How Good Habits Keep Small Mistakes Manageable

I have been swamped lately — absolutely buried. I'm busy at the box factory, busy with my blogs, and busy with holiday social activities. It's been nearly impossible for me to juggle everything. Now I'm getting sick, and I can't help but think it's due to the stress.

But the stress has done more than affect my health. It's leading me to spend without thinking. You know how busy people justify their Egg McMuffin or their pastry-from-a-package by saying they're too busy to make a real breakfast? I get like that with money when I'm under stress.

Under normal circumstances, I've learned to ask myself questions about every purchase I make:

  • “Is this a want or a need?”
  • “Would I buy this if I had just lost my job?”
  • “Why don't I wait thirty days to see if this is still important?”

I also track my finances at least once a week, sometimes more.

Lately, though, I've been slipping into old habits. I'm not accumulating debt, but I'm buying on impulse. Today I did my finances for the first time in two weeks, and I was shocked by all the little indulges I'd been allowing myself. It's not that I'm going shopping — I'm not — it's just that I'm buying whatever comes to mind when I'm in the store. I spend a lot during the Christmas season anyhow, and it's as if this has made it easier to spend on myself.

I'm not worried. Balancing my checkbook this morning was enough to alert me to the problem. This is one of the great benefits of tracking every penny you spend. By keeping tabs on my expenditures, I'm able to catch and correct small mistakes before they become big problems.

I just wish I was smart enough not to buy Star Trek DVDs in the first place! (Oh well — at least I'm enjoying them.)

More about...Psychology

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Danny Tsang
Danny Tsang
12 years ago

Lately I’ve been the same way. I’ve been buying small things on impulse and wanting big things that I would have never imagined myself wanting like an iphone and a macbook when my older blackberry and my HP laptop is holding up fine.. I can’t believe I even did a whole in depth article on my site about whether or not the iPhone was worth it lol. I’ve also been feeling an urge to buy clothes, shoes and more…Maybe it’s because I’ve been going to so many stores and websites lately buying gifts it put me in the buying mode.… Read more »

Veronica L.
Veronica L.
12 years ago

Hey J.D, Your article is just so timely, I had a similar ‘relapse’ recently as well! After being pretty frugal for the past two years after quitting a shopaholic lifestyle, I started spending more than usual recently. It is partially due to work stress and the urge to update my boring wardrobe after living a pauper-like existence for awhile. It felt great wearing those nice clothes, and people around me complimented me of my new look too. Like you, I keep track on my spending though I do not like what I saw on paper recently. I felt guilty, but… Read more »

SingleGuyMoney
SingleGuyMoney
12 years ago

I think it is like that for most people right now considering the time of year. Hopefully, it will slow down for you soon and you can get back to normal.

justin
justin
12 years ago

It’s much easier not to spend money when you’re not shopping. This time of year most people are shopping in one way or another. Unfortunately every few days or so I notice something I never knew existed and start to believe I want it. Fortunately I have been talking myself out of a lot.

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

Lol about Star Trek DVDs. I’ve learned that there are so many episodes and there are so few that I want to watch more than a few times that it’s just not worth buying…unless you buy all 7 seasons of whatever you’re into. Which is a bazillion dollars. True for many shows. I did once buy a CSI season and kept reselling it to buy the next season. That worked pretty well…I spent less than buying all seasons though more than I should have (well, my library owned a few, so I skipped them). Off topic, but I was going… Read more »

brief
brief
12 years ago

I tend to experience a lapse in times of crisis (family member getting hospitalized, that sort of thing). It’s like I simply don’t have the energy left to watch my finances. I try to deal with it by giving myself a grace period of sorts in which I don’t sweat the small stuff – usually about a month – and then make the effort to get back on track afterwards. As far as I’m concerned, those times count as rainy days, so if I need a few minor indulgences to help me through, so be it.

Ricardo Bueno
Ricardo Bueno
12 years ago

It’s easy to spend money; especially during the holiday season! In fact, as a whole, I think we instinctively have a desire to spend more and more (we want that fancy new car, those expensive new jeans, to eat at that fancy new restaurant, etc.). It’s always easier to spend money than it is to make it. But that’s why tracking what you spend is important. I’ve been tracking my expenses via a Cash Ledger (sure I could do it all on excel but I suppose I’m a little old fashioned)…since I’ve been doing this, it’s easier to exercise more… Read more »

JJ
JJ
12 years ago

I don’t have kids, or else I would probably get into the holiday shopping spree too. My sister and I went shopping and she wanted to get me a sweater. I said, no, don’t get me anything for Christmas, I’m not buying any gifts this year. I haven’t done the holiday shopping thing in a few years and it is such a relief to be done with it. Grinch? Scrooge? Maybe so, but it is saving me thousands of dollars.

