in both of those areas of your life).</p> <p><strong>How to Implement This Advice</strong></p> <p>Find rewards that cost no money or calories and still make you feel great. Those include a chat with an old friend, allowing yourself a free 30 minutes or more to get lost in your favorite (non-shopping) sites on the internet (provided you don&rsquo;t already do this on a daily basis), pampering yourself with an <a href="">at-home pedicure</a>, taking a long nap in the middle of the day, or giving yourself a day off from chores you hate. There are plenty of free ways to celebrate your small victories &mdash; you just have to think about the things you normally don&rsquo;t allow yourself and pick out the one or two that require no cash outlay. Having those rewards to look forward to in the near future will help you stay on track overall.</p> <h3>The Bottom Line</h3> <p>Reducing your waistline requires very similar behavior modifications to reducing your debt burden. Like losing weight, reducing debt needs a two-pronged approach: lowering your consumption and increasing your (payment) activity. So as you read through New Year&rsquo;s <a href="">weight loss advice</a> lists (and they are plentiful!), remember that with just a little tweaking, many of these same pieces of advice can be used in your debt payoff journey.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Weight Watchers for Your Wallet" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Emily Guy Birken</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Credit Cards Debt Management balanced spending dieting new year's resolutions spending freeze Fri, 28 Dec 2012 11:36:31 +0000 Emily Guy Birken 961471 at Avoiding Aspirational Spending <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/avoiding-aspirational-spending" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Woman in front of a Gucci store" title="Woman in front of a Gucci store" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="154" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>When it comes to staying on a path of righteously frugal living, my own personal Kryptonite is clothing. I'm not one for spending on dining out, and I don't indulge in luxuries like a big screen TV, but my head is easily turned by a cute pair of shoes or colorful top. That's not a huge vice, I guess. I mean public nudity IS frowned upon, so clothing is a necessity. Where it becomes very detrimental to personal finance, however, is when my wardrobe budget is spent on items for life I'd like to be leading instead of the life I actually live. (See also: <a href="">Where to Buy Discounted Designer Clothing Online</a>)</p> <p>Fashion blogger Robin of High Heel in a Haystack summed it up perfectly when she said, &quot;<a href="">Buy clothes that you will wear on a Tuesday afternoon</a>, not a Saturday night. Very few people lead Saturday night lives.&quot;</p> <p>This is very fitting (excuse the pun) advice for making sure clothing purchases turn out to be money well spent. Yes, that tux might make you look better than Clooney on the red carpet, but how often do you get an invitation to a movie premiere? And those sexy stilettos might be the absolute perfect touch for doing the tango in the moonlight on the deck of the Queen Elizabeth, but is your lifestyle more daycare drop-offs than cruise ship dancing?</p> <p>It's not just clothing that's relevant for the &quot;Tuesday afternoon&quot; benchmark; all financial outlays should be held to this standard. You've heard of &quot;lifestyle inflation,&quot; where your standard of living expands to meet (and sometimes exceed) your increasing income level? Well, &quot;aspirational spending&quot; is a similar phenomenon where purchases that one makes are out of sync with one's actual way of life.</p> <p>For example, you might picture yourself as a rugged individualist. An outdoorsy, camping, get-close-to-nature type. For that reason you own a four-wheel drive, off-road vehicle &mdash; which, 99% of the time, is used to transport you to and from work on paved highways. On a smaller scale, perhaps you're like my brother who had a job that kept him traveling about 75% of the time. Despite that, he shelled out about $150 each month of premium cable channels that he was never around to watch. Or like me, with an unlimited talk, text, and data smartphone plan even through my Android device is used primarily as an MP3 player.</p> <p>Aspirational spending could come in the form of a purchasing a home with a pool for that one holiday weekend a year when you actually get it together to have a backyard barbecue party with all your friends. Or that fancy health club membership that you signed up for as a New Year's resolution but haven't used since January 15<sup>th</sup>. Or a top-of-the-line Viking gas range bought to tap into your inner Jacques Pepin when you're more of a microwave/take-out kind of person.</p> <p>One way to avoid aspirational spending is to make mindful <a href="">cost/benefit assessments</a> before committing to the expense:</p> <ul> <li>How often will you use the item?</li> <li>Are you paying for features you don't need or want or use?</li> <li>Is there a less expensive comparable option?</li> <li>Are you buying to service a current need or a future desire?