Is it really possible to live within your means and still enjoy life? The answer is yes and with just a few important changes you can start spending less and lose the debt.
From less than zero to savings hero
Debt can be a really big drag on your finances and yet borrowing to buy has never been so easy and accessible. With Buy Now Pay Later, you don’t even need to jump through the hoops it takes to get a loan or credit card. This makes saying no to your spending urges harder than ever.
Having debts and adding to them over time doesn’t just mean missing out on savings. When you’re paying interest on your debt, it’s like having an extra bill to pay. That makes clearing debts a win win because you’ll increase your overall wealth by reducing your debt and you’ll improve your cash flow by paying less interest. If you pay less interest, you have more money to pay down your debt.
The cost of instant credit
It’s always going to be hard to say no to yourself now, for the sake of having more money in the future. Credit cards make it all too easy to give in and buy now, instead of just saying no or saving. But now with online shopping and Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) tools like Afterpay, Humm and Zip, you can spend sooner without even having a credit card.
At first glance, BNPL is straightforward and can be a cheap credit solution – sometimes it’s even free. Some providers charge a monthly fee to have an account with them, some don’t. You’ll have a spending limit and you’re expected to pay back the cost of each purchase in instalments over a set period of time and there’s no interest to pay.
It’s a good deal when compared to the interest rates on credit cards but if you miss payments, this is where problems start. You’ll be charged extra fees and the provider can report late payments to credit agencies. Plus, you may have a credit card linked to your BNPL account. If you miss scheduled payments they will be billed to your card, adding to a debt balance that charges you interest.
Why credit scores count
This brings us to your credit score and why it’s important. Credit scores or ratings are based on your borrowing behaviour. If you borrow money and pay it back on time that’s good for your score. Late or missed payments on credit cards, loans and bills are bad for your score. The number of applications you’ve made for credit or loans will also be used to calculate your score.
Your score is one of the things a lender will look at when deciding whether you can borrow money and at what rate of interest. If your score is lower they may still say yes to your application for a credit card or loan but charge a higher rate of interest or they may turn you down. This counts for mortgages too, so if you have plans to buy a home, keeping your credit score high is going to make a difference to how much you can borrow.
The good and bad of borrowing
Borrowing money isn’t a bad thing. Very few people can afford to buy a home without a loan and if property values are going up and could continue to go up, borrowing to buy property could make even more sense. You get to buy an asset that’s building your wealth and live in it too, this is a debt that is working for you.
But when you’re borrowing money to buy everyday goods and services, like a new pair of sunglasses, you’re unlikely to be able to sell these in the future at a higher price. Plus, you could be racking up interest on a loan or credit card balance to pay for it, so you’re actually paying a lot more than the asking price. This debt isn’t working for you, it’s working against you.
Much of your day to day spending is to meet essential needs for food, health transport and more. Your other spending decisions are about enjoying a lifestyle that makes us feel comfortable but are less necessary. When those lifestyle purchases are adding up to more and more debts over time, it’s worth asking yourself whether those choices are really making you more comfortable, now and into the future.
If you’re committed to getting on top of debts, changing your spending habits is essential. In the next topic we’ll be going in to a lot more detail on how to save more and spending comes into that too. But if you have debts that are costing you in interest and aren’t working for you, making them disappear needs to be your top priority.
There are three things you can try to shake up your spending and change habits that lead you to buy more than you can really afford:
- Understand your buying behaviours
You need to be aware of your retail tendencies. What are the situations where you’re most likely to spend money. For example, if you are an emotional buyer you are far more likely to make an impulse buy when you’re stressed or feeling flat. The trick is to identify those times when you’ve bought something to feel better and remember that next time you’re following an urge to spend.
- Hit pause on extra spending
If you’re someone who does a lot of shopping online and let’s face it, during the pandemic that’s been all of us – then there’s a pretty simple hack you can use to get your buying under control. After adding something to your cart, simply wait for at least 24 hours before making a final decision to buy. This is a great way to test your real motivation for buying. Giving yourself a day to think about whether you really need to buy something tests how important it really is to your happiness.
If that doesn’t work, think about cancelling your credit cards for a time and having a dedicated account for spending on extras. That way you can’t get carried away and will have to stick to a fixed amount for treating yourself and your family each month.
- Reward yourself
Shopping can give you a dopamine high – your brain feels rewarded when you buy something and there’s no better way to break a habit than by replacing it with another. Instead of looking to shopping for your reward, focus on the amount you want to take off your credit balance each month. When you’ve met that target three or four times in a row, reward yourself in another way, with treat that doesn’t cost much – think $20 rather than $200!