Balance helps keep spending in check

QUEEN OF FREE

By Cherie Lowe

There are days I really wonder what makes me tick. My personality can be so all-or-nothing. Either my house is spotless or it’s a complete wreck. Either I’m perfectly put together with hair and makeup or I look like (or maybe it’s more than looking like) I haven’t showered in days.

I’m at the gym six days a week or only two days a week (and that’s only because I teach a class and have to be there). I read three books at once or become a complete couch potato watching mindless TV.

You get the point

My habits with spending can fall into the same pattern if I’m not careful, too. I completely hold it together and nail my budget down to the last penny, or I find myself in the dollar section making impulse buys on items that will land in the trash can in a year or less.

I know I can’t be alone in this push/pull feeling of having it all together or falling apart. While I may never consistently keep my house spotless and I’m certain I’ll go through seasons of being more fit than others, I have found a few stops to put into place to keep my finances from falling apart.

These simple strategies allow me to think through what I’m purchasing and why. Best of all, they prevent our family from ever living beyond our means again.

No credit cards for us

We haven’t had a credit card since April 2008. We use only debit, checks or cash to make our purchases, including buying items online and booking travel. It’s not a choice everyone wants to make, but for us, it’s the right fit.

My husband Brian often quips “If you play with snakes, you’re bound to get bit.” Note: we don’t own snakes either. The cliché rings true for us. We know that having credit cards led us to decisions about our money that nearly ruined us.

While some consumers in the market can wisely manage and pay off their credit cards every single month, we know that we don’t want to open that door again. The temptation to buy things we didn’t have the cash to cover would be too great. The simple stop helps me always ask the question, “Is there enough money in the bank to cover this purchase?”

Wait for it

A friend recently asked me how to determine which purchases were truly necessary and which were merely items she was swept up in the moment and wanted to have for other reasons. It’s difficult to make a blanket statement to determine each individual and every one of their transactions.

However, I’ve found that if I wait for 24 hours before making a major and sometimes even a minor purchase, I have a much better lens on whether I truly need the item. Of course, you run the risk of not being able to find the item in the store the next day, but it might not have been meant to be if it gets snapped up.

Ask around

Sometimes I need someone else’s help to determine whether the object of my desire is a need or not. I’m almost always surprised by the response. In our marriage, Brian and I have agreed not to make un-budgeted purchases over $10 unless we chat about it. It’s an arbitrary number that we chose when we were paying off our debt, but it’s been a helpful limit.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I’ve asked Brian about making a purchase (and vice versa) when he’s said it’s not a good idea. The simple practice of asking leads to reflection that usually goes a bit like this:

“I found a good deal on new running shoes. What do you think?”

“Please buy new running shoes. Your old ones have holes in them.”

A year or two ago, I was having a conversation with my friend, Tricia, about whether to buy a new planner that was $12. She broke it down for me. “Cherie, that’s $1 per month to stay organized. Isn’t that worth it?”

Pausing to ask someone who you trust (don’t turn to your friend Spendy McSpenderson just because he’s a yes man) helps you determine what is necessary and what you can skip.

Release pressure

Edwin Bliss said, “The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is frustrating, neurotic, and a terrible waste of time.” Probably one of the reasons why I fall into extreme categories of existence is because I’m chasing the impossible dream of perfection.

Let me let you in on a little secret of the universe. None of us are perfect, no not one.

I’m not going to prevent every single impulse buy. But to prevent myself from making $100 worth of impulse buys, I decided a few years ago to release some pressure.

Building in a small amount of money each month to spend on “whatever” helps me manage my all or nothing tendencies. It’s a bit like turning a pressure valve allowing some steam to blow off.

You’ll never be perfect when it comes to your finances and neither will I. However, we can all look a little deeper into what makes us tick and find stops to put into place to help keep our spending in check.

Now to figure out what to do about that house cleaning issue I have.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net.