15-Minute Resolution #2: Start Spending Consciously

Alright, now for a 15-minute 2010 Resolution that doesn’t make you spend less, just better. Huh? Achieving financial success doesn’t mean pinching every single penny all day long and watching your net worth ticker inch upwards. It means spending money on what you enjoy, and not wasting it on things that you don’t (like credit card interest).

An interesting exercise to help you focus is to list ALL your voluntary expenses, and then organize them by priority. When I say voluntary expense I mean that you should generally ignore bare expenses like rent for a single room and basic food. This is not a rigid exercise, but mostly to get you to think more about spending consciously. Again, don’t spend more than 15-minutes on this.

What is your most important expense?

What is your LEAST important expense?

For example, your list might look something like this, from most important to least important:

  • Mortgage on my dream house
  • Yearly travel
  • Monthly iPhone Bill
  • Dining Out
  • Daily Starbucks
  • Rounds of golf
  • Cable TV
  • Beer & Alcohol

You might think, well everyone is going to put housing first. No, in fact it may be at the bottom. Maybe you live in a luxury downtown urban condo right now, and would rather save $1,000 per month and share a 4-bedroom house with a bunch of friends and spend that money on private French lessons and wine. Only you know!

Now write down your list and place it somewhere visible. Make it your computer desktop background if possible. Next time you spend any money, you’ll think twice about whether you’d rather allocate it to something more important to you. You can now finish the rest of the 2010 with a better frame of mind.

In addition, the next time you run into a money hiccup, you’ll know what to cut first before dipping into savings or *gasp* stopping your 401k contributions.

See all the 2010 Instant New Year’s Resolutions here.

Comments

  1. reading these finance blogs before Christmas really helped me keep a lid on expenses and since i have seen that it works, i will follow your advice on the above, particularly dining out(one of my shameless vices)

  2. I think it would be interesting to make this list and compare to what you spouse/room-mates think. I have a sneaking suspicion, that my wife and I would agree on the order of the big items (mortgage etc), but totally disagree on the order of things like cable tv (only I watch), haircuts (I get mine for $10, hers are a million), clothes, etc.

    The “family” list would have to be very heavily negotiated :)

  3. simplesimon says:

    I wonder how many people out there think that car payments are just a part of life. For me, a car is at the bottom of the list (I drive a 1998 Toyota Camry). I have to drop a few hundred on repairs and maintenance every year but I’m able to save thousands by driving this car vs having car payments.

  4. My expenses right now amount to health insurance and a gym membership. I like how you say it’s not about “pinching every penny”. My folks do that, but it’s just not in my blood. What works best for me is using mint.com to track most things and paying in cash whenever possible. There’s something about forking over hard earned greenbacks versus swiping a piece of plastic that makes you more reluctant to spend…

  5. jackcrawfish says:

    I like the point Jake made regarding a “family priority list.” All too often, I defend eating out as required due to time constraints when clearly I could prep three cold lunches every Sunday. (Eating out for me is #17 on the list). My wife does the $125 haircut thing also. (Hair salon is #22 on the list).

    Perhaps in addition to a prioritized list of expenses, each month we could swap #17 and #22…

    For example one month, I get to eat out for lunches and the next month I have to make more sack lunches on Sundays. The reverse holds true for MrsJ – one month she gets a $15 trim and the next month she goes to her salon for $125.

  6. simplesimon I hear ya! With most people, having a car payment is really not even a discussion item. People don’t even think its weird to pay $300-$800 a month as a family for transporation, thats before taxes and insurance. Its just a permanent part of the budget, forever. Crazy. We have a 95 Geo Prizm, 93 Camry and 1998 Mazda truck. This is one of the biggest financial differences from my peers and the reason we have extra disposable income even after saving. There is a trade-off in not having the most modern safety, but my manintenance has been very easy on the pocketbook. People also tend to make assumptions about your socio-economic class based on cars, but they’re usually wrong.

  7. Simplesimon:

    For you, a car payment wouldn’t even be on the list. If you had to make one, it would probably be near the top.

    I dislike car payments and did without one for a while but then two things happened.

