Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wall Street Wednesday - Getting Organized Saves You Money

The dictionary definition of the word "save" is a variation of the following: "to make safe; to remove from harm; to keep for future use." Yet, the word is used in a different way by marketers and retailers ($). For example, "Would like to apply for our store credit card and use it for this purchase right now? You'll save 15%!" I am guessing this is a  "market hook" familiar to you. Any savvy saver knows that you will only save that 15% if you consciously go take that amount and put it in the bank; and that unless you march right to the service desk to pay your bill just get that one chance at spending less, you run the risk of paying back that "savings" in the form of interest!

Another common "hook" is the promise that something will save you time. Usually, this is used for a convenience item which you could prepare yourself more cheaply if you had better managed your time. Falling prey to this marketing technique can be devastating to the budget of someone with a busy schedule and few established systems or routines. Convenience habits drain pennies from your budget in painless trickles, making investment in priority-supporting dollar services and goods difficult or seemingly impossible. Think Big Mac versus buying organic all time, or a magazine stand habit versus a massage, and you will see what I mean. I remember a couple of years ago,  my husband and I tallied up our coffee shop receipts for the year, and just about choked. We could have taken a decent vacation with that money, or bought a nice computer, or started a direct sales business!

Money spent in one area is directed away from another area, and you choose where to make it go:  your priorities guide you in making these decisions. I have seen the "redirection" of money in action with my grocery spending. I have been making different choices and my pantry looks different now! I have extra of many things, and I am finding myself with more and more remaining cash at the end of the month! It "saves" my sanity when I can put off going to the store, knowing that I have some things on hand.

 If you are just surviving, and not organizing your finances, that is where you will take a hit. Ask anyone who got laid off or ran into serious financial trouble. Their priorities became instantly clear, and they started spending more time in areas that would positively impact their finances, and deleting expenses they previously felt to be non-negotiable! When you start adopting established ways of doing and organizing the stuff of life (NOW, before your emergency happens), and do it consistently, you will spend less money on low priority things. You "owe" it to yourself to commit to "investing" time and/or money in getting established (getting "organized")! A helpful start would be to write down what your financial priorities are, and use that as a guideline for your financial decisions. You are not allowed to write, "Get out of debt." Why do you want to get out of debt, anyway? What do you want to use your money to create? Imagine your current financial "hiccups" were divinely deleted. What would you want to invest in to change your family, friends, and community? What does your spouse want? THESE are your actual priorities, and will drive you to "get back to zero."

At the end of 2010, my husband and I became debt-free (except for the house). I had expected that as I sent out the final bill payment that day,  I would feel elated. Oddly, I felt a strong sense of responsibility that we had just started being able to manage our money properly, and to finally learn how to be "wise stewards." Drilling that down to daily disciplines is still challenging, but I see the changes around me: cash-bought furniture, the grocery money at the end of the month, spending money, long-term planning, household services, and being able to give more to missions, to name just a few. In the end, trading convenience habits for conscious choice habits is saving us money, which we are spending in other ways that matter more.

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