Millionaire Money Habits
Millionaire Money Habits
12 years ago

Hey JD, Your post brings up an interesting point that made me stop and think. You mentioned that you track you finances once a week. I do the same, but kind of irregularly. There are busy/hectic times of the year, like you describe here, that I’ll go 2 or 3 weeks without going over my expenses. I’ve never thought about it until your post made me realize that when I go for a length of time without going over expenses, I tend to slip into old habits as well – forgetting that the little expenses add up to big expenses… Read more »

Ricardo Bueno
Ricardo Bueno
12 years ago

JJ: I wouldn’t call it being a grinch or a scrooge! The fact is it’s saving you money (certainly that’s liberating). And the important thing is, you’re still spending time with family!

Dividends4Life
Dividends4Life
12 years ago

It is amazing how tracking something will change your behaviour! My wife knows this too, but she won’t admit it. She hates it when I pull out the budget…

Best Wishes,
D4L

Ryan S.
Ryan S.
12 years ago

Man, can I relate. I’ve been buried here myself, and I can totally see how it’s easy to let things slide, including spending. I make myself write down expenses every day (unless it’s a day I haven’t bought anything), and I monitor my credit card balances regularly too, just to make sure I haven’t set up too big of a balance to pay off next month. But man, can I relate.

Ryan
http://uncommon-cents.net/

db
db
12 years ago

I broke down and bought the complete ST:TNG from amazon.com last week. 🙁

However, the universe saved me from my budget-busting ways. Amazon.com emailed me to let me know they couldn’t fulfill the order and had to cancel it. 🙁

I guess I just have to pay off some other debt instead of making a new one. Thanks universe. 🙂

plonkee
plonkee
12 years ago

I also think that it’s to do with shopping more often. There’s just more temptation that way. My latest mantra though has been that I can’t buy anything until after Christmas. After all, I don’t know what I’m gong to get, and I wouldn’t want to have duplicates even of much desired items.

Camilla
Camilla
12 years ago

Lol, my sympathies, if there’s one thing that can wreck my good spending habits, it’s scifi DVDs. 😛 Recently i’ve set a limit of one DVD set per month, which is pretty tight considering i used to buy almost 1-2 sets a week! I look forward to the purchases a lot more now though, and my Amazon Wishlist is about to explode from the strain, lmao.

Don
Don
12 years ago

I have budget for SciFi DVDs because I canceled my cable. I still don’t buy Startrek because they cost more than their value. However, Firefly and Stargate have both been very excellent. I think BattleStar Gallactica has been pretty good, but the disks cost a lot and I’ve just borrowed from friends.

Eric F.
Eric F.
12 years ago

This is such an interesting topic that it deserves a whole lot more documentation. Like so many others, stress has been very bad for my financial plans, health and relationships. Back in september, at the beginning of the semester (finishing a masters in urban planning policies), my personnal finances were in top shape. I had wonderful savings (enough to pay my university debts at the end of my studies!!!) a budget, a financial plan, various enveloppes for necessities (rent, phone & internet bills, food, schoolarship tuitions, etc..) and everything was going according to plan. Until… That time of the semester,… Read more »

Eden
Eden
12 years ago

It is rough this time of year. I’ve been really tempted to spend money lately- that Xbox 360 is dying to come home with me every time I see it. So far, I have resisted, but it isn’t easy.

You probably need to let yourself celebrate a bit though, since you just killed off the debt monster. It won’t hurt as long as you know what you are doing and get back on track soon.

Margaret
Margaret
12 years ago

I echo db’s sentiment – thanks to the universe. My usual self-control has been slipping away. My list of new needs was spiraling out of control. I had decided that I “needed” a GPS – to navigate to shopping locations unknown, a new camera, and so many other things.

I was actually perusing personal finance sites to impose a cooling of period 🙂 This has given me a much-needed financial course correction. [But I’m keeping the new floor buffer.]

Elena
Elena
12 years ago

Thanks DB for bringing up this topic. I’ve been doing a lot of errands for the in laws the past 10 days (they’re both sidelined with the flu and in their 80s-90′ so that is stressful in and of itself.) I sat down to balance my accounts and work out their tab and whooo… Their expenses added up to more than I thought and need to get reimbursed soon. Plus I had all kinds of unplanned add ons of my own just because I happened to be in a store doing their errands. I needed to take care of things… Read more »

Elena
Elena
12 years ago

I got your intials mixed up there. Thanks, JD!

jules
jules
12 years ago

i have what is probably a bad habit, but it’s been good for an impulse shopper like myself. “returning”… i have dealt with the fact that i cannot control my impulse to buy. but usually once i have bought an item, the impulse is satisifed. so i have started to simply keep the tags on, and receipts sorted away somewhere. i’d just hang that new sweater or skirt unworn, with tags, in my closet. i would leave it there for a few days to a couple of weeks. next thing i new, the novelty has worn off, and i haven’t… Read more »

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