Often, folks tell me that without emergencies their finances would be fine. Particularly, they believe large emergencies such as the car breaking down, the roof leaking, broken furniture, and similar items are culprits that cause their continuing financial woes.
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I accept but disagree with their sincere budgeting.
When I drill deeper, ignorance rears its ugly head as the offender. Simply, these people are clueless about their spending patterns. They disregard a budget, and fail to accept, much less change, behavior that drives spending. To top it off, consistently, they overlook little expenses that they dismiss as individually insignificant. Mostly, they refuse to believe that it is simple to plan and deal effectively in a budget, with unforeseen events.
Normally, the issue with emergencies is their unexpected timing; not the occurrences themselves, just the timing. You will need to repair the car, repair and replace the washing machine, fix bathroom taps, unplug toilets, repair water heaters, furnaces, and so on. Unfortunately, you do not know when, but you know they will occur. The challenge is how to plan to handle these items.
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Budgeting for these items means
Monitoring their performance regularly, and at budget time, based on age, condition, performance history, you assume one, or two will need attention, and you include an amount in your budget. I have been budgeting for years, and so this is easy to do, because I see patterns, which guide my budgets.
I assure you that for most people, major and minor emergencies are not the problem that drives them in debt. Typically, people drift gradually in debt by working without a budget and ignoring small expenses. If you decide to change your behavior in each of the three categories below, you will spend less, and your financial position will improve.
- Food and drinks
- Gifts and seasonal spending
- Finance charges
Food and Drinks
Do you know how much you spend buying lunch at work, drinking coffee, and drinking bottled water? I spend zero. How often do you eat out? I do maximum three to four times yearly because I prefer my homemade meals that are healthier, better, and cheaper. Studies show that the average American worker spends about $100 buying coffee monthly.
Gifts and Seasonal Spending
Do you know how much you spend yearly preparing for, and buying gifts for birthdays and holidays: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries, and others? When in debt, why do you need to spend any money? Why let the shops tell you when to spend? How about fixing an amount-could be zero-for the year, set it aside for these activities, and when it’s finished, it’s finished.
How does seasonal spending affect you? Why do we need new spring, fall, winter, or summer items? Is anything wrong with last years? Again, why allow merchants to steer your spending? Take a holiday from seasonal spending for at least one year.
In 2010, Americans spent $7 billion on ATM fees. Ouch; seven billion to get at their own money! Do you know how much you spend? I spend zero. Spending to get your money out of the bank is inexcusable. Spend a few moments and plan your trips.
You need to invest time planning your banking arrangements. Perhaps a Credit Union might work for you. Identify your needs, look at different account options, and choose the one suited to you with minimum bank fees budgeting.
Many other small items will help lower spending, but you must change your behavior. Do you see scope in any of these? Buying lottery tickets, buying cigarettes, spending on cable, satellite, the Internet, phone services, particularly cell phones, and many other small items that grow large rapidly. Get to know your spending pattern.
The critical success factor to avoid debt is to accept that money management is lifestyle management. As you expand your lifestyle, your spending rises.
Let’s not follow governments’ example of maintaining a Ponzi scheme by using current borrowings to pay yesterday’s debts. Start using a budget today. Let it be your road map to a debt free lifestyle.