How To Save Money Without Penny Pinching
There are hundreds of results in the app store when you search for budget. You’ve probably downloaded one of them.
But, (how) do you use it, really?
So few people actually keep a budget. And many who do are burdened by anxiety about it.
The purpose of a budget is not just to restrict spending (and make enjoyment feel limited as a consequence). Budgets are meant to guide spending.
That’s right: this is not a lecture on saving more but, rather, a motion to spend more intentionally. Because the real value of tracking your personal finances is to understand the trends that have an appreciable impact on your quality of life.
Meaningful personal spending habits are those that develop over the intermediate and long-term. These patterns clue you in when lifestyle inflation might be crushing mini-retirement dreams and goals for financial freedom.
Just like "lose weight fast" diets, financial management apps won’t help you if they don’t fit nice and easily into your routine. A sustainable budget is constituent to a stress-less lifestyle of intentional SPEND-ing.
So these 5 hacks will help you use Mint (or your personal finance software of choice) to reinforce priorities, minimize goal-crimping temptations, and gain greater freedom to live life to its fullest.
<<1. SEPARATE SPENDING FROM INVESTING>>
All of the offerings in the financial software buffet come with a lot of accoutrements; it’s possible to connect virtually every type of money-related account you can imagine. Having just your bank account seems so bland! So you can also add student loans, mortgages, investment accounts and more to the mix. But, resist the urge to put it all on your plate. Because having too much (data) can lead to spending too much time logged-in when you should be out having fun.
To simplify and cut stress from budgeting, only connect your checking accounts and credit cards. When it’s time to check-in on where those dollars are going, you’ll only be served the spending data. That makes for a quick 15-minute weekly picnic that you can walk away from feeling satisfied.
A separate, designated budgeting app can also help reduce the chances of emotional investing. When it comes to monitoring our financial diet, we should be heavier on the spending than on investing. The gluttony of financial news topped with herding mentality can subliminally lead us to make the kind of poor investment choices that are known to be a main cause of underperformance. Investing decisions are best made with the long-term in mind and, as counterintuitive as it may seem, so are spending decisions.
<<2. PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE>>
Eagerness to achieve financial freedom that supports rejuvenating sabbaticals can, ironically, make budgeting become even more constraining. Day-to-day expense tracking turns into an obsession while the important matters are left on the plate.
The “latte factor” that trains you to worry about small, everyday purchases is a recipe for staying in the very rut of financial stress that we’re trying to avoid!
You are what you eat; so only consume the right details. Use the trends tab in Mint to do a quarterly comparison of where your hard-earned dollars are going. What’s important to digest is the extent of spending patterns over time and how you can adjust them to get more bang for your buck (i.e. greater quality of life for less cost).
<<3. EDUCATE THE APP FOR AUTOMATION>>
As long as you avoid unhealthy add-ons and data binges, budgeting apps can help in sticking to a financial diet without feeling starved. One feature that is worth indulging in is automation: auto-categorization is a great way to cut the time and stress of budget tracking.
If you are just getting started, it’s best to log-in weekly and take about 10 minutes to double-check that your transactions are being categorized correctly. Remember to click the “rule” checkbox each time you make a change so that Mint knows to apply the same categorization to subsequent purchases from that merchant. After about six months or so, you should be able to review less often and spend less time making corrections.
Being diligent early pays off as the app becomes familiar with your spending preferences.
<<4. NIX NITPICKING >>
Pinching pennies is a fruitless effort. And trying to account for every cent in your budget will only split your hairs and make them fall out.
Categorization in financial management can feel more like an art than a science. So take the creative license and make the most of it.
If you frequent big box or other general stores, decide which category fits the majority of those purchases. Trips to Target or Costco might usually be to pick-up ‘home supplies’, for example.
Apply that single category every time you shop there unless you buy something that’s expensive and out of the ordinary.
Splitting transactions is more hassle than it’s worth. Don’t waste time worrying about whether toothpaste is a grocery or a health expense. Remember, the purpose is to detect larger patterns. When you notice that your spending on home supplies is weighing you down and/or overpowering the joy they create in your life, then it’s time to moderate.
<<5. DITCH THE GRINCH>>
Save is a four-letter word. But it should be an enjoyable one. Like ease. And posh. And glad.
Budgeting should not feel like a curse. The “latte factor” that trains you to manage small, everyday purchases only froths up a nagging voice in your head—that gives us a headache and leaves a bad taste in our mouths. It’s the same for those New Year's resolutions that only 20% of us stick with for more than a month. Overthinking ruins the party.
Get the big stuff right (mortgage, car, etc). It’s OK to let some of the little things get lost along the way. And enjoy the journey.
<<SPENDING IN LIFE>>
Whether it’s the initial motivation to better manage your personal finances or a goal formed in the process, committing to an alternative approach to “retirement” changes our relationship with spending. As Vicki Robbins has described, there’s an exchange rate for your “life energy”.
Spending in itself does not sustain happiness; neither does financial freedom. Gaining happiness involves weighing in just enough to make adjustments the ensure your personal values fit into the mix. So, instead of inundating yourself into budget burnout, use personal finance software and systems to help you focus on the big spending areas for impactful action.
The reward for successful stress-less budgeting is that you can afford the most valuable resource—time. And now you have money management tools to make fulfilling mini-retirements part of a sustainable lifestyle.