The Money’s All Spent – Now What?

Now that it’s the week after Christmas I’m reminded of an old Irish Rover Song called: Wasn’t that a party, and then talks about the hangover.

That’s kind of like our financial lives, having just spent over $22 billion on Christmas, mostly with borrowed money, and including lots of presents for ourselves. I know, I know, we work hard, it’s our money, we deserve something, it was on sale, we really needed it, etc. Well, if we were to be honest with ourselves, that’s all nonsense. Broke people can’t afford to buy stuff, and it’s almost always a “want” and not a “need.” That’s how we get to spending over $4.2 billion on impulse purchases in a year, according to one Canadian study. And, to be honest, that number is way low, because it’s the last thing we’ll admit to.

Yes, we work hard, and yes it’s our money. But do you want to keep working hard forever? Freedom 77 doesn’t have the same ring to it as that old commercial campaign of Freedom 55, does it? At some point in time, we do have to get away from the spending party and focus on paying off the hangover and saving something for someday down the road. Intellectually, we know that, but when are we actually going to get around to it is the big question that will change your entire financial life.

Right now, let’s be honest: We spend more time planning our vacation than we do our financial situation. Make 2012 the year that you’ll actually turn that around. Here are a couple of suggestions that are small enough where you’ll do it, but big enough to have a significant impact. Why small steps? Because our sub-conscious mind will revolt against huge goals that seem impossible to reach.

You’re not going to lose 60 lbs, but you can lose a pound a week. You won’t run the marathon this summer, but you can go for a 15 minute walk each day. You also won’t be debt free by February, but you can start on that journey with one step at a time.

Resolve to say no: Whether it’s to yourself when it comes to spending, to your kids, people at work, or anywhere else. It’s the one word that’ll change your financial life.

Take your credit cards out of your wallet: At least for January, leave the cards at home. If you have an emergency, you’re one call away from getting help. But going to the mall or charging this or that isn’t an emergency – honestly.

Set a cash limit: Pick an amount below which you’ll always always pay by cash or debit. The higher the limit, the better – if you make it $50, gas, small grocery purchases, lunch, etc., will all be paid cash. That alone will drastically reduce the charges on your credit card. When we use a credit card we spend 12 to 18% more – period. Whether you pay it in full or not, it’s still a ton of extra spending that isn’t helping.

Stop being financially stupid for 2012: You know exactly what that means. They are different things for all of us, but make the New Year one where you’ll stop doing the top two things that get you further in debt, or don’t grow your savings.

And finally, here’s a great post from Facebook this morning that kind of says it all: Do something today that your future self will thank you for.

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