[toc]When it comes to managing finances most people would love to have a solid plan that would help them remove their financial anxieties. The most common anxieties are mainly associated with overwhelming and ever increasing debts as well as never having enough money to set aside and save for emergencies or retirement.
Financial anxiety typically results from living paycheck to paycheck. If you are in this type of situation take heart because there is a solution. It is possible to gain control over your finances and achieve relief from the stress and anxieties it generates. It is also possible to do this without getting overwhelmed and confused.
Think of this section as your first step. And that is a key point. You don’t have to conquer everything, all at the same time, required to get out of debt, save money, and plan for retirement. With a little planning and determination you have the ability to achieve wonderful improvements in your financial situation.
We can only be successful in alleviating financial stress and anxieties by creating a plan. You may even know what that plan involves. It is referred to as a budget. However, most people fail to create one because trying to do it all at one time can become confusing and overwhelming.
Plus there is one specific aspect to budgeting that really goes against the grain. What is it? It is the feeling of being restricted. A restriction that comes from limitations a budget has on buying the things we love or at least the things we think we can’t live without.
However, before we can achieve relief from debt and the stress of living paycheck to paycheck we must address this issue. The truth is most of us are well aware of the need to create a budget. The problem is knowing we need one and creating one are two different things. In addition, creating a budget and sticking to it is an entirely different thing.
We will dive into the details below, but first here’s a quick infographic summarizing this guide
Changing Your Budgeting Perspective
It’s impossible to keep track of how much money is available for spending on non-essentials without knowing how much money you need to set aside for your monthly fixed expenses. So the first step involves being completely aware of how your income is allocated.
For many people their income is allocated in the following way:
- Fixed monthly costs (rent/mortgage, car payment(s), utilities, debts, insurance, etc.)
- Everything else (groceries, dining out, entertainment, last minute purchases)
If you are taking your financial situation seriously you’re going to be working toward a type of plan that looks more like this:
- Fixed monthly costs (rent/mortgage, car payment(s), utilities, insurance, etc.)
- Investment (IRA, 401K, Roth)
- Savings (Emergency fund, overdraft fund, vacations etc.)
- Entertainment or Non-Essentials (movies, eating out, new golf clubs etc.)
- Dream vacation, wedding, saving for a down payment on a car or home
The above is what a budget should look like. When you map out where your money is allocated it turns your attention to what you actually can and cannot afford. It also has a way of forcing you to admit you have limitations.
This is a good thing and a bad thing. Knowing what your expenses are is a good thing. However, jotting down all your expenses will not suddenly transform your ability to manage your money and your debts.
Knowing is the first step, planning is the second step.
These two steps are what many people are doing. And yet the average American is still finding themselves in over their heads in debt. One of the reasons for this is because we do not like restrictions on how we spend our money. And it is also why creating a budget has not provided the desired solution that the average person is willing to put into practice.
A Change in Perspective
This is where we need to make changes in our perspective. Before you can benefit from a budget you need to fully comprehend the good, bad, and ugly influences that can break your resolve to stick to anything that even resembles something like a budget.
Regarding what we spend our money on, we are all affected by a variety of outside influences. These influences can trigger a desire to spend money on a sort of mindless or almost unconscious level that can greatly affect how well we manage our money.
If you don’t change your perspective inside your brain from “unconscious” spending into one of “conscious” spending, you will not be able to determine why you continue to:
- “Leak” money out of your bank account
- Continue to buy things you later realize you did not need or even want
- Drive yourself into more and more debt.
Turning On Conscious Spending
What is conscious spending? By the time you finish this section you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it means to turn on conscious spending inside your brain. For now, let’s just say that conscious spending is making a choice to eliminate spending money on things you hate or have little care about in favor of spending money on things you love.
It’s about being aware of how friends and family can have an unwanted and even detrimental influence on your spending decisions. It’s also about being aware of the advertising pressures that manipulate you into buying things you really don’t need or want.
Imagine that? Buying things you didn’t even want. How does that happen? It’s not like you’re asleep when you spend money, is it? Well, you may think you are fully conscious when you are spending money and it’s true, you are awake when you spend it. However, there’s a part of your brain that takes control and in a way turns off your conscious spending ability. Before you can turn it back on, you need to understand how it was turned off in the first place.
