While the concept of living within in your means may seem pretty straightforward, actually learning to spend less than what you make can be a challenge. Even in light of recent financial turmoil, many Americans today are making solid incomes and yet have less and less to show for it.
Actually, they have plenty to show for it -- large amounts of consumables and debt, but very little savings. There are actually ways to reduce monthly expenses and build your savings without having to put a total crimp on your lifestyle.
The most important reason for living within your means is because life will bring unexpected circumstances - loss of a job, injury or sickness, for example. Americans who don't learn to spend less than what they make are setting themselves up for potential financial disaster. Living within your means may require making some lifestyle changes but they are changes that can buy you financial freedom down the road.
Spending less than you make will never truly be achieved without a change in spending habits. Impulse purchases are one of the biggest culprits to overspending. We're a consumable society presented with opportunities to make new purchases on a daily basis. Sometimes these purchases are necessary but a majority of them are not necessities.
To begin living within your means, consider the necessities versus the wants. There are those who can comfortably afford the wants after purchasing the necessities. However, if this is not the case, it will be important to begin saving for the wants. In the meantime, you will be avoiding debt that will make it harder to handle the necessities when they arise.
Those who put off impulse spending and save for their wants also have more power over what they actually spend on those items. For instance, saving for an item rather than buying it right away gives an individual the time to consider whether they really want to make the purchase. The item may also go on sale at a later date, ensuring a better deal and leftover money.
Speaking of saving for the wants, the most important step to living in your means is to create a budget. To begin, assess what is being spent on monthly expenses versus what is coming in. If you spend more than you make, it's time to decide what needs to be cut back.
Here you can decide on what things are most important to you. But keep in mind, a successful budget also includes money for the fun things in life.
Perhaps rather than eating out three times a week, cut back to once a week. For those who enjoy their morning coffee run, consider bringing it from home or indulging in a latte less often. Moderation is the key. Budgets are effective because they allow greater control over money and priorities.
With a good plan in place, one area that should be built up is the emergency account. A good rule of thumb is having three to six months worth of wages put aside. The most effective way to achieve a growing savings account is using direct deposit to pay yourself first. Putting a savings plan on auto pilot helps to keep the deposits consistent and it's one less thing to remember.
Another tempting source of overspending is credit and debit cards. With a budget in hand, it's crucial to decide how you'll pay for necessities and bills. Some choose to pay by credit card and pay it off each month. Others use debit cards, but that means also keeping spending in control. For those challenged by overspending, consider using cash instead of a card.
It's pretty simple to pay day-to-day expenses such as gas, groceries, clothes and more. Cash forces you to think carefully about impulse purchases and also provides a clear indication of whether your budget is realistic. When the cash is gone, the purchases are done.
Redirect the money you normally spent on non-essentials towards outstanding debts. As a part of the overall budget, put a plan into place to pay off all debts. This, in combination with saving, is really putting money to work for you.
What drives many people to living beyond their means is trying to keep up with neighbors or friends. Your neighbor's lifestyle may look pretty grand, but they may be sinking in debt to keep up appearances. While that new car or expensive toy may be impressive, it often comes with a high price tag - a price that may not be worth paying in the end.