Stop Spending and Start Saving

So You Fell Off the Wagon

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It happens to us all.  We start a new diet  then binge on pizza. We fell off the wagon. And it can happen to our finances too.

Constantly starting over is exhausting. If you’re tired of starting over, let’s figure out how to stop giving up.

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The Best Intentions

So you’ve decided that enough is enough and you want to start getting your financial life in order.  That means different things to different people.  Maybe you want to finally pay off your student loans or credit card debt.  Maybe it means you want to stop wasting money on dumb stuff you don’t need and start saving for a home like grown ups live in.

These are all excellent goals.  And you’re serious about it this time.  You start tracking your spending in Mint.  You start throwing every extra cent at your debt.  You stop ordering take out five times a week for lunch and twice a week for dinner.  You stop going out at all.

Too Strict

This is what trips a lot of people up.  You’re too strict with yourself.  It’s like when you’re dieting and you forbid any treats at all.  Suddenly all you can think about is the forbidden food.  You obsess over it, it starts to drive you crazy.

So you break down and eat the whole bag of chips.  But if you had allowed yourself to eat chips every now and then, you could have avoided the binge.

It works the same with money.  If you put yourself on a budget that allows for no small indulgences now and then, off the wagon you tumble.  Some nice chocolate or a new video game, if that’s what you’re into now and then will stop you really having an Amazon blow out when you hit a low moment.

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Keep It Simple, Sweetie

I think it’s actually keep it simple, stupid but I know our readers aren’t stupid so I took some license there.  Personal finance, at its core is simple.  Spend less than you make.

Managing your finances can be similarly simple.  Or it can be complicated with multiple charts, graphs, Apps, programs and on and on.

Like a lot of people starting something new, you dive in and want all the fancy stuff to help you get the job done. Ever decide to organize your house so you go to The Container Store and buy all kinds of bins, filing systems, baskets, closet dividers, shoe racks!

And then you get it all home and don’t quite know how to utilize it all.  So it just sits there and now you have even more stuff in the house you were trying to organize.  Finances can work this way too.

All you really need is to spend a little time setting up budgets and categories in Mint and then giving them the occasional tweak when something in your circumstances change.  What you don’t need are complicated spread sheets or to spend money on fancy budgeting software.

The more simple you keep it, the more likely you are to stick with it.  It’s fun in the beginning to fill in all your little numbers and keep track of all of your receipts but it gets old fast and you quit.  Then you find yourself back at square one in a few months when you again, decide to stop ignoring the problem and tackle it.

Mint tracks all of that for you if you’ve set it up properly.  The only thing I have to hand enter is the cash I take out for the cleaner and the farmer’s market.  Everything else is paid for on a credit card (dem points!) and Mint orders each transaction automatically.

You Have No Plan

Maybe you just have the vague sense that you should be spending less money.  But how much less?  And where are you spending too much?  What is the end goal if you do start spending less?

If you can’t answer these questions than it will be pretty difficult to chart a path that will get you where you want to go.  Or even to figure out where you want to go.

You don’t have to make up the whole plan at the start though.  To some extent you can make it up as you go along.  Sometimes this is even better than having everything mapped out.  It allows for room to make changes and adjustments along the way.

But Still

So you’ve avoided all the above traps.  You aren’t too strict with yourself, you’ve made all of your systems simple and easy to follow and you have a pretty clear plan.  And you still messed up.

Maybe it was a dress you saw and couldn’t live without yet didn’t really need.  Or you were out with some friends and told yourself just one drink and then home.  But one drink turned into three and when everyone wanted to go to dinner, your defenses were down and you agreed.  And nights like that add up fast, especially if you’re in a big urban area.

 Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Look, it happens.  We all fall off whatever wagon we’re clinging to from time to time.  You ate the whole bag of chips, you skipped a whole week at the gym (may Brodin forgive your sins against gainz), you smoked a cigarette.

And you are furious with yourself. You make yourself feel bad.  And when you feel bad, you binge.  But most things in life are not an end sum game.  You messed up today.  You will do better tomorrow.  There is no point in crying over spilt milk, it’s already spilt.

 Climb Back Aboard

Acknowledge the screw up and try to figure out what triggered it.  You can’t fix what you don’t at least try to understand.  It doesn’t have to be some deep Freudian analysis.  You didn’t pick up the needle again.  You spent too much on dinner.

Did you have a bad day at work, a fight with your partner, or just a moment of weakness?  Acknowledge what made you have your momentary lapse so the next time that thing happens, you are prepared for it.

You know those things trigger you to overspend and just be able to anticipate it is often enough to quell the behavior.  Or at the very least you’ll know to hand over your credit cards to a trusted friend until the feeling has passed.

It’s okay to have a bad financial moment now and then.  If it seems to be more often than now and then, you may need to examine more deeply why you’re doing what you do.

But remember, when it comes to personal finance or anything else in life, the perfect is not the enemy of the good.  Sometimes good enough, is well, just that.  Good enough.  So climb back on, I’ll hold up the wagon for you.


Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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