Anyone who has been in debt will agree to this: it isn't easy to stay motivated to keep paying towards your debt and to not spend all of your savings. (Also, be sure to check out Save Without Sacrifice for related information.)
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Your intentions are good, and you're even disciplined for the first few months, but sooner or later, you'll feel yourself slipping and saying "What's the harm in one little vacation to treat myself?", because the struggle really lies in the day-to-day.
We have to learn how to give up or delay our immediate and future wants, to cover what we have long-since forgotten about but are still paying for every month. Ask yourself these three questions whenever you are tempted to make a purchase outside of your budget.
- Do I need it or do I want it?
In less tempting situations this works wonders because it's an easy decision. However in more tempting situations, rationality skips out the window and you can justify every one of your "wants" as "needs"! For example:
NEED: I need to eat.
WANT: I need to eat at that delectable Thai restaurant for lunch everyday instead of bringing my lunch.
It got to the point where I could even justify buying a pair of new shoes when I had plenty at home, because they top quality, and so perfect that I'd never want another pair again. I mean, really, who is going to fault that logic, right? Wrong. I knew what a need and a want was, but there were times where I needed to make myself move on to question #2. (Find out more in 7 Tips For The Do-It-Yourself Debt Manager.)
- How many hours do I have to work for it?
Imagine you're in an Apple store, touching all the shiny new toys, beeping excitedly at you. As you run your fingers over the thin MacBook Air, thoughts run through your head and soon your delusion arrives at its final conclusion: "I must have it so that when I travel I can stay connected to my loved ones and not blow my carryon limit!" (Never mind, of course, that you haven't left the country since 1990.)
Before reaching out and screaming "It's ALL mine and I'll take two!" think about the working hourly cost of it.
Calculate Your Earnings Per Hour:
Note: This calculation uses gross salary because when you are in the middle of your shopping nirvana, you may not know your net salary per year off the top of your head.
Take your gross salary for the year ($30,000 for example) and divide it by 2,000 which equals $15/hour, also known as your gross hourly wage. Use 2,000 because it's an easy-to-divide by number that represents the average total number of working hours per year with two weeks of vacation.
So if the gadget costs $1,600 before taxes, divide it by your gross hourly wage and it will cost you approximately 107 working hours or a little over 2.5 weeks. Ouch. And that would only be if all of your wages could go toward a non-essential expense.(Knowing why you're in the red will help you get back into the black. Find out more in 7 Expenses That Are Keeping You In Debt.)
This is not taking into account taxes and other deductions, rent, food, utilities, gas and other life expenses! Now let that sink in and ask yourself if it's really worth it any longer.
Even if it's only $2, the point to keep in mind is that it's never about a single splurge, because even if the numbers work out, every little bit of extra you spend adds up to you staying in debt longer than is necessary. If you are still clutching that laptop in your hands, it's time to think about the long term.
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- How far will this set me back in my financial goals?
If you don't have a goal, jot down a few right now. Number one is easy - get out of debt!
Once you have your goals, you can actually see what your spending does to help or hinder them and a lot of goals tend to have amounts assigned to them: $20,000 in the bank for emergencies, or $10,000 to pay for a trip to Japan for two weeks. It can even be just to want financial security.
Whatever it is, reminding yourself of what the big picture is tends to squash any truly unnecessary purchase.
The Bottom Line
Yes, you are in debt, but there's no point in punishing yourself and being miserable about it. Enjoy your money responsibly by setting an amount aside that you can do whatever you want with. All of the above may never stop you from giving in to temptation, but it helps you keep your eyes on the prize.
Finally, remember this above all else: A true investment is only something that can get you a return on money; everything else is consumption in one form or another. (For related reading, take a look at Debt, Savings, Retirement: Where Should Your Money Go?)
For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Mergers, Hostile Bids And SEC Probes.