Me, Only Better: 6 Weeks to a Better Me
Week 3: Curb My Spending
"Everyone thinks that having more money will make them happier," says Tom Rath, coauthor of Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. "In fact, it's feeling in control of your finances that does it." He imparted this wisdom because I'd gone to him with a dilemma: I'd recently gotten a raise yet was feeling more financially pinched than ever. He suggested that feeling flush could be working against me, and when I (belatedly) took a spin through my expenditures I realized it was true: I'd been grabbing $8 sandwiches instead of toting leftovers and paying to park in a lot next to my office rather than parking for free a few blocks away. These modest indulgences apparently added up to more than my raise since I'd suffered a few overdrafts. Now I had to figure out how to act my wage.
The problem wasn't our household budget; it was that I'd stopped keeping track of how much I spend on the fly because longer work hours meant I didn't have time to check my accounts every night. Technology to the rescue: I downloaded an app that shows my bank balance on my smartphone. (I used USAA's, but Wesabe and ClearCheckbook offer others.) Neuroscientists have found that looking at negative financial information -- like an overly long credit card statement -- can light up an area of the brain that registers disgust. That held true for me: Now before buying anything I quickly check my balance -- and often end up opting out.
Chances for Long-Term Success: Medium high
Overspending upsets me, while my new smart-buying tactics make me feel oh so clever.