</li> <li>Does the item fit into the life you live or some &quot;dream&quot; lifestyle?</li> <li>Can you live without it?</li> </ul> <p>When you actually take time to assess whether or not what you're spending money on adds value to the life you live rather than acting as a psychological placeholder for the life you think you SHOULD be living, you may find that there's an awful lot of spending on dresses for parties you'll never go to, sports equipment when your main form of exercise is clicking the remote, or that souped-up <a href="">smartphone</a> that doesn't mesh with your technical IQ.</p> <p>It can be humbling &mdash; and maybe even a little depressing &mdash; to acknowledge that you don't actually NEED a Cannondale Supersix EVO Ultimate sports bike because you'll never compete in a triathlon, much less the Tour de France, but it's also freeing in the long run.</p> <p>By making sure your purchases reflect your actual day-to-day habits rather than some dream lifestyle you don't actually live, you can funnel the money that would have been wasted on out-of-sync spending into savings, which can help you to attain financial freedom. And once you do that &mdash; who knows? Maybe you'll then have the wherewithal to actually pursue that Saturday night life after all!</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Avoiding Aspirational Spending" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><div class="field field-type-text field-field-guestpost-blurb"> <div class="field-label">Guest Post Blurb:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This is a guest post by Stella Louise, editor of the <a href=""> Blog &amp; Save</a>, a lifestyle blog for savvy consumers.</p> </div> </div> </div> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Stella Louise</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Lifestyle Shopping balanced spending clothes needs Fri, 09 Sep 2011 10:24:17 +0000 Stella Louise 696869 at The Limits to Just Not Buying <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/the-limits-to-just-not-buying" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Piggy Bank Yearns for a Distant Shore" title="Piggy Bank Yearns for a Distant Shore" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="140" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>My first reaction to financial stress has always been to just stop buying stuff. Obviously, some expenses can't be eliminated, but a lot of expenses are discretionary &mdash; on a temporary basis you can eliminate whole categories. Do not miss that very important key word, temporary. (See also: <a href="">Emergency Belt-Tightening</a>)</p> <p>My initial model for this came from my parents. Whenever money got a little tight when I was a kid, my dad would quit spending money. Since my mom bought the groceries and paid the bills, the result was that our fixed expenses continued to be paid while discretionary expenses dropped to zero. I only had limited insight into the household finances, but I could see that the strategy worked. The necessities were covered; the luxuries got deferred.</p> <p>When I grew up, I didn't stick with the gender role division, but the general strategy remained intact. In my case, money has been a little tight now for going on four years &mdash; ever since my former employer closed the site where I'd been working, and I became a full-time writer. My wife and I made modest changes to our fixed expenses &mdash; dropping our landline, swapping out the last of our incandescent bulbs. But our big economization was a huge drop in discretionary spending &mdash; we quit buying stuff.</p> <p>Our entertainment budget was cut to a single line item (Netflix). Our grocery spending shifted toward the low-cost end. We just about quit buying clothes or shoes or books or CDs. During the transition we did some traveling, but that too has fallen by the wayside. We even started buying cheap booze (although not <em>only</em> cheap booze).</p> <p>The result was just about what you'd expect &mdash; a sharp and sustained drop in our cost of living. And it was made without a big drop in our standard of living. We didn't buy much in the way of new clothes, but we had plenty of clothes. We got books from the library. We ate out less, but we cooked great meals at home. We do know the line between <a href="">frugal and crazy</a>.</p> <p>This drop in our cost of living was <em>sustained;</em> it wasn't <em>permanent</em>. As we approach four years of this, we've started to reach some limits. Our car, which has given us 21 years of trouble-free operation, is showing signs that it won't last forever. I've had to replace two computers. One pair of shoes has worn out, and I can see that two or three other pairs aren't going to last much longer.</p> <p>So, I offer this as a data point. I'm sure the results would be very different for families with children. But in our experience, as a household with two adults, the length of time that we could go on a buying fast turns out to be three or four years. And it's a genuine three or four years &mdash; we don't have a huge backlog of necessary expenses that have been on hold and are now becoming urgent.