Shape up your spending

July 01, 2005|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Does your budget have bumps and bulges? Does your spending plan need to go on a diet? It takes work, but you can get your spending in shape. To do so, you need to know:

  • How you feel about money.

  • What your spending goals are.

  • How to plan ahead for some expenses.

  • How to match your expenses with your income.

  • How to change your spending habits, if you want to.

If you received a gift of $500, what would you do with it? Pay off bills? Put it in the bank? Buy clothes? Make a down payment on a car? Buy a DVD player?

How you spend your money depends on how you feel about money. To some people, money is power. To others it means status and prestige. To others it means security. Some people use money to get the things they want in life. Others just want to have enough to pay for day-to-day needs.


There are some expenses we all have to pay for - food, clothes, shelter and keeping warm in winter. But what do you wish you could spend your money on? These wishes are your spending goals. It helps to write these goals down and discuss them with your family, especially if there are different "Money Spender Types" in your family. Some of their wishes might be different from yours, and you'll need to decide which goals to work on first, second and so on.

Set up spending goals. These can act as a guide to help you spend your money for things that are most important to you.

What do you spend your money on? Rent? Food? Clothes? Utility bills? Do you ever wonder where all the money goes? Some money is "phantom" money - spent for snacks, parking, magazines - it just seems to disappear.

Watch for "phantom" money spending. Keep track of all the money you spend for one or two weeks. Then ask yourself, "Do I really want to spend my money on these things?" For example, 50 cents a day for a soda adds up to more than $125 a year. You may decide to save that 50 cents for a vacation or a new coat instead.

Besides rent, food, clothes and utility bills, you have many other expenses. What are they? When do they occur? If you can plan ahead and set aside some money, these expenses won't become "budget busters."

You might find that you can't always pay your bills. It's not always possible to save money from one check to the next. When this happens, you'll need to look for ways to spend less.

Money-maximizing tips:

  • Find the best buy. Look in several places - a catalog, newspapers, two or three stores, perhaps including a secondhand store and garage sales.

  • Use wisely. Make the things you buy last longer by taking care of them. See if you can find ways to make your clothes last longer and your food from spoiling.

  • Substitute. When you buy something, ask yourself if a lower-priced item will do the job just as well. Use store brands and generics instead of name brands.

  • Share it. Stretch resources by sharing with neighbors and friends. Chip in to buy larger amounts at lower unit prices.

  • Find it free. There are some items that are available for free. Use public parks and playgrounds instead of expensive health clubs for exercise. Borrow books and videotapes from the library.

  • Make it. Sometimes it's cheaper to make something than to buy it, but it means you must use your time and skills.

  • Trade or swap. Do you have talents or skills you could trade with your neighbors - can you trade time baby-sitting for help with home repairs?

  • Watch "phantom" money. Keep track of the money in your wallet. Cut back or cut out spending on snacks, phone calls, movies, magazines, eating out, record/book/videotape clubs.

  • Don't buy it. Ask yourself if you really need this item or if there's something you want even more. Learn to say no to yourself, to your children and to salespeople. Doing without one item can help you get something you want more.

  • If you would like more information on how to shape up your spending send a self-addressed, stamped (37 cents) business-size envelope to MCE - Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Shape."

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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