Face it: you spend money all the time. From your morning coffee to your lunch break to that grocery run on your way home, you can effortlessly swipe your card three to five times a day. Repeat this process every day, and you’ll easily swipe your card upwards of 20 times a week. In fact, the average person spends money 22 times a week. Yep, 22 consumer transactions a week! This number doesn’t even include bills; it only accounts for consumer transactions like food, gas and entertainment.
You need gas for your car and food for your family, so swiping your card is necessary, but it’s the sheer amount of transactions per week that is troubling. You may justify your swiping based on the amount. What impact do a few small purchases a week have on your budget? And you’re right, the amount doesn’t really impact your budget too much, but the swiping does. When you swipe your card constantly, even for small purchases, it makes you numb to the swiping itself. So when the transaction amounts start to creep upwards a few dollars, it doesn’t faze you. Before you know it, you stop hesitating before making a purchase. You begin to blindly swipe, which is a behavior issue. And when it comes to money, behavior issues can cause a lot of problems. The good news is the fix is simple. All you have to do is count your transactions.
To start, print out your bank statements for the last few weeks, and count the times you made purchases each week. Don’t include your mortgage or car payment, but do include gas for vehicles, groceries, entertainment, clothing, coffee, drinks with friends and any other “incidental” purchases. What is your average?
If it’s upwards of 20, you have a serious issue. It isn’t about the amount you spent. Sure, 20 purchases a week of over $50 is a big deal, but even if your purchases were only $5 here and $3.50 there, it’s still an issue. It’s about the frequency with which you say “yes” to spending money.
To begin, start saying a resounding “NO” to yourself. Ask yourself over and over again—do I really need this? Can I really afford this? What you’ll find is you can easily cut out multiple purchases a week by asking yourself these questions. Do I really need a new sweater just because it’s on sale? Can I really afford lunch out this week? Once you are in the habit of asking yourself these questions, they will become ingrained in your head.
This is excellent progress! So I hate to say that just asking yourself these questions won’t be enough. Sure it may help you cut back a few transactions a week, but if you are spending money more than 20 times a week, cutting a few transactions isn’t enough. You need to do more.
In order to break yourself of your excessive swiping, challenge yourself. Force your hand. An old-fashioned, self-inflicted challenge is just what you need. This coming week, limit yourself to spending money only five times. Seriously, only five times. Afraid you can’t do it? Well, it wouldn’t be a challenge if it were easy. Spending money only five times a week isn’t just a lesson in self-discipline; it is also a lesson in planning ahead. Do you need to purchase a birthday gift this week? Will you need to buy groceries? Planning out your purchases is the best way to limit your spending. And when tempted to spend money, just remembers your mantras. Do you really need it? Can you afford it?
So what happens when you successfully meet your challenge of only spending money five times a week? Are you magically cured of all your bad spending habits? Well, actually yeah, kinda.
Forcing yourself into good behavior for even a time period as short as one week can have really long lasting benefits. Think of it as a cleanse. When you say no to unnecessary purchases for a week, the behavior becomes a part of your inner monologue. The idea is that some of the good behavior you displayed during your challenge period will stick around and bleed into the coming weeks and months.
Once you’ve met your challenge you can ease up and swipe up to 10 transactions in a 7-day period, but who knows? You may find you don’t even need that many. The point is that your ability to control and limit purchases throughout the week is a great indicator of your overall financial life.
Peter Dunn, aka Pete the Planner, is an award-winning financial mind who has authored five books, hosts the popular Pete the Planner radio show and travels around the country offering financial education. His signature wit will have you laughing as you learn. For more from Peter, visit www.petetheplanner.com.
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