</p> <p>That's not forever, but it's a really long time. There are limits to just not buying stuff, but it's still a solid way to improve your household finances. Some expenses can't eliminated, but a lot of expenses are discretionary. On a temporary basis, you can eliminate whole categories.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="The Limits to Just Not Buying " rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Philip Brewer</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href="">Budgeting articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Budgeting Lifestyle Shopping balanced spending changing habits discretionary spending Wed, 27 Apr 2011 10:36:25 +0000 Philip Brewer 531647 at 8 Timeless Tips for Resisting the Upsell <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/8-timeless-tips-for-resisting-the-upsell" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Store cashier" title="Store cashier" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="166" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>The art of upselling is regarded in the sales world as one of the easiest ways to increase sales, and that's why you encounter this tactic often. A waiter may try to sell you a nice bottle of wine when you order a steak dinner, a car salesmen may try to sell you paint protection packages when you buy a car, and the McDonald's cashier will always ask &quot;Would you like to make that a meal today?&quot; They ask because in the moment, most people don't think about the additional expense and just see the additional benefit. If you want to save some money this holiday season and beyond, know these rules that will help keep those add-on costs down:</p> <h3>1. Think twice before you give out your contact information.</h3> <p>From signing up for email newsletters to flat-out leaving the other party with every conceivable way of reaching you, providing your contact information allows salespeople to contact you and pitch products and services again and again. Last week I got a call from a dealership pitching a maintenance package for my car. If even car dealerships have started doing this, you know every company can potentially spam you with these calls.</p> <h3>2. Do your research ahead of time.</h3> <p>To avoid spending more due to the hoopla of the shopping experience, try to figure out exactly what you need to purchase before you ever step out the door. Many people go to a restaurant because they are hungry or walk into Best Buy because they would like a new TV. The more prudent buyers know that they actually want a nice rib-eye steak because of its flavor, or that they want a LED TV from Samsung for Christmas.</p> <h3>3. Have a clear understanding of why you want it.</h3> <p>When you are able to articulate the reasons why you want to purchase a product, you can find the best place to purchase it. When you know exactly why you want a certain product, it's also much easier to tune out the sales pitches that will surface during the buying process.</p> <h3>4. Have a budget.</h3> <p>Most people should have a budget anyway, but it can be especially helpful in avoiding an upsell. Have a strict budget for items you want to buy, and if the price of an add-on still falls within budget, you can buy it. Otherwise, forget about it, no matter how useful it seems at the time.</p> <p>Be mindful of setting too loose a budget though. When there is a limit, it sometimes becomes a game of &quot;How close you can get to the limit without going over.&quot; Set the budget to $300? You will spend $297. Set it to $500? You will likely end up spending $485, even if you are trying to buy the same type of product. That's why research is so crucial.</p> <h3>5. Learn to say no to time limits.</h3> <p>It's easy to spend more at the time of purchase because you're drowning in the happiness of buying something new. When salespeople add a time limit on those add-on offers, they can suddenly become must-haves. In reality, almost no discount is ever a once-in-a-lifetime deal, so just say no and decide whether you really need it when you are in a more relaxed environment.</p> <h3>6. Try the 30 day rule.</h3> <p>This is just taking the &quot;say no&quot; rule up a notch. Basically, you limit yourself to not buying anything that wasn't planned or isn't needed until 30 days later, when you are past the time that you will likely act on impulse. If you still want it after 30 days, then you can have it!</p> <h3>7. Always find a way to self-serve.</h3> <p>I love self-service because of its convenience, but there's another benefit &mdash; the lack of upsell. Sure, computers can be programmed to ask questions in an attempt to get you to buy more, but they will never compare to a highly trained salesperson. And when the choice is presented by a computer, you also have a bit less pressure and thus can spend more time thinking about the offer.</p> <h3>8. Don't shop as much.</h3> <p>If you don't want to pay more for an upsell, then reduce the chances that you are being sold to. The less you are in the checkout line, the fewer small purchases you will see. The less you eat out, the less you will buy a premium beverage to go with your entree. The less you buy, the less you will pay more.</p> <p>Learn the rules, and you will spend less. Really.