One of my favorite blogs, theSimpleDollar.com, recently rounded up “6 Habits That Can Land You Deep in Debt.” I can cop to having done all of them at one point in my life or another. Here they are, with some of my favorite strategies for breaking them.
Impulse spending. Three out of four people admit to doing this. I’m not sure what planet that fourth person is from.
• Give yourself a splurge budget. Just as with dieting, you’re less likely to go nuts if you don’t feel deprived.
• Set a time limit. Tell yourself if you still want that Starbucks, pair of shoes or remodeled kitchen in an hour, month or year, you can reconsider the purchase then.
• See through sales. Advertising companies spend a lot of time figuring out what it takes to create those spending urges that are bubbling up inside of you. Learn that “sales” are not always “bargains,” especially if you’re paying for something you wouldn’t have otherwise purchased.
Eating out. Trust me, I adore eating in restaurants. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t support local eateries. But not many budgets can withstand a chronic takeout habit. If you’re trying to get out of debt, making your own food is low hanging fruit.
• Double-batch your dinners. But don’t stop there: portion them out into individual to-go containers that you can take to work, pull out for dinner or freeze for later.
• Learn to fake your favorites. There are copycat recipes all over the Internet. I learned how to make identical-tasting Chipotle Burrito Bowls from TableForTwoBlog.com’s “Take-Out Fake-Out,” which also features ways to mimic P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps and Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets.
Going without a budget. If you don’t know what you’re spending, or how much you can afford to spend, you just can’t keep debt in check.
• Use an online budget calculator. There’s a good one at Bankrate.com.
• Look to a pro for help. Consumer Credit Counseling Services (ConsumerCreditBuffalo.org) offers free budgeting services.
Lauber Financial Planning (LauberFinancialPlanning.com) has an excellent support group called “The Joy of Budgeting.” It used to be called, “I Hate Budgeting (But I Like Having Money)” until its formerly skeptical members realized how exhilarating living life on a budget can be. Cost is $15, or $25 depending on whether there is a meal or guest speaker.
Going without an emergency fund. Even the tightest budget needs a line for savings. If you don’t have an emergency fund to turn to, you’ll likely turn to a credit card instead.
• If you have to work a temporary second job to feed your emergency fund, it’s worth it.
• Have a set amount deducted from your paycheck and deposited straight into a separate savings account. You won’t miss it.
Embracing “lifestyle inflation.” The more you make, the more you spend. You get a raise, you finance a fancier car with a higher payment. It’s a vicious cycle and it doesn’t end well.
My friend Jim Brennan taught me a great trick: when you get a raise, roll it directly into your 401(k) (or savings account). You’ve proven you can get by without that extra money. Keep it up and let it grow.
Making minimum credit card payments. Compounding interest. It’s a killer.
• Pay more than the minimum, even if it’s just $1.
• Stop the charge-pay-charge cycle. If you regularly carry a balance, cut up your card.