    1. New Kid (2 now)
    2. Wife’s car engine blew out

    Those two combined = new vehicle that will hold 2 car seats (my Nissan Sentra won’t cut it). After being the victim of a blown engine, I opted for something with a nice long warranty due to the fact that the blown engine happened before the car reached 100K miles but after the warranty period. So while I don’t feel car payments are a part of life (I hate them), it’s a necessary expense and must go near the top of the list because if I don’t make the payment, they take the car and my credit takes a bad ding. For me the bottom of the list are things like eating out every so often and cable tv.

  8. Because I have 3 kids and a car payment, travel is the one at the bottom of the list. While a poor substitute, it is much cheaper to have cable tv and watch a program about Hawaii than pack everyone and go there.

  9. Thanks for the great idea. When it comes to expenses like cellphone, its worth considering the possible savings from provider to provider. For example, AT&T contract (for iPhone) as against a provider like T-Mobile (who are now allied with Google’s Nexus One, and seem cheaper). Make sure you have the right plan etc and you can save money on each expense item that can be ploughed back into a possible vacation, perhaps?

  10. simplesimon says:

    @Robert:

    Don’t get me wrong, almost everybody faces car payments eventually (when you’re living in the United States anyways). I expect to in a few years, as you pointed out engines don’t last forever! If I did have an outstanding auto loan, you could bet your ass I’d make it a priority to pay it off.

    My point was a car payment doesn’t have to be a normal expense you have for the rest of your life. After you pay off that car in 3-5 years, keep it an additional 10 years and you’re going to be saving *that* much more money. It’s the years you don’t have car payments where you can really ramp up the savings. I know people that are looking to replace a perfectly functional car and justifying it by saying “well, it’s only going to be an extra $60 a month for a brand new car”. Why even be making car payments if you don’t have to!?

  11. A conscious spending plan is precisely the thing most Americans need in order to get their lives (at least financially) back together. There’s too much debt in this country and when inflation starts to rise… well, who knows! This country has not seen the worst yet in my opinion. If we don’t get our act together and start spending more wisely and within our budget fast, we may be in for more hurt.

  12. @Robert

    I believe what Simple was talking about is people who always have a car loan and consider it part of the monthly budget forever.

    I *need* a car. Life where I live pretty much mandates it. Once, we had to take a loan because of a situation similar to yours and we had not yet saved the full amount for purchase (we’ve never bought new, btw). But since for us, cars aren’t all that important other than just being (safe and reliable) transportation, so once that loan was paid off (eight years ago) the car was still suitable (and still in use).

    For people like Simple and me, the idea of having an on-going, never-ending car payment that many do because as soon as they pay off their loan they buy again is something we avoid. Cars – aside from necessary safe and reliable transportation – aren’t that important to us.

    I applaud you for buying something with a 100,000 mile warranty. Hopefully that will serve your family well beyond the loan. And perhaps another 100,000 mile beyond that (which is not unreasonable with proper maintenance for a number of cars made today).

  13. @Robert

    I believe what Simple was talking about is people who always have a car loan and consider it part of the monthly budget forever.

    I *need* a car. Life where I live pretty much mandates it. Once, we had to take a loan because of a situation similar to yours and we had not yet saved the full amount for purchase (we’ve never bought new, btw). But since for us, cars aren’t all that important other than just being (safe and reliable) transportation, once that loan was paid off (eight years ago) the car was still suitable (and still in use).

    For people like Simple and me, the idea of having an on-going, never-ending car payment that many do because as soon as they pay off their loan they buy again is something we avoid. Cars – aside from necessary safe and reliable transportation – aren’t that important to us.

    I applaud you for buying something with a 100,000 mile warranty. Hopefully that will serve your family well beyond the loan. And perhaps another 100,000 mile beyond that (which is not unreasonable with proper maintenance for a number of cars made today).

  14. In the past 10-15 years, safety has improved a lot. Having a later model car is a lot safer than a car made a decade ago. Just to consider the medical expenses and many others when in an accident. If you have the means, then go for it.

  15. No way am I stopping my 401k contributions! Those are much more important than housing… If worse comes to worse, I’m sleeping on the beach! haha

  16. It is a very good suggestion, but for me as a girl, I can never figure out whether it is more important to save for a house or spend the money on clothes. I know a house must be more important, but I think of it this way: when I get older, spending money on clothes will be useless because I ‘ll be old and bad looking no matter what I wear :)

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