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="8 Timeless Tips for Resisting the Upsell" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">David Ning</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href="">Consumer Affairs articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Shopping balanced spending frugal shopping research smart shopping Thu, 16 Dec 2010 14:00:21 +0000 David Ning 385317 at 5 Signs That Your Credit Card Spending Is Out of Control <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5-signs-that-your-credit-card-spending-is-out-of-control" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="3 credit cards" title="3 credit cards" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="188" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>How good are you at staying on top of your credit card spending? <a href="">Credit cards</a> are a convenient financial tool that many of us prefer to use in lieu of cash, but they can become a thorn in your side if you&rsquo;re not careful. To determine how disciplined you are when it comes to spending with plastic, it may be a good idea to do a self-assessment. Here are five signs that your self-control goes out the window when it comes to buying stuff with your credit cards. If any of these signs seem familiar to you, then it&rsquo;s time to sit down and give yourself a good talking-to.</p> <h3>You can't leave the house without your credit cards.</h3> <p>This may be a sign that you are overly dependent on your cards, and that you've grown inured to a certain level of spending. Do you really need a credit card every time you pop into town for a quart of milk? When you carry your card around, it's easier to succumb to spending temptations that can add to your card balance. Try leaving it behind once in a while and see if doing so has a positive effect on your card balance and even your spending habits. You might be surprised by the results. (See also: <a title="6 Reasons Why Cash Is Still King" href="">6 Reasons Why Cash Is Still King</a>)</p> <h3>Every single thing you buy has to be bought with your credit card.</h3> <p>Have you fallen for the pitch that you should put all your financial transactions on your credit card? It's a good thing if you have a rewards credit card, and you are able to pay your bill in full every month to reap those rewards. But if you're keeping a credit card balance, then you need to think about the possible consequences of putting everything you buy on there. Maintaining a credit card balance that grows over time means that you will ultimately find it harder and harder to pay down. Many consumers mistakenly assume that their card rewards will neutralize or make up for their spending. This, of course, isn't the case.</p> <h3>Impulse buying has become second nature.</h3> <p>Impulse buying gets us all once in a while. But the habit can sneak up on you more easily if you always have a credit card with a high credit limit in your back pocket. In order to curb <a href="">impulse shopping</a>, you need to regain some common sense and question everything you buy for a while. One way to control your spending urges is to set up a budget and account for all the spending you do. It's helped me to keep a closer eye on the purchases I make.</p> <h3>You don't stick to a budget.</h3> <p>I just mentioned the benefits of drawing up a budget. A budget allows you to become intimately aware of your limits so you don&rsquo;t exceed them, and many responsible credit card users are able to keep their spending in check because of the simple act of budgeting. But it's not enough to set up a budget; you also have to make the commitment to stick to it! You can develop a budget with the use of simple spreadsheets or a free budgeting tool like <a href=""></a>. If you are more inclined towards desktop applications, then <a href="">YNAB is a good option</a>.</p> <h3>The idea of cutting up your credit cards makes you break out in a cold sweat.</h3> <p>Does it make you nervous when you think about leaving the house without your cards? If it does, it&rsquo;s time to think seriously about who is in control &mdash; you or your credit card. You should never feel as if you couldn&rsquo;t do without one in your wallet. Many folks have switched to using cash for all their transactions and have actually found it to be a liberating experience.</p> <p>If you can&rsquo;t spot any of the above signs just yet, congratulations. You are still in full control of both your common sense and your credit cards. But don't get complacent yet; it's important for you to always track your credit card usage and how much you spend. So keep your eye on those cards!</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="5 Signs That Your Credit Card Spending Is Out of Control" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Silicon Valley Blogger</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href="">Credit Cards articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Credit Cards Shopping balanced spending impulsive spending Sun, 31 Oct 2010 17:00:12 +0000 Silicon Valley Blogger 271056 at How to Split Food Expenses With a Significant Other <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/how-to-split-food-expenses-with-a-significant-other" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Vegetables" title="Vegetables" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="188" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>When couples first start living together, a lot of <a href="">questions about money</a> arise that you don't really think about when you're living on your own. For example, who pays for grocery and food costs?