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When the author and her fiancé (pictured center) celebrated their engagement with friends, it took a bite out of their budget.
Ever wish you could ask others how they spend their money? We’re going there. In our “Cash Confessions” series, LearnVest breaks down the numbers to show how real people spend their paychecks, and whether their habits are financially on track — or off the rails.
Here, LearnVest copywriter Rita Brodfuehrer shares how she discovered that her “one-time” overspending was actually repeat behavior, and the steps she’s taking to stop her budget-busting excuses.
Over the past several months, my credit card bills have been steeper than usual.
At first, I chalked it up to the extreme levels of celebration that ensued after my boyfriend and I got engaged in July. Eventually, the celebrating slowed — but my spending didn’t. Where was all my money going?
To figure that out, I decided to track my spending for the month of October, grouping expenses into fixed costs (regular monthly expenses like rent and utilities), goals (saving for retirement, paying off debts, etc.), and flex spending (everything else), then figuring out what percentage of my income was going toward each category.
About 44% of my take-home pay goes toward my living expenses every month, and almost 30% goes to saving (both for retirement and other shorter-term goals). I’m no math whiz (no, really, I took one math class in college that didn’t even involve numbers and got a D) but I feel like I’m pretty much nailing it here.
My credit card statement is where things get disturbing. And it’s not just the math that’s a mess: For every splurge, I was convincing myself there was a good reason for it. Spoiler alert — there wasn’t.
I spent $300 at bars and restaurants (but mostly bars) last month. This wouldn’t be so bad, but between my fiancé and I, we also subscribe to three different wine clubs that send shipments to our apartment every
quarter month. YIKES.
Eh, I thought. Red wine is good for your heart.
But then there’s this: My fiancé found out he’s been spending $19 a month for renters’ insurance … for an apartment he moved out of four years ago. And HE’S AN ACCOUNTANT.
But, to be fair, we’ve moved a couple times in the last few years. It can be hard to keep track!
But how did I spend $500 on transportation, even though I have an unlimited MetroCard for the subway and access to a free car? Well, I booked a flight to Miami for my bachelorette party. This is filed under an imaginary fund I have called “extraneous wedding expenses.”
I spent over $200 on shoes. You see, Cole Haan was having a sale at an outlet mall, and I threw away all my cold-weather boots last winter in a fit of seasonal malaise, so I “needed” them.
You might notice a pattern here: I make a lot of excuses for my spending behavior: There was a sale; I'm getting married; I don't have any black booties, only brown; it’s Thursday. You guys … there’s no “extraneous wedding expenses” fund. That’s not a thing.
I wish I could say that this month was an exception. But it isn’t, not really. Almost every month, big expenses creep up on me, and I can rationalize them all away. It’s not necessarily that I can’t afford them (according to my albeit shaky math, I spent less than I earned last month), it’s that I didn’t budget for them appropriately. Somehow, I still found myself scrambling to find enough cash to pay my credit card bill in full.
To figure out if I’m the only one who deals with this — and to get some pointers on how to prevent my next “Why am I like this?!” moment — I decided to ask financial planner Matt Shapiro, CFP®, for some pointers.
“It’s common for people to rationalize their spending,” Shapiro says. “It could be, ‘I was moving, I had a big bill that month, I had to buy X, Y, Z,’ but usually if you look at the last year of your spending, you’ll see you made these sorts of purchases all the time.”
Yup, guilty as charged. So what can help? “There are some things you can anticipate — like a bachelorette party — so if you’re properly budgeting, you can set aside money for that in advance,” he says, and suggests keeping that in a separate savings account from where I keep other savings, like my emergency fund. (In other words, the extraneous wedding expenses fund *can* be a real thing.)
His other big, but simple-enough, tip? “Review your bills periodically — that $19 a month that was spent over four years on renters’ insurance is almost $1,000 that could have been spent on something else.”
Ouch. Well, this month, I’m making a few changes.
I’m being honest with myself, and forcing my own hand by opening two new accounts: One for non-monthly expenses, like travel and gifts; and another for miscellaneous wedding expenses I haven’t yet anticipated, but will probably be swindled into paying anyway. I’ve set up automatic bi-monthly contributions to both. Going forward, I’ll know exactly how much I can spend in these areas, and where the money is located when it’s time to pay my credit card bill. I also downloaded an app called Trim, which helps keeps track of all your recurring expenses. This should help prevent us from spending another four years paying for something we don’t use!
Hopefully, these moves will create a system for me that actually helps me stay on top of my money — and put a stop to the spending excuses (and those billing-cycle scaries).
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.