Guest Blog: 5 Tips for Controlling Your Spending
Today kicks off a week dedicated to promoting financial readiness among service members and military families, and highlighting the Defense Department’s resources dedicated to keeping you fiscally fit. Here on the Blog Brigade, we’re dipping into our archives to share some of our favorite posts about budgeting, particularly those related to cash budgeting. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post if you enjoy it!
Blogger Biography: Shannon is a fun-loving, sarcastic Florida girl and Navy wife. With a few years of marriage under their belt, Shannon and her husband navigate through deployments, PCS moves and their goal of becoming debt-free with the perfect recipe of determination and humor, topped off with a glass of sweet tea and a little slobber from their dog, Macy!
Ever had one of those moments while shopping when you see the most amazing pair of shoes that turn out to be a little too expensive and you have to force yourself to walk away? What about those moments shortly after when you tell yourself, “I know they’re expensive but…” Ever open your wallet and see a little moth fly out, like in the cartoons? Have you ever “borrowed” a few dollars from your kids’ piggy bank to go back and buy those amazing shoes?
You aren’t alone. In fact, I have had some of those same thoughts. Somehow, I pushed the fact that my husband and I were living paycheck to paycheck to the back of my mind. We were barely making it to the next payday because there was always another pair of amazing shoes waiting to be purchased. Or another sale on electronics. We were compulsive spenders, I guess.
It seems that living paycheck to paycheck is common among military families and single military service members. It’s an unfortunate reality, but let me tell you: living paycheck to paycheck does NOT have to be your reality. You can be successful at saving for emergency funds and college funds—and even become debt-free by controlling your spending. Simple as that!
Here are five tips for controlling your spending:
Find an online budgeting tool for managing your monthly expenses. There are some really great resources available to military families to assist with budgeting and money management. A great online budget tool is MyMoney.gov. Don’t forget about all the smartphone applications that are out there for helping you manage your money on the fly. Most will allow you to enter in your monthly income, subtract bills to be paid, add work bonuses or extra cash made and show you what’s left of your income for that month. It’s what you do with that remaining income that will help you become successful with controlling your spending.
Create a budget on paper every payday. Seeing your money being distributed on paper is a great mental tool to use when trying to curb crazy spending habits. Start with the basics: rent/mortgage, food, electricity/power and clothing. Add categories that are necessary for your family. Maybe you’d have categories for date nights, babysitters, haircuts or new toys for kids. Give each category a reasonable amount based on your income, and spend only what you’ve allotted for each category. If you’re a recovering compulsive spender, I’d suggest giving yourself a small amount of money to blow on whatever you want; this way you don’t feel like you’re depriving yourself by going “cold turkey.”
Try using a cash budget. This is a crazy idea to grasp, but I can’t tell you how well this has worked for my husband and me. Once you’ve got your budget written down on paper, go to the bank and withdraw the money for each of your categories. Make it fun by getting cute envelopes and decorating each separate envelope for what it will hold – “Groceries,” “Clothes,” “Fun Spending Money,” or “New Toys for Kids.” The trick here is to be diligent in only spending what you have set aside. Once your “Fun Spending Money” is gone, cut yourself off until next payday.
Limit how much you swipe your debit card. Often times, making a quick run to the store for shampoo turns into buying shampoo, three new shirts, a hula-hoop and that new bed set that happens to be on sale. You swipe your debit card and head home to change the sheets on the bed without thinking twice about what you just spent. Have you ever noticed how you feel when you spend the $100 bill you got for your birthday or for a holiday? For some reason I notice that when I have dollars in my hand (or wallet), it is SO much harder to spend! Weird, right? I never have that feeling when I use my debit card. Maybe it’s because I can’t physically SEE my money leaving my hand? Try it sometime and see what you feel!
Don’t hide your spending. It’s no secret that money problems are a big cause of divorces, not only in military families, but civilian families, too. Being married means having a teammate in life – you’d be hurting the team by hiding any erratic, compulsive spending from your partner. Sit down with your spouse and plan out your budget together. Make plans for spending your “Date Night” money together. Maybe have a conversation about purchases you made and didn’t mention to your spouse. The key is to be open and honest. If you’re single, find a trustworthy person in your life to help hold you accountable with your finances. Your parents, a close friend or your church pastor are always great options for accountability partners. If you’re dying to buy that 60-inch flat screen television, hold off and talk to your accountability partner first. Figure out if it’s the best time for you to buy or whether you can come up with a savings plan to buy it at a later time.
Be smart when making decisions with your money. Think out your financial options and devise a plan. Try not to buy compulsively or be careless with your money just because it feels good to have that amazing pair of shoes right this second. Believe me, what will feel GREAT, is seeing how much money you have left at the end of the pay period! Check out Military OneSource for other great personal finance resources.