</p> <p>When you're living on your own, you buy groceries maybe once a week and pay for yourself when you're at a restaurant. Simple. But what do you do when you and your significant other are both eating and paying for a portion of the groceries and dinners out on the town?</p> <p>It can be frustrating trying to divide food into his and hers or figuring out how to pay for the amount of food that you ate at the Olive Garden last night. Luckily, my girlfriend and I figured out an easy way to do away with this problem and keep the food budget as simple as possible every month.</p> <h3>Finding How Much You Spend on Food</h3> <p>We moved in together in September and quickly realized that, since food was such a staple in our lives, we needed to keep our food finances as simple as possible to avoid a huge headache and potential money fights. Before we could do anything, we needed to get an idea about our food spending habits.</p> <p>We decided to run a two-month trial where we ate what we wanted, bought food when we wanted, and didn't really hold back or attempt to cut pennies. We wanted an accurate picture of what a month's worth of food for two people would cost us. Trying to excessively save money or cut coupons would only hurt our data and make it impossible to accurately predict what our food expenses were going to be every month.</p> <p>For two months, we documented our spending on food related items in a Google Doc. When we went grocery shopping, we came home and wrote down how much we spent and what we bought. When we went out to eat with friends, we kept the receipt and documented it when we got home. When we bought wine, we brought the receipt home and wrote the price down.</p> <p>It wasn't as tedious as it sounds because we knew we'd only be keeping track of the spending for two months. It was a fun experiment to see how our habits changed from one month to the next. (It's also a good idea to get an idea about your spending habits in any category from time to time in case you're significantly overspending and not knowing it.)</p> <h3>Analyzing Your Spending</h3> <p>After our trial period, we sat down and looked at our data. We found a couple areas of our spending where we could cut expenses (cereal and potato chips), but for the most part our monthly totals were reasonable in our minds, and most importantly, for our salaries.</p> <p>We averaged the two months and decided that was the amount we would budget every month for groceries, restaurants, and alcohol. To make sure we had some buffer room we added 10% so we wouldn't run out of money if one month went a little over. We have different salaries, but since we both eat a similar amount of food, we decided to split the food expenses 50/50, instead of each paying a percentage based on our salaries.</p> <h3>Using the Food Money</h3> <p>My girlfriend then created a food money box and placed it in the kitchen. On the 9th of every month, we go to the food box, split what's left in the box, and throw in our monthly food money that we found during our two-month documentation phase. (You would think that the expenses would fluctuate pretty often. It's actually the exact opposite: we're always within $20-40 of the previous month, so we never have a problem.)</p> <p>If we go grocery shopping, we pick up some cash from the box, and head to the store. If we're meeting friends for dinner, we take money from the box. When my school lunch bill comes at the end of the month, I take out 5,000 yen ($50) and pay the bill.</p> <p>The great thing about the two-month documentation phase was that it allowed us to better understand our food spending habits. We could see what we bought on paper, and it ingrained in our minds what was an acceptable amount of an item to buy.</p> <h3>Make It Your Own</h3> <p>Our spending is pretty similar from month to month, but your spending may be different, so mold this system to your situation. You can add a larger buffer &mdash; maybe 20% &mdash; if you find your spending is fluctuating. Maybe you want to treat yourself during the summer months? Go ahead and add some extra money to the food budget for those months.</p> <p>The framework is here for you, but you'll have to do a little bit of calculating to figure out how it works best for you. At first you may find it difficult to control your spending since you initially put hundreds of dollars in the money box at the beginning of the month It can be easy to go food crazy and buy a bunch of unnecessary items. I know you don't want to hear it, but there is some money discipline involved in this process. We don't buy 25 bottles of wine every month. We may only go out to dinner less than four times a month. But we know what is acceptable to buy and what isn't, which allows us to keep our funds going for the entire month.</p> <p>I would suggest this method to any couple who is having problems figuring out their food expenses. It's efficient, easy, and will save you loads of time and worry over the course of your relationship.