Even for families with two full-time working parents, after childcare, the mortgage payment, student loans, a busy family life with small children and monthly credit card bills, it can sometimes feel impossible to fund a vacation, do a modest remodel or keep up with the kids’ wardrobe needs, not to mention our own! The pressure can be even more intense if you’re single or one parent stays at home. In my work as a holistic financial coach, I help families identify and stop leaks and curb overspending. The first step to stopping these kinds of financial drains is to identify the five reasons we overspend: periodic, income, planning, emotional and, drumroll please, credit cards.
Periodic — A periodic expense is an anticipated non-monthly expense. These are memberships, registrations, classes, tuition, holidays, birthdays, insurance, car maintenance, vet expenses, vacations, taxes and more. People tend to get very flustered when one of these “have-to” expenses suddenly pops up. Being financially savvy requires planning ahead and taking preventative measures for more clarity and fewer surprises. What you can do: Create and maintain a calendar of scheduled and potential periodic expenses. Set aside money into a periodic expenses savings account every month and use it when the expenses happen. This is a revolving door savings account, money that is meant to be spent.
Income — Payday is not a good day to go shopping. This includes bonuses, tax refunds, inheritance and gifts. While many people feel rich when direct deposit hits their account, in reality, that money is largely spoken for. “Pay yourself first,” means making transfers into your retirement and savings accounts. I suggest you literally establish savings as a priority and build cushions for your nest egg and emergency funds. Then, ideally follow a budget or spending plan to pay all of your bills on time in full and make sure your basic needs are met. What you can do: Keep an ongoing list of your needs and wants. Remember: a need sustains you and a want entertains you.
Planning — Rushing and underestimating are very common pitfalls of overspending. Don’t wait until you’re on the way to a party to buy something, plan ahead. “I thought my last set of new car tires would cost $400 but the total bill was $686 with alignment, recycling fees, taxes and same day service.” It’s important to know much money you need in your accounts each week and at the end of the month. What short and long-term financial housekeeping tasks need to be taken care of? What you can do: Research. Take a few minutes every month to be proactive and plan forward. Scan your calendar while creating your spending plan. Have at least two money dates with your honey every month.
Emotional — Retail therapy, anyone? Human beings are highly motivated by pleasure and pain. People seek release from tension in a variety of ways including spending money on food, drinks, clothes, electronics, travel, entertainment, hobbies, and more. Your emotional state will invariably have an impact on the bill. Tune in to your feelings. Are you calm, relaxed and in a state of equanimity or are you triggered, angry, lonely, or fearful? What you can do: Return or sell unused, unwanted or guilt-ridden items. Keep a list of healthy stress relievers. Experiment with tracking your emotions before, during and after both everyday and spontaneous shopping excursions.
Credit Cards — Not only does research suggest that people overspend by up to 23% when they use credit cards vs. debit cards or cash, but there are other risks as well: debt, financial vagueness, and underearning. Even for those who pay off your balances in full every month, there is still a disconnection between acquiring something and the reality of paying for it. Credit card usage can lead to magical thinking, which can cause you to buy, spend and shop to the point of excess. What you can do: Try one month without using credit cards and record the impact on your cash flow and money consciousness. At the very least, pay your credit card down to zero at the end of every month to capture February’s spending in February. Lastly, if you are harboring a “secret credit card,” it’s time to come out of the closet. Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are key qualities of the most financially successful people. Lastly, if you do overspend, take a moment to reflect on the reason!