Whatever you’re making, and even if you’ve cultivated a savings habit, extra expenses have a way of creeping in over time and squeezing your budget. A BlackRock survey of the well-to-do says that 48% view the high cost of living as a risk to their financial future; it ranks right behind the mortgage as a roadblock to retirement savings. “You worry about more because you can afford more,” says George Walper, president of wealth researcher Spectrem Group.
Here are four simple ways to get your spending under control.
1. Make a simple budget, even if you don’t need it
Some anxiety about spending comes simply from not being 100% sure what’s coming in and what’s going out. “Stress comes from fear of the unknown,” says Santa Clara University finance professor Hersh Shefrin, who studies behavioral economics. A recent survey by Bankrate.com found that a fifth of Americans don’t keep any kind of budget, and another fifth keep one only in their heads. Shefrin suggests thinking of your budget simply as a “mission statement.” Start by going over your credit card and bank statement to make sure that your cash outflows into broad categories like savings, vs., say, food and entertainment, aren’t too out of line with your priorities. “It doesn’t have to be every penny,” says Shefrin.
“Putting a plan in place itself may be enough to reduce stress,” says Shefrin. Revisit the plan for a half hour or so once a month or even once a quarter to identify problem points and stay on track.
2. Use more cash
One famous experiment found that people were willing to pay almost 80% more for a baseball ticket when using credit instead of cash. “You just swipe, and you don’t have to think about it,” says Atlanta financial planner Niv Persaud.
If sticking to your budget goal is a challenge for you, Leon LaBrecque, a financial adviser from Troy, Mich., suggests the old system of withdrawing a week’s worth of cash for your routine purchases, putting it in envelopes marked “groceries,” “entertainment,” and so on. “You have to stop spending when you run out of money,” he says.
3. Make your plastic more cash-y
Less radically, find ways to remind yourself what’s really happening when you pay with a card or click the “confirm purchase” button online. The Mint and Level Money budgeting apps can alert you whenever your spending runs ahead of your target. Similarly, some credit cards have mobile apps that make spending feel a bit less frictionless: Chase and American Express can send you a notification every time money is charged to your card. You might start to notice some automatic payments you set up and forgot about.
4. Get a Post-It note
Persaud has a lower-tech idea. Jot down a money goal and tape that to the front of your card. Having to remove it to use the card, she says, “makes you a bit more cognizant of your spending.”
Adapted from “Never Worry About Money Again,” by Carla Fried, Ian Salisbury, and Taylor Tepper, which appeared in the July 2015 issue of Money magazine.