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="How to Split Food Expenses With a Significant Other" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><div class="field field-type-text field-field-guestpost-blurb"> <div class="field-label">Guest Post Blurb:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This is a guest post by Austin Morgan. Austin teaches English in Japan and writes about the money topics that affect all 20-somethings at <a href=";sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNH5SWwjnPvtIGSK9kQJ8Z3u0lBo3Q"></a>.</p> <ul> <li><a href="">Why 99.7% of People Should Avoid Actively Trading Stocks</a></li> <li><a href="">How I Saved $65 with a 5 Minute Phone Call</a></li> <li><a href="">Renting 101: What You Should Know Before You Sign</a></li> </ul> </div> </div> </div> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Austin Morgan</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href="">Budgeting articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Budgeting Food and Drink balanced spending groceries relationships Wed, 30 Jun 2010 13:00:03 +0000 Austin Morgan 155489 at How Not to Buy Too Much <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/how-not-to-buy-too-much" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="apple and measuring tape" title="apple and measuring tape" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Creating a budget is a lot like going on a diet. You begin full of hope and enthusiasm. Every pound lost is a victory. You probably tweet it while you're still on the scale.</p> <p>Then the excitement starts to wear thin, so to speak. You're still hungry after meals. Weighing portions becomes a chore and you resent limiting yourself to the &quot;lean choices!&quot; side of the menu. And oh, do you miss your old friends Ben and Jerry. (Carrot sticks are <em>not</em> the same as Chubby Hubby.)</p> <p>With luck you find balance, i.e., eating sensibly most of the time and splurging on the occasional slice of cheesecake. But until you've mastered healthier habits, you need to avoid those all-you-can-eat buffets (to say nothing of the &quot;lard choices!&quot; side of the menu).</p> <p>Changing the way you spend isn't that different from changing the way you eat. You need to learn financial balance &mdash; spending wisely most of the time and treating yourself to the occasional Ferrari. Until then, you need to stay out of the mall and away from online shopping sites.</p> <p>I've heard some interesting suggestions about how to cut spending. My favorite was from a woman who admitted to being a quart low on willpower. Her solution to impulse buying? She taped her credit card to the back of a huge, heavy dresser and had her boyfriend shove it against the wall. The woman couldn't even <em>budge</em> the armoire on her own. Problem solved.</p> <p>If that strategy won't work for you, how about these?</p> <h3>1. Make your money inaccessible</h3> <p>Once you've made your plastic hard to reach, treat your cash the same way: Put it in an online bank, which means at least a 48-hour wait for withdrawals. (Bonus points for doing it as <a href="">laddered CDs</a>.) Of course you should keep <em>some </em>liquid funds in case of emergency, but why not put most of them in a checking account without an ATM card? Having to go to the trouble of writing a paper check to the cute-shoes emporium or the hot-wings place might temper impulse buys. (So might the fact that <a href="">fewer and fewer places are taking checks</a> these days.)</p> <h3>2. Give yourself an allowance</h3> <p>And feel free to spend it &mdash; but when it's gone, that's it. If you want a bigger-ticket item, save up for it.</p> <h3>3. Say &quot;maybe later&quot;</h3> <p>Start an online wish list and <em>look</em> at your sparklies instead of buying them. Think about saving up for them. Also, tell people who like you an awful lot about this list, for birthday and holiday purposes.</p> <h3>4. Try a petite splurge</h3> <p>See a delicious-looking cake? Ask if it comes in cupcake form. Grouchy because you can't afford a vacation? Join a <a href="">social buying site</a> and watch for spa deals; a few hours of pampering for $40 beats a weekend in wine country and its corresponding financial hangover.</p> <h3>5. Calculate the real-world cost</h3> <p>Suppose that daily coffee-and-bagel habit works out to at least $25 a week. How many hours of work does that translate to, Mr. or Ms. Underemployed? (Specifically, how many Gap shirts do you have to fold per sip of overpriced java?) For extra credit: What could you do with an extra $100 or more a month? For heaven's sake, get a travel mug and keep some bagels in the freezer.</p> <h3>6. Wait, wait and, oh yeah, WAIT</h3> <p>Those must-have shoes or fishing lures or whatever it is you think you want? A week later you might not care. Then again, you might, which is why you should&hellip;</p> <h3>7. Buddy up</h3> <p>Make a pact with your spouse/partner: Henceforth and forevermore, decisions on anything more expensive than a box of condoms (a purchase you should <em>never</em> begrudge) will be <em>mutual</em> decisions. Unattached? Get a friend, or more than one friend, to talk you down from the &quot;hot deals&quot; site. There's a variation on this system, called&hellip;</p> <h3>8. The three-strikes rule</h3> <p>You must discuss and/or physically handle a prospective purchase at least three times before you can actually buy it. This gives the scales a chance to fall from your eyes, i.e., you may realize that the skirt isn't <em>that</em> cute. (Bonus: If you eventually decide to buy, the item may be on sale. Maybe even on clearance, if you've dilly-dallied sufficiently.)