Unconsciously Turning Off Conscious Spending
“I WANT What I WANT And I WANT It Now.”
That statement above is exactly how the “unconscious” desire to spend money festers until it wins out and we spend money we do not actually have. In most cases this means you pull out your credit card from your wallet which only adds to your debt, or it means you rob money from your own bank account that should be set aside to pay an important bill or go towards an investment.
In either case, you’re putting yourself into deeper financial troubles.
If you think you’re consciously doing it, think again.
How many times have you purchased something, then with the realization later on that you didn’t need or want it.
So what’s really going on?
Basically your brain, emotions, and ability to take a step back in order to think things through are hi-jacked by advertisers, social pressures, and the fast paced world of technology.
To unleash yourself from this problem you need to dig a little deeper into how your brain and emotions are manipulated. Once you understand it you will be able to stop yourself from becoming a victim of these outside influences and begin making conscious spending decisions.
How Conscious Spending Decisions Are Influenced
It’s time to address each of the main money-draining manipulators.
- Advertising – Understanding how your buying decisions are driven by time limitations, perks, rewards, discounts and losses.
- Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms socially influence our spending behavior on a shocking level.
- Friends and Family – Friends, family, work mates and associates can directly and indirectly influence us in ways we both hate and love.
#1 – Advertising – Time limitations, Irresistible Perks and Discounts
Advertisers have been using clever sales techniques such as bonus perks and discounts for well over 100 years now and they have only gotten better at it over time. When advertisers mix in a time limitation along with some type of perk and or discount, the desire to buy “now” or buy “today” becomes highly irresistible.
This is a tactic used by advertisers that works so well people will spend money on things they currently have little or no use for because they “might” want it later. If they don’t take advantage of the offer immediately due to the time limitations when they return the discount or special perk will no longer be available.
A good example is that of a gym membership. According to Statistic Brain 67% of gym memberships are never used. A few of the sales tactics used to get people to commit to a long term contract are:
- 1 or more months free
- 20% or more monthly discounts on monthly contracts vs month to month memberships
- Special members only discounts
- Free classes (aerobics, Pilates, yoga, swimming, tennis courts etc.)
Gym owners are fully aware of how many people never show up…In fact, they count on it!
If every member took advantage of their gym membership gyms would become overcrowded. The goal for gym and health club owners is to turn a good profit. One of the best ways to do that is to get people to commit to a long term contract rather than one that they can cancel at any time without any penalty.
Hook Line and Sinker
Here’s an example of how people will commit to a contract when deep down they know it’s not a wise decision.
Commit to a 1 year contract and save 30% off your monthly bill. No one likes to spend an additional $15 a month on a gym membership if they can save that $15 per month by making a commitment. Providing the discount as an incentive is a real killer to your resistance to a contract agreement.
Once you understand more about how to be consciously spending your money you will be able to walk away from any situation necessary to ponder over what is best for you and your financial goals. In addition you will be able to plan ahead so you can “consciously” work things out.
Here’s how consciously working things out would look when considering a gym membership.
- Contract – $40 per month – Canceled after 12 months total cost = $480
- No Contract – $55 per month – Canceled after 2 months total cost = $110
Money saved without a contract? $370
You may not be thinking you will quit the gym after a month or so, however, you have the option to do so. And you can always commit to a contract should you find it is something you love and are going to use.
Day or Week Pass
There is a third option. Another way to save money on a gym membership is by taking advantage of the one day or week pass. Most gyms offer a one to three day free pass and some even offer an entire week.
Day or week passes come in handy when you are visiting a new city or for when you receive invitations to join your friends and family.
Obtaining a day or week pass will help you see how committed you are to working out at the gym and not waste money on something you are not going to use. And here’s the main point; one you may not even want. How do you think you will feel about a gym membership you never use beyond the first month?
The above scenario causes money to drain from your bank account month after month.
I know I spent a lot of time talking about gym memberships, but I did that just as an example. Gym memberships aren’t bad, even I have one. But I actually use it, so for me it is money well spent. The same example can be used for any type of subscription. Whether that’s cable, Netflix, a country club, and so on. The point is to be conscious of how much you are actually going to use what you are paying for.
