We've recently spent some time discussing the importance of defining your relationship with money and then getting clear on how to make a start with an investment plan. One of the most important areas of any financial plan though is our spending habits. That's right, it's the love-hate relationship that most of have with money on a regular basis, but our spending habits can either make or break our financial futures.
As a very general rule, most people will spend what they have available. This is the reason that superannuation was mandated by governments all around the world just a few decades ago – in the space of a generation or two, we seemed to have lost our ability to set money aside for a rainy day. So instead of governments relying on people to do their own saving, they made it compulsory for a specific amount of our wages to be kept out of circulation until we needed it – usually when we stopped earning income from employment.
This is an important point: particularly in Australia, we're not very good at saving money. We like to live for today and not save for tomorrow, as it turns out. But if you really want to get ahead with your finances, it's the bit of money you're able to save and set aside that will really give you financial freedom in the future.
So how do you start saving and then get better at it over time? The key is to get clear on where your money is coming from and also going to, namely by doing a budget. Many banks will now offer a breakdown of our spending habits through their data analysis of our bank accounts, but a good old fashioned budget spreadsheet will also work just fine. You can download one from us here, to get you started. Start by listing everything and if you're unsure about certain expenses, round them up. It's always better to overestimate what's going out the door rather than to underestimate it.
Once you've listed your income and expenses, see if there's anything left over. If there is, you then need to decide what it's best to do with this surplus, and we would suggest either debt reduction or investing are your best two financial alternatives. But if you don't have a surplus in the first place, you need to find a way to carve one out. This can usually be achieved by adding in a savings component as an "expense" to your current budget, which doesn't have to be a big amount but just something to get you started.
As a minimum, we'd suggest setting up an online savings account with an institution that's different to the one you normally use for your everyday banking, and automatically transferring a regular amount into this new account. You'll be surprised at just how quickly the regular income amounts will build up. Importantly, you'll also notice that your regular spending adjusts down to accommodate having less money readily in circulation.
How you treat your saving and spending habits will really depend on what you're trying to achieve with your money. But it's necessary to understand how most of us are naturally wired – we spend what we have, so savings need to be forced on most of us. Take the time to analyze what you may be able to pull out of circulation because most of the time, you won't even miss it, and you'll be pleased that you did.