</p> <h3>9. Don't buy it &mdash; TRY it</h3> <p>If possible, borrow the item you crave. One of my prizes for being on the game show &quot;Jeopardy!&quot; was a video camera, which was an expensive item back in 1991. Frugal friends borrowed it to film their kids' birthday parties. Or how about renting? A four-hour contract on a power washer could help you realize you really <em>wouldn't</em> use it often enough to justify a purchase.</p> <h3>10. Scavenge</h3> <p>Is there a <a href="">Freecycle</a> chapter in your area? How about the &quot;free&quot; section on Craigslist? An <a href="">online swap site</a>? Or put the word out among friends and co-workers that you're looking for a sofa or an exercise bike or a wading pool &mdash; somebody might be anxious to ditch one.</p> <h3>11. Interrogate each purchase</h3> <p>Run all potential buys through the following filter:</p> <ul> <li>Do I really <em>need</em> this?</li> <li>If I get it, will my life be significantly improved?</li> <li>If I don't get it, will my life be substantially diminished?</li> <li>Do I already have something that will suffice?</li> </ul> <p>It's up to you what you buy. But being cautious about <em>how </em>you buy may keep your life free of clothes you don't wear and gadgets you rarely use.</p> <p>Just as a diet doesn't mean you can never enjoy food again, a budget doesn't mean that you can never buy again. But it's probably smarter to buy a cupcake than a layer cake.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="How Not to Buy Too Much" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><div class="field field-type-text field-field-guestpost-blurb"> <div class="field-label">Guest Post Blurb:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Donna writes the <a href="">Living With Less</a> column for MSN Money, posts weekly at <a href="">Smart Spending</a> and also has her own site, <a href="" target="_blank">Surviving and Thriving</a>. More great articles from&nbsp;Donna:</p> <ul> <li><a href="">Art of the Power Nap</a></li> <li><a href="">Why Little League Games are the Best Ticket in Town</a></li> <li><a href="">I&nbsp;Travel With Mayonnaise</a></li> </ul> </div> </div> </div> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Donna Freedman</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href="">Budgeting articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Budgeting Shopping balanced spending spending strategy Thu, 17 Jun 2010 13:00:03 +0000 Donna Freedman 128255 at Balancing Spending with Saving: Being Frugal but not Miserly <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/balancing-spending-with-saving-being-frugal-but-not-miserly" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="balance" title="balance" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="333" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Check out your thesaurus, and you may discover that &ldquo;frugal&rdquo; and &ldquo;miserly&rdquo; share many of the same words as their cousins. Let this be our warning: take frugal too far, and we can become miserly before we even know what hit us.</p> <p><strong>Are you being frugal?</strong> Do you watch your expenses, learn new ways to save money, and stave off <a href="">impulse purchases</a>?</p> <p><strong>Or are you being miserly?</strong> Not going out to your friend&rsquo;s birthday dinner because you&rsquo;d have to spend money to be there, or cutting your heat off to live in frigid squalor so you can save some extra money?</p> <p>The examples above illustrate my own definition of the difference between frugal and miserly, but those are subjective definitions. Like I said above, frugal and miserly share many similar verbal cousins in the thesaurus who don&rsquo;t recognize such a big difference between the two.</p> <h2>Case Study: Balancing Saving with Spending</h2> <p>I write this article because I recently did some budgeting exercises with my boyfriend, and we are in &ldquo;savings mode.&rdquo; We are utilizing a unique opportunity to work abroad in Australia, and are taking some time here as part of our full-time travels to work and save extra money so our future traveling is not predicated on finding as much work along the way. When we travel through less work-friendly and more foreign countries, we know the extra savings will come in handy.</p> <p>Although our cost of living here in Australia is minimal, there are still expenses we bear to stay here that we might not pay as much for if we were actively traveling, such as: rent, car insurance and maintenance, <a href="">power</a>, internet and telephone hook-ups, etc.</p> <p>So we are once again walking the fine line that so many people around the world do every day &ndash; stretching a regular paycheck between the chasm that spans spending and saving.