Give your wallet a break

by Linda Sanders / 27 December, 2012
Now is a good time to think about whipping your finances into shape.
What about meeting a friend for a walk, rather than for a meal? photo/Thinkstock

As you grab your second coffee and settle down in the deck chair for your morning’s holiday relaxation, take some time to reflect. This is a great time of year to think about where you are going, what your plans and ambitions are and what you could change about your life.

I’m not talking about embarking on yet another diet or fitness programme to whip that saggy body into shape, but about doing something comparable with your finances. New Year’s resolutions are generally doomed to fail. So maybe the way to tackle your financial makeover is to think of it as a spring clean. Not everyone will be in a position to do anything radical, but some relatively small steps could make a big difference over time. It’s about thinking in a different way.

You might believe you can’t afford to save. But that’s the wrong approach, unless you are on a very small income. There are always reasons to not do something; instead, think about how you can do it. Using the fitness analogy, you might think it’s too expensive to join a gym or sign up for an exercise programme – and besides, you have no time. Okay – instead, go for a walk every day. Commit to just 20 minutes. And see if you can do it for a fortnight (rain or shine), then reflect on how much better you feel.

In a financial sense, you can do the same thing. No money? Okay, how about saving what you spend on takeaway coffee, or what about taking a home-made lunch to work? Or how about cutting back on the wine you buy? Or what about meeting a friend for a walk, rather than for a meal? The last idea achieves two aims: saving money and getting fitter.

Think about the stuff you buy at the super market. Try living off the food you have in the freezer and cupboards for a while and working through those stocks. Rediscover cooking, rather than buying food that is quick to assemble. Eat seasonally, rather than buying more expensive choices. How about buying cheaper meat cuts and using a slow cooker? Instead of a holiday overseas, try swapping houses with a friend or relative or finding people who want house- or pet-sitters? Usually they are only too grateful to have their places looked after, so your accommodation would be free and you could explore a part of New Zealand you wouldn’t normally go to.

What about the costs of commuting to work? If you drive, can you find someone to share the costs of petrol and parking – or take public transport instead? How about decluttering and simplifying your life? What things do you buy that you don’t get good value from? Do you use all that subscription TV service or high-end data plan? How about using the library instead of buying books you might read only once?

Have a look at your insurances and check what you are paying for. If you have two cars, do you need both? Should you buy a new car when the depreciation as soon as you drive it out of the show room could pay for quite a bit of maintenance on an older car?

Do you honestly need more new clothes, or could you go for six months without buying anything? You might discover things in your wardrobe you haven’t worn in ages. Not shopping would save some time for those walks. If you have children, think about the ways you spend money on them. Would a picnic be as much fun as a trip to a theme park or going to the movies? Do they need to have a fancy birthday party because all of their friends do? Must you spend hundreds on a school-ball dress and all the associated expenses? Often we spend extra money because we don’t have time to cook that meal, to mend that item of clothing or even to think about why we are spending.

Give your wallet a holiday and the chaos in your life a spring clean.

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