“Unconscious spending” drains your bank account. This is money spent without truly considering if it was something you can’t live without, and a majority of the time it was influenced by a desire to do something you are never going to pursue. You may have a “desire” to get into better shape, lose fat or gain muscle, but a desire is not good enough. What you spend your money on needs to be what you totally and unquestionably adore, love, and are thrilled about. Advertising is a big bully to your brain. It’s time to open your eyes and put a stop to this sort of mindless or “unconscious” money-spending manipulation.
Eyes Wide Open
Here’s a few advertising strategies to look out for.
Never fall for this type of offer. Remove the time from the offer. Is it still something you need right now? Waiting is never a bad thing. Most likely by the time you have saved the money to buy the item it may go on sale again or include some other type of bonus or perk.
Time limitations are just a tactic to get you to commit your money TODAY so you do not have time to go home and think about the offer. Advertisers know that when people walk away or are allowed time to think on it, they will most likely think their way out of buying it. That is why they place a time limit on the item. They don’t want you to think, they want you to buy while you’re emotionally compromised.
Discounts are a good thing for when you are buying items you absolutely know you need. For instance if you find the laundry detergent you use is on sale, that’s the time to buy it! When food and other items that you use frequently are on sale, it’s a no-brainer to take advantage of discounts.
However, discounts on items you do not need are an entirely different thing. Let’s consider a current example of an advertiser using the time-limited + perks + discounted pricing offer.
Here’s what happened when I checked into buying a subscription of Time magazine online. Several of the time-tested tactics were used.
- You had 30 minutes to take advantage of the offer which included 4 free issues.
- 88% discount if you purchased today.
- A free subscription to another magazine was added in as a bonus if you purchased a full year membership.
Here’s a few questions (with possible answers) regarding the Time magazine example above that would help you make a conscious spending decision.
Question: How much time do I have to read each month?
Answer: Not much. I’m typically too tired to read.
Question: What interested me in this magazine?
Answer: The Olympics.
Question: How much would the single issue that I wanted cost?
Answer: $4.00 on Amazon including shipping.
Remove the perks and think about what you really want. In the Time magazine example the interest was in a single issue featuring the Olympics. When you remove the bonus of 4 free issues and ignore the 88% discount you are left with this question; will I actually benefit from receiving 12 issues of Time magazine?
If you truly answered yes, then go ahead and spend the money on it! I am not telling you to never spend money on things that won’t benefit you. What I am trying to do is get you to think about whether or not that benefit is truly worth it.
Your answer is the first step into becoming a conscious spender. Now that you are more aware of the advertising tactics to get you to spend money on things you don’t want or need let’s move on to…
#2 – Social Media Hazards
Social media can include advertising, but in this case we want to take a closer look at how your social environment is affecting your buying decisions. If you spend a lot of time on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter you will find yourself knowingly or unknowingly influenced by social suggestions.
Here’s a few shocking statistics on how much influence social media can have on your buying decisions.
Thanks to the research done by Forbes we know our buying decisions can be influenced as much as 81% from friends and family due to posted recommendations using the various social media platforms. In addition, as much as 75% are influenced by public comments shared on a company website.
Amazon is a good example of this type of influence. Before buying anything on Amazon you can look over the comments to see the opinions of previous buyers. High praise for the brand who carries the item you are seeking can sway your decision away from another brand that has a lower rating.
However, let’s back track a little here and think about what made you decide to buy the item in the first place.
4 out of 10 people are buying things they had not considered buying until reading posts from family and friends within their online social circles.
Conclusion? Many items, subscriptions, programs etc. are purchased based not on a personal need but rather the influence of friends and family or highly valued public opinions.
#3 – Friends and Family Peer Pressure
Finally we come to our friends and family and the influence they have on our unconscious spending habits. Think about how many times you’ve purchased something because one of your friends recommended it for you. How many times did you buy an item because a family member wanted you to experience the same joy in having it they did?
Here’s a few examples:
You had intended to pass on a drink and just have a glass of water saving you $7.00 or more on that glass of beer. However, your friends were all buying beers so you purchased one too. Or you really didn’t have any interest in getting dessert and you were too full to enjoy it but you bought it anyway. Why? Because your friends would not have it any other way.