</p> <p>Woah. I forgot just how hard this stuff is.</p> <p>When there isn&rsquo;t much room to wiggle after your basic expenses are covered, saving for a specific goal can be consuming. All other aspects of life go on hold while saving for &ldquo;x.&rdquo; But what is your quality of life in the meantime? Can you honestly say that during your time of saving, you have balance?</p> <p>Within my own context, I still see myself as a traveler, despite having taken some time to settle in Australia and work. I enjoy weekend road trips, continued exploration, climbing, hiking, and camping in a country that is foreign to my own. I also realize that I could spend 100% of what I earn here without trying too hard, leaving me with no Aussie savings to pad further travels.</p> <p><i>Does this sound familiar? Most of us could easily spend all the money we earn, and have nothing left over for any of our financial and life goals &ndash; retirement, making a major purchase, or investing.</i></p> <p>So I need to be frugal. Frugal &ndash; but not miserly, if I can avoid it. For example, when I eat out with friends (such as I did on <a href="">Taco Tuesday</a>), I don&rsquo;t spend a lot of money on the experience, but I&rsquo;m still there joining in the festivities (in moderation) and benefiting from an enriching social experience. Had I been miserly, I would simply have stayed home.</p> <p>Where I have trouble in differentiating between being frugal and miserly is in the following examples:</p> <ul> <li>I missed out on seeing the Great Barrier Reef in northern Australia &ndash; partly because of time constraints, but mostly because of the money. I might get a chance to see it again, but I might not. Getting back there from where I currently live would cost money (and lots of it: I just priced out a three-day trip, which would cost well over $1,000 per person).<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>People back home who have visited Australia as tourists have many recommendations for me, including remote trips and tours to places like Ayres Rock and the Yellow River. Again though &ndash; the cost to get there is exorbitant, and a basic road trip could still run thousands of dollars.</li> </ul> <p><i>It&rsquo;s like somebody new to the United States living in New York and being told that they &ldquo;absolutely must&rdquo; see California, or Hawaii, or Alaska, or even Puerto Rico. It&rsquo;s not as easy as going for a Sunday drive, especially if you are on a tight budget.</i></p> <p>The above activities are important things to do if you visit Australia as a tourist. Then again &ndash; as a full-time traveler, I don&rsquo;t try to specifically avoid the tourist trail; but sometimes the cost to be on it is prohibitive. (Then again, there is a reason why people travel to see tourist sights&hellip;they may just be worth seeing.)</p> <p>If I chose to do all the activities above, I might not be able to afford to travel much beyond Australia (and I haven&rsquo;t even touched on half the places I want to see in my global travels yet), but I could have a whopper of a time while I&rsquo;m here.</p> <p><i>Translation: I could live really well now by spending everything I earn (couldn&rsquo;t we all), but it would be at the expense of my future goals.</i></p> <p>And what of my upcoming trip to New Zealand, where I&rsquo;ll be taunted and tempted by all sorts of extreme &ndash; and extremely thrilling &ndash; sports and activities that are right up my alley &ndash; but also upwards of $100 a pop? I could stand to lose a giant chunk of savings by doing these activities along with my boyfriend, but then again, I could stand to lose a giant chunk of life experience by <i>not </i>doing them.</p> <p>So what do you think? If I keep my head down for the next while and work hard to save money for future travels, am I forgetting about the beauty of where I am right now?</p> <p>Or if I spend everything I earn in Australia and have to return &ldquo;home&rdquo; for lack of funds before I&rsquo;m happy to, did I lose sight of the ball?</p> <p>How does a <a href="">Professional Hobo</a> like me accurately see the world &ndash; on a budget &ndash; and not compromise too many of my desires in the process due to a hyperactive tendency towards frugality and the desire to save some money?</p> <p>Then again, what IS travel if it is not getting out and enjoying myself? Possibly buying a round of drinks to pave the way for conversation with locals or fellow travelers? Or enjoying abseiling, <a href="">climbing</a>, <a href="">caving</a>, <a href="">scuba diving</a>, <a href="">boogie boarding</a>, or bungee jumping?</p> <p>Linsey wrote this great article to give you a <a href="">few clues if you&rsquo;ve gone too far with frugality</a>. So how do you achieve &ndash; and maintain &ndash; your own balance between spending and saving?</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Balancing Spending with Saving: Being Frugal but not Miserly" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Nora Dunn</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href="">Lifestyle articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Lifestyle balanced saving balanced spending miserly Mon, 21 Sep 2009 13:00:01 +0000 Nora Dunn 3625 at