In one of my earlier posts, I talked about the importance of building up a reserve to handle emergencies, as well as excess which we can place in our “Goose” Account for investment. But pressure to spend exists everyday. How do we manage it?
I recalled in one of my “financial” lessons to my sons when they were aged 8 and 10, the first concept I taught them was “variable” and “fixed” expenses. I gave them examples of what constituted “variable” expenses e.g. MacDonalds’ meals, spending on toys and “fixed” expenses e.g. school fees, home loan payment etc.
I gave them the example of say, even the simple act of switching on a light. This involved a “fixed” expense (fixing of the lamp as a one-off expense) and “variable” expense (electricity costs, which vary according to our usage).
Frankly, their young minds were a little overwhelmed at first, and gave me a look that said, “So much money is involved? Are you sure we can afford this?” After I assured them that I was tracking our expenses and yes, we can afford it if we use our money prudently, they felt a little more assured. I then taught them to track their variable expenses and gave them a little reward whenever they did not spend their pocket money. I also asked them if there were ways to cut down on our expenses . They suggested being more careful with switching off lights, not letting the water run or simply, eating more at home. I asked if they felt these were hard to do. They shook their heads.
It amazes me though that adults never quite grasp this concept. Small actions, consistently performed over a long period of time, are extremely powerful. So, here, I will be giving my five-step process to manage spending. Some steps may seem rather unorthodox:
1) Place little cash in your wallet and just one credit card and one Nets card. Make sure your cards are well hidden from view when you open your wallet. This is what I call “Out of sight, out of mind”. Placing little cash means that you will need to refill your wallet often. Each time you do so, you may then begin to ask “Hey, where did my money go?” and hopefully, you begin to be more careful.
2) From today, keep every single receipt you receive. Track your non-reciepted expenses using a simple app e.g. Monefy. When the receipts get too bulky in your wallet, it’s time to bring out your Expenses worksheet and record them. Do this for at least 3 months. If you’re a parent, do this in front of your kids. Let them come and ask you and grab every learning opportunity to show them the expense sheet you have tallied. Refrain from saying things which show you are not in control of your expenses, e.g. “How did I spend so much?”. Instead, tell them the results of your expense tracking. Discard receipts which are more than 3 months old.
3) With three months of expenses in hand, categorise them into “fixed” and “variable” expenses. Fixed expenses are those that you have to pay on a regular basis and is less dependent on usage e.g. cable TV, car loan, insurance etc. Variable expense are those which vary from month to month according to usage, e.g. eating out, self-care etc.
For fixed expenses, look for cheaper substitutes or simply do away with it. Fixed expenses, usually paid by some automatic system e.g GIRO, are the easiest to lose track of. You’d be surprised how often we pay for something every month without realizing we may not use it as much. For variable expense, you may need to sub-categorise into smaller categories. Most families find that “eating out” is one of the biggest drainers on money, along with “entertainment”. Ask yourself if it’s possible to have the same level of satisfaction by eating at home or simply going on cheaper or even free activities.
4) Now that you have an idea how much you have been spending on each category, aim to reduce expenses by at least 10% the following month. Accordingly, see which areas are easiest for you to reduce. Then budget accordingly. If you foresee an inevitable big expense in the coming expenses, e.g. travel expense, keep your eyes out for cheaper deals or credit card promotions.
5) This 10% you saved is to be placed in an account which you will not touch except for the sole purpose of investment. This is how you build up your “Goose” account. Repeat the process every month and continue to track expenses even when incomes go up.
A good habit takes at least 30 days to build up. If along the way, you missed a receipt or two, it’s ok. But keep at it, and you’d feel a sense of control that you never had before.
Remember, you are not “cheapo”, you have a bigger goal – the bigger goal of being financial free one day.