Let’s say you own a 70” big screen TV and a fantastic surround sound that goes with it. You really enjoy watching movies at home. In fact, you save on average $10 for each movie you rent because of not buying popcorn and soda at the theater. However, from time to time your friends want to go to the movie theater. What happens?
Most likely you’re going to go to the theater with your friends. Without thinking about it you allow yourself to be influenced into doing something that goes against what you love.
You love watching movies at home in your favorite chair without any distractions and the ability to take a break pausing the movie at will. Plus, every $10 you save from staying at home brings you $10 closer to a down payment on a reliable car.
By going to the movies you are doing something you will regret. Conscious spending means you will not have to waste your money on things you hate or regret buying. Instead you’re going to spend money on things you love!
Remember it’s all about perspective. If you really think it through and have a “conscious spending” plan, you will be able to not only resist going to the movies with your friends but be thrilled to do so because you’re working toward what you love and what’s important to you.
Unleashing Outside Influences
As you can see there are many influences on our buying decisions. When creating your budget you want the ability to spend money on things you need as well as things you love. Life is more fun when you can own and experience things you love.
When you understand how much you have within your budget to spend on things you love you can begin to eliminate spending money on things you hate or care nothing about.
What are your objectives regarding the money you earn? Your first priority may be to get out of credit card debt. Your next would be to create a savings account to provide a nice buffer so you don’t have to worry about overdraft charges. And another priority is to invest into your future.
To accomplish the above objectives or goals, the first thing you may want to tackle is the removal of things you actually don’t need, want, or use. This will free up money within your budget for the above priorities.
Eliminating Unnecessary Expenses
Subscriptions – How many subscriptions can you eliminate and/or adjust?
Satellite and Cable TV – Rather than pay for a TV package that includes far too many channels you never watch, why not get a Roku device and pay only for what you really need?
Conscious Spending Choices
TV Subscription Example
Hulu, Netflix, HBO = $35 or less per month = $420 per year
Dish, Comcast, DTV = $100 or more per month = $1200 per year
Savings to switch = $780 per year.
Dining Out Example
On average how much money do you spend on specialty coffees or snacks? According to the Workonomix survey the average American spends about $20 a week in coffee houses such as Starbucks. That’s about $1040 a year.
Coffee and cream at home = $0.20 cents per cup. 2 cups 365 days a year = $146
Savings to switch = $894
On average how much do you spend at the theater? Between the movie ticket, popcorn and soda it can cost each person as much as $20 to $30 per movie. The data is pretty wide open so let’s assume a conservative figure of 5 movies per year costing about $120.
Cost to rent per movie on Roku’s Fandango = $4.99
Watching 5 movies at the theater = $120
Watching 5 movies at home = $24.95
This means you can rent 24 moves in total for the same price of going out to the movies.
The above examples show how much adjustments in your entertainment and dining out lifestyle can free up quite a bit of money within your budget. By switching your TV subscription to a digital service such as Roku or Apple TV (Roku is better) you can save $1,200 to $2,000 a year.
That money can be used to pay down a debt faster and or invest into your future retirement or emergency funds.
Drinking coffee at home verses a coffee house could provide you with the savings for a vacation over the course of a year or two. Crazy to think about isn’t it?
It’s all about what you really want from the money you earn. Budgeting only feels restrictive when we do not have a conscious spending plan. When making conscious decisions about how you spend your money you will begin to enjoy those decisions and experience guilt-free purchases; something a lot of people never do.
When you consciously spend money you already know what you want, what you need, and what you “prefer” to spend your money on. Let’s consider another scenario.
Which would you rather spend $1000 on? Both will cost approximately the same amount.
- 16 trips per month to your local coffee shop over a year.
- A Roku TV + a subscription to Netflix, Hulu, and HBO.
A 50 inch Roku TV costs less than $500. A yearly subscription to Netflix, Hulu, and HBO is less than $500. Your total investment is less than $1000 and you get to keep the TV at the end of the year. I think a lot of people would agree that option two sounds much better than option 1!
But again, if option 1 sounds better to you, that’s ok! The point is to be consciously aware of what you are spending your money on.
