Payday has finally arrived. After you pay your bills and buy groceries for the week, you decide to treat yourself to a nice gift. And then another. The next thing you know, you’re looking at your bank statement and have less money than you expected.
Overspending is a common phenomenon. Many people experience it for a number of reasons. It often catches you by surprise. This is especially true if you’re not diligent about budgeting and spend your days guessing how much money you have in your account.
When you do realize you’ve gone overboard with your expenditures, you might experience spender’s guilt. It’s time to kiss those days of guesstimating and guilt goodbye. Using these five financial planning practices, you can start to spend with confidence every time.
1. Identify Your Spending Triggers
Emotions can drive us to do a number of things, including spending money. When your emotions cause you to give in to spending, you’re experiencing a spending trigger. These triggers can be managed, however. The first thing you need to do is identify them.
Spending triggers can be different for everyone. Maybe you’re at a street festival and feel pressured to buy a piece of art. Maybe you spend more when you’re out with your friends. Or maybe you’ve had a bad day at work and feel like you need a new sweater to cheer you up. These are some of the most common spending triggers that people experience.
However, when you know your triggers, you can more easily recognize when one is occurring and put a stop to it. The next time you’re about to make an unplanned purchase, stop briefly to assess whether you’re experiencing one of your spending triggers. Maybe consider using a debit card so you’re sure to not spend more than what is in your account.
Instead of spending, try to resolve that urge to be comforted by getting a hug from your partner rather than a new pashmina. Once the temptation to spend is recognized and evaluated, your overspending is sure to decline.
2. Track Your Spending
Tracking your spending is an important habit to form to achieve your financial goals. You should begin tracking every purchase — not just the larger ones. Your smaller purchases might not seem to make a big impact on your account, but they add up quickly. So make a note of that latte you picked up on your way to work.
Knowing where all of your money goes each month can help you determine which areas you can spend less in. There are several budgeting and notes apps available for smartphones you can use to help quickly track these expenses. Get in the habit of using apps like Mint or CountAbout to track your expenses as they occur. You might also collect all of your receipts from that week and designate a day to add up your spending.
Tracking is not designed to make you feel guilty about your spending habits. Instead, it’s a tool to help you see where you’re spending, perhaps unconsciously, and where you can improve.
3. Create a Budget
Having a budget in place doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change what you spend your money on. A budget helps you decide and control where your money goes each month. It’s crucial to have a budget if you hope to curb overspending.
A budget helps you determine how much money you can spend each month and how much you will save. To create a budget, start by calculating your monthly income and the expenses you incur, on average, each month. Your tracking data will come in handy for this part. To create an effective budget, include all of your expenses. From your mortgage or rent to how much you spend on entertainment each month, leave no stone unturned.
Once you have all of your expenses mapped out, compare it to your income. If you come out with money left over, save it for a future large expenditure or an unexpected emergency expense. Cars break down occasionally, as just one example.
Financial situations change. We get raises, new jobs, or new additions to the family. Check your budget every month or two and make sure it’s still working for you. Your budget should be there to help relieve financial stress — not cause it.
4. Set Financial Goals
Just like you set goals for your personal life or career, you should also set goals for your finances. Setting attainable goals can help keep you motivated when it comes to your saving and spending habits. When you’re planning your financial goals, set short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals and track your progress for each.
Non-specific goals such as “I want to save money,” can be hard to track, potentially causing disappointment later. Instead, make goals specific and quantifiable. So instead of “I want to save money,” adjust your goal to “I want to save $100 every month.”
By setting specific goals, you can more easily track your progress and experience satisfaction when you achieve them. To help you stay motivated, keep goals written down and placed in highly visible areas. That way, you’re regularly reminded of what you’re working toward.
5. Give Yourself a Break
Let’s say you decide to take desserts completely out of your diet. The next time you take a bite of chocolate cake after so long without it, you’ll crave more. The same sort of craving occurs when you intentionally go for long periods of time without spending money on yourself. If you deny yourself for months, when you finally do treat yourself, you’re likely to spend like there’s no tomorrow.
As you’re tracking expenses and creating a reasonable budget, don’t forget to pay yourself. Set aside some money to buy yourself something you love.
You deserve to reward yourself for working hard. If you enjoy shopping for clothes, take a trip to your favorite store with the money you’ve designated for yourself. If you enjoy nights out on the town, set aside your personal money to take yourself on a date. When you habitually pay yourself some — but not too much — discretionary income, you’ll have something to look forward to each month. You’ll also greatly reduce your overspending.
Establishing a healthy relationship with your money can be a challenge, but finances don’t have to be a stressor in your life. Through tracking your spending, budgeting, setting goals, and paying yourself, you can minimize overspending and develop positive money habits.