There aren’t many things that impact your life as much as your spending patterns. Understanding how you manage your money can decrease your stress levels, help you save more, and set goals for the future. If you don’t know your spending patterns, you won’t know which financial habits to change to make the most of your money.
Why is it we often spend money on things we know we don’t need or can’t afford? There are three key aspects to the psychology of why consumers spend:
- Emotional Appeals play with our feelings. We often make purchases that we believe will make us happy, will impress others, or prevent something bad from happening.
- Filling a Void with spending is a common tactic when placed in unfortunate circumstances. The choices that are involved in shopping (and not just in browsing) can bolster your sense of personal control.
- Present Bias presents a timely challenge. The appeal of acquiring something today is always stronger than the appeal of acquiring something in the future.
Each of these tactics is enhanced by advertising. Advertising can be beneficial to consumers – introducing you to new products and showing potential discounts or deals. But if you’re not careful, advertising can also make a large impact on your spending patterns. In 1990, consumers in a city saw about 2,000 ad messages per day. Thirty years later, consumers in a city see about 5,000 ad messages per day. Retailers use tactics like brand loyalty, repetition, and glossing over costs to lure consumers and convince them to spend their money. Even if ads are viewed subconsciously, this can later have an impact on your choices when selecting products or brands.
In 1990, consumers in a city saw 2,000 ad messages per day
In 2020, the same consumers see 5,000 ad messages per day
How do you avoid making unwise purchases, influenced by advertising versus your own true needs? It’s important to understand these techniques and implement them in your financial life:
Tracking Your Expenses
It’s impossible to know if you’re spending too much money until you know how much cash is actually leaving your account. Some common tactics used for tracking expenses are check registers, spreadsheets, or budgeting apps — it’s most important to find the way that fits into your lifestyle.
You should first include fixed expenses such as your mortgage or rent, auto loan payment, gym membership, insurance, and childcare bills. Next, you’ll need to consider variable expenses like gas, groceries, credit card bills, and entertainment. Lastly, take your periodic expenses into consideration such as medical bills, car repairs, gifts, and vacations. It’s important to plan ahead for these expenses to avoid unnecessary debt.
Once you’ve gathered all your expenses, compare those costs to your monthly income and see how your spending stacks up with your paycheck. Consider meeting one-on-one with a budgeting professional from Elements Financial to create a customized strategy that works for you.
Planning for Emergencies
Setting realistic goals is an important part of any good savings strategy. A great starting place is to set the goal of saving $1,000 as a dedicated emergency fund. However, once you reach the goal it can be tempting to use that money for items that may not be a true emergency. At Elements, we recommend asking these three questions before taking any money out of an emergency account:
- Is this expense unexpected?
- Is this expense absolutely necessary?
- Is this expense urgent?
If you are able to answer “yes” to all of these questions, you likely have an expense worth dipping into your emergency fund. Otherwise, consider other ways to pay for the item or put it on hold until you’ve saved dedicated funds for it.
Building Your Savings
While being confident you have the financial stability to handle an unexpected expense is important, it’s also critical to plan for future life events and milestones such as your child’s education and retirement.
We highly recommend creating two separate savings accounts so your emergency fund and standard savings account are in two different places. Labeling your accounts can also help lead you to success. Most online and mobile banking tools (including at Elements) allow you to give each account a name to serve as a constant reminder of your goals.
Some of our favorite strategies for building savings include:
- Direct Deposit: Send a portion of your paycheck to a savings account without even having to think about it.
- 48-Hour Rule: Take two days to consider making any large or unbudgeted purchase.
- Reassign Due Dates: Move due dates for your bills to align with your paychecks.
By carefully tracking your expenses, making a plan for emergencies, and building up a savings account, you’ll take better control of your spending and make your money work harder for you!
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This information is provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal, tax or financial advice. Consult with your tax, legal or financial adviser before taking any action.