Conscious Spending Includes Planning and Planning is Everything!
It’s a lot easier to say no to something when you have a better goal in mind. Every month as you place money into a special savings account for the thing you will enjoy the most gives you the ability to consciously say NO to spending money on things less important to you.
That is the key. It’s understanding what is important to YOU. Knowing these things will help you avoid outside influences that should never play a part in swaying your buying decisions. Especially when those decisions can lead to financial anxiety and stress.
When your friend says, “Hey, let’s go to the movies.” you can respond, “I’d love to do that with you! Only I’d rather have you over to my house so we can chill and watch the next episode of Game of Thrones instead.”
You feel good about passing up on the movie because you are looking forward to enjoying 24 movies per year for the same price of 5 at the theater.
What about saving for a car or house? When you are conscious about how you are spending money you are happy to pass on eating out because you know how much you will love driving a reliable car to work every day. Or you’re happy to give up things that are just not as important to you as buying a home.
These are just examples of course. You may care less about the TV show Game of Thrones and maybe you never visit a coffee house. But these examples help you see the point. It’s all in your perspective.
You must know what you love, what you hate, and what you want more than anything else. Every $10 saved is $10 set aside for your new car or down payment on your home.
Tiny Changes, Big Results
Trying to make changes in your lifestyle all at one time is just setting yourself up for failure. Rather than putting that sort of pressure on yourself, try cutting back on 1 or 2 things at a time. Try to make these changes in smaller increments or with subtle monthly adjustments.
For instance: Cutting back on entertainment and dining out. These expenses can add up rather quickly. Instead of cutting them out completely, think of adjusting a little at a time.
Month 1 – $500
Month 2 – $400
Month 3 – $300
Month 4 – $200
By Month 5 you decide you can still enjoy eating out with your friends and family while spending only $200 per month. This adjustment has added $300 a month to your other goals such as getting out of debt faster and adding it into an IRA, 401K or Roth investment plan.
The Envelope Strategy
One of the more difficult things you’ll have to contend with is not going over your spending budget. Even when we are conscious about spending the money, we need help keeping track of it. One of the best ways to keep your spending within specific limits is to use an envelope for each category you want to place a limit on. This strategy was first popularized by Dave Ramsey. Although I do not personally use it anymore, it is a great strategy for beginners who are trying to learn how to be conscious about their spending.
You might want to consider the envelope strategy for the following categories:
- Dining out
What you want to do is go to your bank and take out the cash amount for each category and place it in the related envelope. When you can visually see how much money you have it does amazing things to how you spend it. If you find you are running low in your allotment for groceries you can take money out of your entertainment or dining out envelope…but now you will have less money to spend on dining out and entertainment for the month. See how this system forces you to strategically think about your spending before making purchases?
In the beginning it may be rather shocking to see how much money you are spending within some categories. Over time you will be even more surprised at how easy it is to make adjustments in order to keep within your spending limits.
Another way to manage the money you want to allocate to groceries and so forth is to open up a separate checking account where you will be depositing the allowance for these categories each month. In addition you can opt-out of the overdraft options so that you cannot spend more money than you have in your account.
Do not use this type of checking account for anything that requires a monthly withdrawal. You want to eliminate the possibility for an overdraft charge. Your account can become overdrawn even if you opt out of overdraft protection. For instance; for a monthly subscription service or to cover the payment for a personal check. You can learn more about that in our Banking section.
Simply use your debit card as if it’s cash only. Most banks today have mobile apps so you can track your account purchases. You can check in on your balance before making any purchases with these apps.
Unexpected Expenses and Life-Changing Events
Even when we create plans, things can change drastically overnight. However, the good news is you have the ability to plan for these unexpected events. Something most people never do.
Remember with some of your investment plans you have the ability to withdraw money in cases of emergencies (you can read more about investment plans in our Investment section). It is a good idea to go over what types of emergencies qualify for early withdrawal without a penalty.
You can also put a little money into a savings account specifically for life-changing events and emergencies. You can even add additional envelope categories for things such as car and home repair, clothing, school supplies, doctor visits, etc.
