It’s only twenty dollars…
It’s only three percent…
It’s only for six months…
It’s only – Is there a more powerful, desire-justifying phrase in the English language? How many times have I blown my budget, because I fell into the It’s only-trap? Seriously, even those of us who are trying to follow our budgets tend to spend more, in bits and pieces, when we convince ourselves that twenty bucks, spent here or there, is no big deal. It’s only twenty bucks, right?
Only after we get home, and reconcile our checking accounts or take a look at our wallets, do we recognize the truth – All of those it’s only-purchases have used up our cash, depleted our checking account, and inflated our credit card balance.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a series of articles about breaking bad financial habits – To be sure that you receive each of the articles in this series, sign up for my site feed, via RSS or daily email.
A few days ago, I talked about impulse purchases, those spur-of-the-moment purchases that break our budgets. The first cousin of the impulse purchase – is the it’s only-purchase. Remember, it takes just the briefest moment of weakness, the slightest mental hesitation, for a company to convince us to spend money on their products. And, unfortunately, these companies are aided by our own internal weakness – the it’s only-gene, if you will.
Here’s how I’ve learned to deal with the it’s only-gene. Think about these techniques, and see if they might work for you. If you have other techniques or tips, feel free to share them in the comments section.
1. Recognize that some it’s only-purchases are okay. Seriously, once in a while, it’s cool to “waste” a little money. I have three kids. There are times, when we are at a restaurant or at the store, that’s it’s fun to give them each a dollar, and watch them purchase a bouncy ball or a fake tattoo from one of those little machines. In our budget, we have a miscellaneous category. Each month, we allow ourselves – and our kids – to be a little frivolous. This keeps us sane.
2. Admit that most it’s only-purchases should be eliminated. Clearly, it’s cool to have a little fun, but let’s not get carried away. If we are not careful, one dollar becomes five dollars, and five dollars becomes twenty dollars, and twenty dollars becomes one hundred dollars. Create a specific amount for miscellaneous spending, and then honor that amount.
3. Avoid situations that promote it’s only-purchases. I’m married, with three little kids, and I know how little kids think. They love to spend quarters on video games, toys, soda, and other assorted junk. Knowing this, I tend to avoid situations where this assorted junk is available. If I have a choice between restaurant A or restaurant B, I will tend to favor the restaurant without the massive wall of arcade games. Depending on your age or station in life, you might need to avoid situations and places where you tend to overspend. For some, that means skipping a visit or two to the mall. For others, this might mean no more online shopping.
4. Learn to substitute. Instead of rewarding yourself (or you kids) with numerous, small, it’s only-purchases, reward yourself (or your kids) with really awesome free things! Take your kids to the park. Go to the library. Pop some popcorn and watch a move at home. Find free things to occupy your mind (and their minds).
5. Do a little math. If you are unmoved by any of the emotional reasons for avoiding it’s only-purchases, consider the mathematical reasons. $10 per day, for one year, is $3,650. If you continue to save, at $10 per day, for the next 50 years, and you get a modest return of 5%, you would have over $790,000. Seriously. Those it’s only-purchases really do add up!
Let’s leave the it’s only-purchases in the past. Instead, let’s have a little fun, stick to our budgets, find alternatives to spending, and remember the long-term financial benefits. In the end, we will not miss those unnecessary things, and we’ll be glad that we learned to be a bit more responsible.