Last week, we had the inspiration to stay the course in our budgets, to adapt them to our changing circumstances. My grandmother, a representative child of the 1930s Depression, as measured by a litany of reader comments, would simply adapt. In this case, adapting means buying less, downsizing, downgrading, etc.
But unlike the children of the Depression, we don’t have to adapt.
There are credit cards.
Although you may be vigilant and alarmed by rising prices, if you use a credit card for all your expenses, it could take two months before you find yourself in a lot of trouble. Credit cards, for all the rewards charm they tout, aren’t useful for giving feedback when you’re overspending. In fact, they’d rather you didn’t know and continued to spend.
Then the double whammy – finding the money to support the past two months of overspending and finding a way to make ends meet in the future.
If you’ve been hesitant to adopt the cash management system I’ve recommended many times here, now is the time to do it. I’m going to extract the most useful element of the system for the price hike, and that’s step 4 – how to spend what’s left after saving for future expenses and paying bills. Step 4 recommends that you add up your discretionary spending, break it down into weekly amounts, and then fund a separate checking account each Monday that you can spend all week on groceries, fuel, entertainment, and more.
In the past, you may have managed to get by with vague metrics for money, like generally knowing what kinds of foods you can eat at the grocery store and how much trips to the gas station are affordable. . But if our financial lives were a game of bowling, suppose inflation greased the ball’s fingers and made spending erratic and difficult to control.
A solid cash management system acts as a guardrail to keep your ball moving towards the pin or to keep the budget on track. When you’re spending on a weekly rather than monthly basis, your brain will pick up on any problematic spending issues as it heads down the drain.
If you’re still hung up on credit card points, you may need to deploy more tedious, line item budgeting techniques, otherwise this is where I remind you that several studies have shown that we spend more, like 30% 40% more when we use a credit card than when we use a debit card or cash.
So how do you make weekly expense deposits last? Consider these temporary or alternative spending changes:
• Food. It’s always such a disappointment when my husband goes to the grocery store for coffee and milk. He returns home with bags full of coffee and milk. Me? Oh no, I get creative when I need to go to the store for coffee and milk, arriving with bags and bags of wonderfully superfluous items. The antidote for high grocery bills? Meal plan for the week then open this online pick up website and buy everything you will need for each meal. It might take a few hours on a Saturday, but trust me, that’s where the bulk of your budget savings is. Using a Kroger or Walmart online pickup means one thing: you stick to your list. Because your list is brought to your car and loaded into the trunk.
• Beauty and clothing. Paint your own nails and make your own sugar body scrub. If you need to buy deodorant at Target, again, use online pickup. Don’t set foot inside the store, lest that $4 deodorant cost $200. When you get home from work, hang your clothes up rather than draping them over the chair to cut down on the dry cleaning bill. (Note to self.) Unsubscribe from all clothing and beauty emails to avoid temptation. Pro tip, I sent a bag of used clothes to Thredup, a great thrift company, and will get credit for purchases at many different stores. I will report back on this experience.
• Vacation. People, plane tickets are about to go crazy. Gas is crazy. Explore our state and its incredible beauty. Read Florence Williams’ The Nature Fix and get inspired to find some of the most awe-inspiring parks, trails and vistas in our own state.
• Join a local no-purchase group. Need tomato stakes? I promise someone has some you can come get. You can join your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook and watch the magic of need and excess magically come together.
• Get rid of some expensive habits and improve your health for free. Alcohol and tobacco, I’m looking at you. Let’s be real, reliable internet and bottles of wine have allowed parents to learn virtually during the pandemic, but really – it’s time to slow down for financial reasons. Also, aside from botox, removing alcohol from a system for even a month can show dramatic skin improvement. Not to mention, get a better night’s sleep and mental clarity. There is a whole genre of publications that try to get moderate and light drinkers to quit called “Quit Lit”. Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington is a good one. Plus, check out an awesome app called Easy Quit that tracks the physical changes your body goes through as alcohol leaks out of your system and tracks how much money you’re saving over time. There are several similar smoking apps.
And if kicking the booze isn’t an option, allow me to pass on a friendly public service announcement that the tax on that margarita will be nearly 30%. Stick to wine and beer.
And rapid fire:
Cancel those “free” month-long subscriptions you signed up for through apps on your iPhone that now ping your credit card for $5.99 a month. Go to settings, click on your profile and then click on subscriptions. In seconds, you can cancel anyone you don’t use.
Have your oil changed and make an appointment with your GP and dentist. Folks, regular maintenance is much cheaper than fixing otherwise preventable problems.
Cut your children’s hair and groom your own pet. YouTube, friends. We are doing it. You can also.
Play a game by consuming the contents of your fridge, freezer and pantry. It causes me physical pain to throw away long-expired food. Spend the next two weeks taking out frozen vegetables and leftovers and making meals out of them.
Plan your ride. When gas was $2 a gallon, we had the luxury of boomeranging around town, but think about your day and how you can just drive less, if possible.
Use your library. Yes, there are books I want to own and buy from my local bookstore, but for audiobooks, Kindles, and single reads, people use the library! I am shocked at how many people are not using this amazing resource which is so handy. Get yourself a library card and you will be shocked at the titles available to you. I like to reserve popular books that might have a reservation line, and then weeks later get that exciting email that the book is available. It’s like Christmas in April.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, slow down. A life in entropy pays penalties for late payments or runs through 7 p.m. fast food windows for the family, among many other financial and time management missteps. Time demands are increasing again, but to remind you and me, we can actively say no. Haven’t we expressed over and over again that we don’t want to go back to the chaos of our pre-covid schedules?
Take the time this week to take control of your budget and your time. Fight inflation before it blows your budget. I would like to know what you are doing to save money in these uncertain times. Email me with your tips and tricks.
Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is the founder, partner and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also the author of the book “But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life”, published by Et Alia Press. Contact her at [email protected]