The Conscious Spending Budget Allocations
Before you begin to create a conscious spending budget that includes money allocated to such things like entertainment you will want to know how much money is required for fixed expenses. Once you know how much is spent on your fixed expenses you can adjust how much money will be allocated toward other expenses.
Jonathan earns $4,000 a month.
- 60% is allocated to Fixed expenses – $2,400 (rent, utilities, car payment, insurance, monthly services)
This leaves 40% to allocate to other categories.
- 60% – Fixed monthly expenses
- 10% – Long-term investment funds (Roth IRA, 401K)
- 10% – Emergency Fund (car and home repair, doctor visits, dental)
- 10% – Groceries
- 5% – Entertainment
- 5% – New clothes, shoes, etc.
Your Conscious Spending Budget Monthly Maintenance Plan
Everything you’ve learned so far will only be useful to you if you actually use and apply what you learn. It’s time to create a list of steps you want to follow in order to successfully meet your goals.
Step One: Income and Fixed Expenses
Sit down and map out what your income is and where your money is spent each month. Make a note of what percentage of your money is required for fixed expenses. Until you know what your fixed expenses are you can’t move on to step two.
Step Two: Goals
Write down what your goals are. Short-term and long-term.
For example, one of your goals might be to get out of debt as fast as possible. What percentage of the money that is left over after paying your fixed expenses can be placed towards debt?
If you are already out of debt, maybe you should consider investments. What percentage of money can you allocate for long-term investments? If you cannot allocate anything on a monthly bases, can you plan to invest the money into a Roth IRA from your tax refund?
Do you have an emergency fund that will last you 6-12 months in case you lost your job or had a medical emergency? If not one of your goals can be to build that emergency fund.
Another goal can be to purchase your dream car or dream house. Whatever your main goals might be, write them down. This will give you motivation when you are tempted to purchase things you really don’t need.
Step Three: Decide on a System
Prepare for success and decide how you’re going to maintain your commitment to achieve your goals. Pick a method; envelope system or use a separate checking account.
Step Four: Adjust/Eliminate
Now that you can visually see what your goals are and how much money you have to work with, it’s time to see where you can make adjustments.
Decide what services and subscriptions you can eliminate or adjust to lower your monthly fixed expenses. The lower you can get your fixed monthly expenses, the more money you can allocate elsewhere. Look for ways to increase the value of the money you have. Call your creditors and ask about lowering your interest rates.
Turn on “conscious spending” inside your brain. For those of you who are struggling with debt, you might want to cut up your credit cards or get a security box at your bank and place all your credit cards inside it until you know can pay them off in full every month. Eliminate easy access to credit so you can pay off your debts faster.
Make a commitment to take about 2 hours each month to examine your progress.
Autopilot Money Management
One way to make sure your fixed expenses are taken care of first is to make adjustments in your payment due dates. All that is required is a phone call to each company you make monthly payments to and ask them to adjust your payment due date. Adjust all of your due dates so your monthly paychecks will accommodate them.
Rent/Mortgage, utilities, insurances: Paid on the 5th (a few days after payday)
Services, subscriptions, credit card debts: Paid on the 15th (a few days after your midmonth paycheck)
Cash withdrawn and allocated to your separate checking account or assigned envelops after the fixed expenses are calculated.
Most if not all of your fixed expenses can be automatically paid online. By adjusting the due dates and having your payments automatically paid through your bank you will find taking care of your conscious spending plan will work more efficiently.
You can even set up an automatic savings withdrawal and automatically place money into a separate checking account for your other spending categories. Automating your finances can help remove the stress of keeping track by making manual payments.
Planning Your Win’s Starting Today
The key and the point is this; plan it out and you will be successful!
Remember this, “If you do not plan you are planning to fail”. Once you have everything set up it only takes about an hour or so each month to keep track of how things are progressing in your finances.
Learn More About Budgeting Techniques Below:
- What Are The Best Budgeting Apps? Our Top 7
- How to Save Money on Groceries: 15 Awesome Tips
- 7 Bad Money Habits You Need to Break Today
- A Beginners Guide to Creating a Personal Budget
- 15 Ways To Reward Yourself Without Spending Any Money
- How To Cut The Cable Bill and Still Watch Your Favorite TV Shows