“Winning at money is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge.”
–Dave Ramsey, The Total Money Makeover
I’m only just starting to tackle away at my debt, but one important truth I’ve learned in handling debt is that anyone can do it. I don’t need to be a millionaire or have a recent business success in order to be debt-free. In other words, becoming debt-free is not about earning more.
When we think about creating surplus in our budget, we typically tend to gravitate toward the “earn more” side of things. To be in the financial place where we want to be, we want to be making more money, which puts us in difficult spots where we work more hours and deny ourselves free time to breathe. While it does sound like a dream to earn more so we don’t have to worry so much about money, it usually doesn’t happen like we expect it to.
What we oddly ignore in creating surplus is the other side, which is spending less.
We tend to skip over this side because it seems harder to do than earning more. With spending less, we have to create healthy behaviors such as creating and following a budget, saving, denying ourselves of luxuries, etc. All the behaviors that need to occur with spending less are about personal change, which at times can be more difficult than changing our circumstances (earning more money).
The truth of it all is, to become debt-free we can spend less; but spending less requires changing our habits.
The first step in changing our spending habit is to realize why we’re spending, which if many of us are honest with ourselves, is comfort. The craving for comfort is what drives our habit of spending. We spend to feel secure, to feel luxurious, and to feel accepted and acknowledged—all fitting under the umbrella of feeling comfortable in our life.
To bring this close to home for you: do you go on a shopping spree as a way to feel better about an event? Do you go shopping because you’re bored? Do you spend money to express love for others? These are all examples of spending to feel comfortable.
While there is logical comfort spending—such as bills and rent—there is also unnecessary comfort spending—such as movies, clothes, and other things we don’t need now. The goal of spending less is to change your habit to not include unnecessary comfort spending. This goal is only accomplished by learning to distinguish between logical and unnecessary comfort spending, and putting in place habits to limit unnecessary spending.
Jesus knew the distinction between the two. He knew that in order to travel and do ministry, they needed to sustain living, which required connections, hospitality, and finding places to stay. These items were necessary provisions, which some have argued were supplied by the women who traveled with them (Luke 8:3).
Yet, Jesus spoke on not having treasures on earth. Basically, this means not treasuring the comforts for earthly gain. Jesus Himself practiced the difference between provisions and luxuries.
The problem is, we’ve blurred the boundaries between the two, and we spend on luxuries we don’t need. This in turn keeps us in debt.
To stop spending on what you don’t need, and begin on the path toward financial freedom, here are a few tactics you could implement now:
- Draw out a list between necessary expenses, and unnecessary expenses. Track everything in the two categories and make sure you aren’t giving priority to unnecessary expenses.
- Make a list of everything you need before you go shopping, and only buy what’s on that list. Don’t go shopping if you don’t need anything.
- Avoid places where you’re tempted to spend money.
- If you are tempted to spend money in a certain place, find a way to delay your impulse. Either distract yourself with something else, or delay the decision for another time.
- Remind yourself of why you’re spending on a certain item.
- Hold a weekly (bi-weekly or even monthly) meeting where you pull together all the expenses you’ve tracked, discuss strategies on improvement, and decide on a budget.
- Realize that money you save is money you don’t spend. If you get a good deal on an item, you’re still losing money.
- Know how much money you’re going to put toward your debt each month. Create a debt snowball (follow Dave Ramsey for this one!).
Spending is fortunately a behavior we can change. We know this, and yet, we spend on things we don’t need anyways. Consider not falling into the routine of overspending again by acknowledging the problem and putting in place behaviors to redirect your course.
Photography by Mikaela Hamilton