With the oil spill in the Gulf getting out of control, I thought I’d share a quick list of some of the most common budget leaks, along with a strategy for stopping the leaks and diverting your money elsewhere.
Pretend that last month you sat down and prepared a budget. You set up spending categories and assigned a dollar figure to each one. Now we are at the end of that one month period and you’re reviewing your spending against your budget. How did you do? What are the areas that you found to be the most challenging? Where are the leaks in your budget? Even if you don’t do a budget, where would you guess the leaks would be?
Common Money Leaks
Areas that I see getting out of control for me from month to month include:
Dining Out – This has been the hardest area for me to control. When I do try and budget this, I almost always undershoot it. And with as many restaurants as there are around us it’s super easy to just head our for dinner. Throw in drinks beforehand and the bill can get pretty high quickly.
Convenience Items – I’m not a coffee drinker. I like coke (soda) instead. When I’m headed out to work for the day, I’ll make a stop at the convenience store for a fountain drink. That’s a $1.50 charge that I could simply use to buy cokes for the house. Coffee drinkers have the same conundrum: coffee at home or the $1-$5 on coffee at Starbucks or 7-11. By the end of the month, you’re looking at $25 to $75 dollars in extra spending.
- Entertainment – This isn’t as tough for me. I’m pretty content with my internet connection and the occasional Redbox rental. But I know it’s a big leak for many.
- Holidays and Gifts – It’s not usually an issue every month, but for the big holiday season, this can put a big dent in your budget. Possibly even leave you with some debt to cover the shortfall.
- Fuel – I don’t drive as efficiently or as smart as I should. I take too many short trips, and I’m always racing to get there on time so I spend more in fuel than I should.
- Energy Costs – I’m in a constant battle with my A/C. Comfort vs. savings. But I also use too much energy by leaving too many lights on, or I let the water run too long.
Stop the Leaks
So how do you stop these leaks? Well, you can start by planning your budget a little better. Add in some padding for the hard to control areas. Leave room for the unexpected or miscellaneous expenses. Then you can implement tricks to help you spend less. The carry only cash method works for some. You can find ways to do the things above for less (i.e. Restaurant.com coupons for dining out). In general, you can hyper-focus your efforts on controlling the poor spending in these leaky areas.
Divert Your Money
Instead of trying to shut off the flow of money in your spending, why not do what BP is trying to do with the oil in the Gulf. Divert it. Take pressure off of the spending control and send money to your savings account first (i.e. pay yourself first). Then there won’t be as much money in the spending reserve (your checking account), and you can worry less about leaks robbing you of all your money.
Use Both Strategies
The most effective strategy, I believe, is to spend your energy in both places. Divert a good percentage of your money to safe places like your separate savings account and tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Then, let the rest flow out of your spending with an honest attempt at controlling things using budgeting tools and frugal practices.
What do you think? Is it more important to control the spending or divert the flow of your money into save havens?