Eight Ways to Outsmart Overspending
Got a bad habit (or two) that's keeping the family green in the red? A can-do mom offers a reality check with savvy ways to save your money.
Parents: Have you been hijacked by the "psychology of overspending"? If you're prone to turning a blind eye to certain areas of your budget, that may be the case, says financial advisor Leslie Greenman, author of Dating Our Money: A Women's Guide to Confidence with Money & Men and the mom of two behind DatingOurMoney.com.
Here, she offers eight tips to overcome some of the emotional triggers that can lead to overspending – and, ultimately, help you confidently make smarter in-the-moment choices with your cash.
1. Get real about your financials
Sit down with your spouse at least once a month and have a heart-to-heart about your financials. Make sure you both understand what the budget will allow for in spending that month, and, more importantly, plan out how you're going to meet your saving goals. "When you do so, you'll be more inclined to control your spending," Greenman says.
2. Establish an "Operation Saving" plan
Once you know what your budget is, start mapping out what expenses you can and can't cut and set savings goals. Be very specific. If you buy Starbucks every morning, that has to be accounted for in your spending report. If you've been sneakily hiding clothing purchases from your spouse, it's time to fess up. This overrides the "vagueness trap" that allows us to fool ourselves about how much we're really spending.
"Set both short-term and long-term goals," Greenman adds. "Do you want to pay off a credit card over the course of three months? Do you want to save up for a special family vacation or set aside a certain amount in your children's college funds?"
3. Don't let the psychology of the sale get the best of you
If you're a chronic overspender, sales pose a special temptation. When there's a great bargain, we usually use two factors to justify spending, explains Greenman. First, we fear that if we don't take advantage of the sale now, we might not be able to get that item later. And secondly, many women love to feel like they've gotten a great deal.
"But let's be honest: Going over-budget is going over-budget. Your debt is increasing. So don't let the temptation of great sales get the best of your budget. If an item is too much for your personal financial situation, don't buy it."
4. Get an accountability partner
Your buddy will be there for you whenever you have the impulse to overspend. If you're married, it could be your spouse. If not, maybe your mom has always been a stickler when it comes to the family budget, or perhaps you have a friend whose frugalness you admire.
"Check in with your accountability partner at least once a month," recommends Greenman. "Make sure your (her or she) doesn't mind being on-call whenever you want to splurge. Give him or her a call when a sale is tempting you or when you're having trouble making a financial decision."
5. Don't shop when you've got the blues
Studies have shown we're inclined to pay more for items when we're sad. Well, the same emotional triggers that lead you to seek comfort through food can lead you to seek comfort via spending if you hit the mall, instead.
"I think we all know that the happiness we achieve through spending is fleeting. Soon we're right back to being down in the dumps," she says. "Instead, curl up and watch a good movie or spend some time with a good friend or family member who has a knack for cheering you up."
6. Invest in relationships, not in "stuff"
It's perfectly natural to want to give back to those who give to you. It feels good to treat a friend to lunch or to see your son's face light up when you agree to buy him the video game he wants. It can satisfy nurturing instincts – or simply help us assuage the guilt over not having enough time together.
What we need to realize is that what other people really want, kids and adults, is that time with us. "Spend a day with your son doing the things he loves to do. Or suggest to a friend that you spend an afternoon catching up over coffee."
7. Use cash!
Consider this: Average Americans spends 12 to 18 percent more when they use credit cards versus cash. Buying on credit is a trap to be avoided if at all possible – and the best strategy is to use cash whenever possible.
"Whether it's to pay for the week's groceries or to put gas in your car, you can end up paying for (it) two or three times over in interest payments," Greenman says. "Bring only cash with you when you're shopping – or, at the very least, use your debit card or write a check.
"Reaching for your credit card to pay for something you wouldn't otherwise be able to afford is no longer an option."
8. Small amounts add up to huge consequences
Sometimes you can overspend by missing opportunities to spend less. Do you and your family order sodas when you eat out? Do you buy coffee each morning? Bottled water instead vs. a? If so, spend a moment filling out one of the cost calculators available online. The results will be eye-opening!
"The amounts you spend on these items might seem small, but they really add up," says Greenman. "You'll have a significant chunk of change to put toward the family vacation fund or the new appliance you need."