Rest assured, Financial Friend, you are not alone. Last weekend alone 3 meetings popped onto my calendar with descriptions like “Impending financial downfall,” “Save me from myself,” and “I can’t stop spending money.”
It’s not shocking that we would see increases in spending around this time. For one thing, summer can be a rough time on our budgets, as it seems there is always another wedding, or a friend in from out of town, or a vacation opportunity, or cute new bathing suits and dresses to replace the ones that have been sitting in our drawers for two years now.
On top of this, it hardly feels indulgent to see friends who we have literally not seen outside of Zoom for a year, travel to meet new babies who we haven’t met, or spend time with family and friends now that things are a bit safer.
Still, just because new opportunities exist, that doesn’t mean they all fit into our budgets at the same time, and that means all the tools in our possession to live intentionally need to be deployed. Here are a few things we’ve found are working for our clients who are committed to staying on track, or getting back on track, after some pandemic-induced budgetary slip ups.
Avoid an all or nothing attitude
One of the things that we’ve been hearing a lot is that so many things are popping up all at once that going beyond the budget feels inevitable, so people are saying “screw it.” Many of us (author raises hand) fall victim to an all or nothing attitude when it comes to some things. For me, it happens with time. Like if I tell myself I’ll start a chore at 3pm and I look at the clock and see it’s 3:05, I’m tempted to throw up my hands like I lost my one and only chance in the world to do my laundry.
I see a lot of people wrestle with this type of thinking about budgets, and my best advice is to reframe it. If a big weekend or a non-negotiable purchase pushes you past your variable spending limit by $50, acknowledge it, forgive yourself for it, and move on. Going over your budget doesn’t make you a failure at life. It makes you someone who missed a target this week. But forgiving yourself for it doesn’t mean you might as well spend a bunch of other money, too. You have the power to make it an incident, and not a pattern, if you keep your goals in mind.
2. Gamify your goals around problem areas
I have a client who lives across the street from Target, and she finds that when she pops in for that one thing she needs, she typically leaves with her arms full of…well… stuff. Never going to Target again is not a realistic goal under these circumstances, but having a “No Target” week is. And it’s the only rule. She can do anything she wants, buy anything she needs, she just can’t do it at Target, for a designated amount of time.
One “No Target” week is enough to accomplish a few things: starting to break a mindless habit, giving yourself some room to reflect on needs versus wants, and being more intentional about what you buy and where, and how that serves you. It can also give you the opportunity to create workarounds that allow you to avoid temptation.
In the same vein as this game are No Spend Days, which force us to be creative in meeting our needs. There’s an old saying I find goes along well with this game: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. I’ve seen clients use this as a fun challenge, with great results.
Once you’ve met your goal, see if you can push past it. How long can you go without (insert problem area here)? Can you beat your old score?
3. Use gift cards to create hard stops on your spending
If you find it hard to track your spending and you’re tired of being surprised at the end of the month by how much your dining, grocery, or taxi spend is, buy gift cards and only use those for spending in that category. If your taxi budget is $200 per month, buy a $200 gift card. If your lunch at work budget is $250 per month, buy yourself a giftcard to your favorite restaurant (or a Visa gift card if you want to use it at several places). You’ll be forced to confront when you’ve reached your limits, and if you choose to go over budget you’ll be doing so intentionally.
4. Become the social planner in your family/friend group
I agree. It’s hard, if not impossible to say no to get togethers with people we haven’t seen in ages or those who are popping into town on newly permitted travels. If we leave it up to others, we often find ourselves signed up for dinners or trips or nights out that we really can’t afford.
Instead of saying no or reaching for your credit card to get through this summer, come up with plans that do fit in your budget and be the one to propose them. That gives you the opportunity to research options and get buy-in from visitors so that things don’t feel out of your control in the moment.
We’re all facing some challenges this summer, many of which can feel out of our control after such a rough year. But with some planning and dedication to trying new tricks, tips, and tools, you CAN balance your budget and your beach days, or whatever you have coming down the pike. The key is to be prepared, stay the course, and when necessary, get back on the horse.
HELP! The World Reopened and My spending is Out of Control! is written by Terri Bennett, A Certified Financial Trainer for financialgym.com