Once upon a time, saving money was easy. Technology – actually, it’s absence – made life easier.
Consider advice typically given to compulsive spenders in the pre-Internet age: take your credit card and place it in a plastic cup full of water. Then, store the whole package in your freezer. The idea was that if you have an impulse to buy something using your credit card, you had to wait several hours for the ice to thaw before you could. That left enough time for the impulse to pass.
We’re not sure whether anyone actually ever used this strategy. But you have to like the simplicity. Back in the day, credit cards could only be used by lying them in a mechanical machine, placing triplicate carbon paper over the top and then pressing down on the card. If nothing else, your credit card had to be thin – and dry – for the whole procedure to work!
Nowadays, our phones remember our credit card numbers – and we are yet to meet anyone brave enough to store their phone in the freezer. Buying on credit is ridiculously easy. So, how to take control of impulse spending when everything else seems to make resistance more difficult?
Well, if credit cards are really a problem, get rid of them. Seriously. These days, you don’t need them. Use debit cards instead. These are basically savings accounts that let you use the Visa or MasterCard facility offered by retailers. And keep relatively little cash saved in the account to which the card is linked. The remainder of your savings can be placed in an online saver account – from which you have to transfer money before you can spend. Ideally, the transfer takes 24 hours to complete, making an impulse purchase impossible.
Another way to manage impulse spending is to train yourself never to buy something on the day you first think of it. If you see something you like, make yourself wait 24 hours. If you still like it, buy it then. Don’t be tricked by retailers offering a discount ‘for today only:’ we have never met a retailer who won’t give you yesterday’s price if you come back tomorrow. If they do, then they’re not working hard enough for your money anyway.
By the way: waiting 24 hours is a good technique for anything that can get us into trouble: a marriage proposal, a marriage disposal, a nasty email, quitting your job or making a 3am Facebook status update about the availability of kebabs in your local high street. The basic principle: if it still makes sense tomorrow, then go ahead. But don’t do anything until then.
A similar concept makes use of someone else. If you have a partner, this one is quite easy. In fact, if you have a partner, you might find they volunteer. But even if you’re single, a friend or relative can be of assistance. Basically, you resolve to yourself never to buy anything that costs more than $50 without discussing it with someone else first. Train yourself to send a text message along the following lines: “Hi Freddie. I’m thinking that these shoes will look great with my navy suit. What do you reckon?” It is up to you (and Freddie) how assertive you want your other person to be. You might give them permission to be very blunt (“don’t be stupid. You can’t afford them!”) or more tactful (“if you buy those, are you happy to eat at home for the rest of the month?”). The idea is that it is harder for two people to make a mistake than for an individual. And mobile smartphones make this sort of accountability easy.
Please remember: if your limit is $50, that is not per shoe.
The gist of what we’re saying? Spending is easy. Take control. Make spending a little bit more difficult. Your bank balance will thank you for it.