Financial Servitude

Allowing spending to exceed income is the cardinal sin of good cash flow management. Earned income is normally used to cover day to day expenses, with a little left over for a rainy day (or retirement). But when spending outstrips earnings, savings are used up and debt grows. Debt is literally the opposite of financial freedom, making a promise to work in the future to pay (a higher price) for enjoyment today. Debt has the effect of narrowing options and forcing a person to work for someone else.

How can you tell that you are losing your financial freedom? A sure warning sign is carrying a balance on a credit card. If someone were paying with a credit card, but not able to pay the full bill each month, they are spending more than they can afford. Another warning sign is a growing line of credit. Maybe the credit card is paid off each month, but the line of credit grows larger. Another signal is getting help from a parent or other family member. Some people get into “temporary” trouble with a credit card or a medical bill or other expense, and get help from family to get out of a tight spot. The problem is when they keep getting into trouble and asking for more help.

Often, the first reaction is to set a strict budget. I’m not a fan of budgets. I don’t have a budget and I have rarely met anyone who enjoys budgeting. What I believe is that it’s essential to understand how much spendable income you have, and to try to arrive at the end of the month with a little left over. What my wife and I found helpful was to look at our bank statement each month. Our bank totaled the deposits, totaled the withdrawals, and showed the difference as an increase or decrease (in net worth). Most months, we were proud that we had an increase, although there were some bad months. The important thing was that there were more good months than bad ones.

I don’t care how you decide to spend your money. Personally, I hate lists like “how to save $0.10 on a grocery bill”. It’s important to use our resources (money) wisely, but there’s the risk of being cheap. And that’s before accounting for the fact that people will spend differently, depending on what’s important to them. It’s not my place to judge what’s important to you, as long as you spend within your ability. Otherwise, you’re selling away your freedom.

If you find that you are overspending, I have a suggestion. First, put away or cancel your credit cards. Don’t use them for one year. Don’t use your debit card for purchases, only for deposits and withdrawals at the bank. It turns out that there is more psychological resistance to parting with cash from your wallet than there is to paying with plastic. So take out enough cash for a week (or two weeks, or a month) and use that to pay. When your wallet is empty, stop spending until the next withdrawal. In this way, you can mentally track your spending and build good habits. And if there’s money left at the end of the month, feel free to indulge. Money is meant to be enjoyed, not to cause feelings of guilt.

How do you keep your spending under control? Has this ever been a challenge for you?

3 thoughts on “Financial Servitude”

  1. I work very part time and all my wages are put into the holiday account
    Hubby’s checks are different. I will take out $300 cash…$100 for him and $200 for groceries($100 for each week). $250 is set aside in a subsection of our checking account for taxes and insurances. All bills are paid online and i have a general idea of how much they are…so, after all that is taken from the paycheck i figure out how much can be sent over to the high interest savings account where it will be dealt with later…but it is gone out of the checking account, and therefore cannot spend it.
    We do not need very much. Rarely are things put on credit–generally hubby’s work trips, which are fully reimbursed and we get our cash back from the card we use–a very little bonus
    I always leave about $200-$300 in the account for things that come up–prescriptions, dog stuff…lawn stuff…whatever.
    and every two weeks we start all over again…

  2. Layne, Thank you for sharing. That sounds like a really good way to do it. I’m sure that would keep most couples from getting into trouble.

  3. I am a terrible spender, so what I do is first have a large chunk of savings automatically deducted from my pay and put where I can’t get at it (RRSP and TFSA). Then I withdraw only the amount of cash I need for the week. I cancelled my last credit card in March when I finally paid it off. I am not good with credit cards and acknowledge that I should not have one for quite a while, until I get better impulse control.

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