If you're finding it hard to stay within budget month after month or have already spent much more than planned this holiday season, now is a great time to clean up your spending habits. Scaling back your spending may be just what you need to reduce some of that financial stress in your life and get a better handle on your finances. Being more mindful of each expenditure and setting budget goals are necessary first steps.
Use these tips to put yourself on a spending diet this season:
1. Don't look at it as a diet. Just like dieting to lose weight, your efforts can backfire if you're feeling deprived, or if you feel as though you're missing out on something. Change your money mindset so that you start to see how staying within a budget and cutting out extra expenses is a positive step toward your goal of saving more, paying down debt and having the peace of mind that your finances are not out of control. The more you associate scaling back as a positive, the easier it will be to stick with your diet.
2. Assess the damage. This may be the biggest reason you haven't been able to stick with your budget so far – you just don't want to look at how bad the problem is. But knowing what you're working with can help you get a better handle on how to curb your spending going forward.
When evaluating your budget, make a list of your monthly recurring expenses, and see how much you actually have available to spend on entertainment, shopping and other purchases each month. If you are consistently spending more than this amount, you will find it impossible to save money and stay within your budget. Figure out exactly how much you have available after all expenses have been paid and you have contributed to savings, so you have an accurate idea of your spending limits.
3. Monitor your spending. Keep track of your spending habits for at least a week by writing down everything you purchase. Then figure out how many of those purchases were planned or spontaneous. This can make you more aware of how much you spend on a day-to-day basis and how well you can stick to a spending plan. You can use apps like Mint or Spending Tracker to track your spending on a mobile device and review everything at the end of the week.
4. Identify your triggers. Do you tend to spend more when you're feeling sad, lonely, upset or stressed? You may be an emotional spender, which can make it difficult to stay within a budget. Explore alternative ways to deal with negative emotions so you don't spend away your savings, or worse, go into debt. Finding ways to take care of yourself – without retail therapy – could help you manage your money better and help you reach your financial goals faster.
5. Cut out the nonessentials. How many subscriptions do you pay for each month that don't get fully used? How much do your daily coffee runs, happy hours, last-minute food pickups or spontaneous purchases end up costing you per week? If you can cut out just a few of these extras each week, you could end up saving up to $25 or more – or at least $100 per month – without even realizing it. Make a list of extras you can't live without, and give yourself a weekly allowance specifically for those purchases. This way, you can still enjoy some indulgences but will stay within your budget.
6. Say goodbye to credit cards. If you have a habit of deferred spending – buying on credit in hopes of paying off the balance later – make a conscious effort to break the cycle so that you only spend money that you actually have.
It's all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that available credit is cash available for you to use at your leisure, but spending on credit does come at a price. Even if you commit to paying off the balance in full at the end of the month, consider how many spending decisions you will still make between now and then. Spending with a credit card can give you the false security that you have more money than you actually do – which can easily pull you into debt or leave you struggling to keep up with your bills at the end of the month. Quit the credit card habit so you can become a more conscientious spender with cash you have in the here and now.
Follow these spending diet tips, and you'll have a healthier bank account.
Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report
Click through to learn more about the best diets for every budget:
Best Diets for Every Budget
How to go on a spending diet
Named U.S. News and World Report's best overall diet for four years in a row, this diet is definitely worth investigating. The DASH Diet integrates whole grain foods, fruits, vegetables, low- or non-fat dairy and fish or poultry, while limiting high-fat foods, salt and red meat. While fresh fruits and vegetable will cost you, cutting most red meat from you diet will make this diet wallet-friendly.
While the Paleo diet (eating like our ancestors did) isn't usually thought to be a low-price option, there are some simple ways you can do it on the cheap. Paleo Diet Lifestyle recommends buying products like olive oil in bulk, choosing cheap cuts and buying bone-in meats and buying whole or canned fish.
Traditional Mediterranean diets are proven to be incredible for your health! Even better, according to LearnVest, if you choose an inexpensive olive oil and stay away from the pricier varieties of products like tuna steak and chardonnay, you can expect to keep your bill within reason.
People often report feeling better, mentally and physically, after giving up gluten. This diet can be affordable if you follow one rule: eat foods that are naturally free of gluten. Products made specifically for gluten-free diets are often pricey. Opt for frozen or in-season fruits and veggies to keep produce prices low.
LearnVest calls the vegan diet "a steal" if done smartly. Be sure to cook for yourself rather than buy expensive prepared vegan cuisine. You can also find tofu for just half the price of ground beef per pound.
The Atkins diet helps dieters lose weight by cutting carbs from their diets. To make this protein-rich diet budget-friendly, try underrated cuts such as chuck and sirloin, always buy whole chickens and experiment with pork.
This government-endorsed diet centers around lowering cholesterol and begins with setting calorie goals. These calorie levels and limits on dietary cholesterol should curb overeating and help keep you within your budget. Cutting fatty meats can also help your bill.
The flexitarian diet closely resembles a vegetarian diet, but when a craving for meat strikes, they indulge. Flexitarians not only weigh 15 percent less than carnivores, but they also save money by spending less on pricey meat.
Number nine on U.S. News and World Report's best overall diets, the Ornish diet focuses on the overarching way you eat, exercise and live rather than on the specifics of your diet. Since the diet is so individualized, most of the time, it can work with any budget. Still, planning ahead and buying in bulk can keep costs down.
This trusted diet can help you shed between 6 and 10 pounds in two weeks and 1 to 2 pounds each week after until you reach your goal. The diet concept is split into two concepts, "Lose It" and "Live It." Dieters are discouraged from dining out during the "Lose It" stage and encouraged to cook at home, keeping your wallet happy.