There comes a point in just about everyone’s life when you decide you want to limit your spending. Maybe it’s your overall spending to get rid of some debt or as you prepare for a fixed-income retirement, or perhaps you just want to reduce your spending in a particular ‘leaky’ category.
No matter the reason, it’s a noble idea. You work hard for your money and you want it to last. You want to make sure that your values and long term goals are reflected in your spending, and there’s something to show for years of hard work. Sabotaging your future self with unconscious spending isn’t your idea of financial success.
So, what to do? Stick with cash only purchases? Debit only? Cut up the credit cards forever?
Let me review 5 principles to help you manage cash flow better. Whatever you decide, stick with these principles and you’ll be better off in more ways than one.
1. Treat every dollar like a dollar, regardless of the form of payment you choose. Better yet, consider how long you have to work for each after-tax dollar – you’ll value your money like never before.
2. Don’t use the envelope system if it isn’t realistic for the category. For example, don’t put $300 in an envelope for gas money on the 1st of the month. You’ll be setting yourself up for failure, because I doubt you’ll be pushing your car to work if you run out.
3. There’s nothing wrong with collecting points for your purchases as long as you don’t spend more because you’re collecting points [see Point #1].
4. Make sure budgets or spending limits are realistic and sustainable, and allow for ‘yes’. Winning with money is a marathon so don’t use ‘sprint’ techniques that aren’t meant to last for the long term.
5. Use a system that maximizes pain when spending in discretionary categories. If cash is more painful than debit, use cash. If debit is more painful than credit, use debit. Or write everything down and be accountable for the number of transactions you make each day.
So, good for you for wanting to take control of your cash flow. It’s a good idea, no matter when you decide to do it. You’ll likely be able to retire earlier than you would otherwise – and how could that be a bad thing?