So, you’re strapped for cash… You’re spending more than you’re making. One minute you get paid, the next you’re broke…
Chances are your lack of cash goes beyond a basic spending–or saving or borrowing–problem, or that you’re just not making enough. All of that would be way too simple.
Instead, there are a number of cultural, emotional and societal forces at play, quietly contributing to your vicious cycle of debt. That cycle goes something like this: you spend more than you make. You rely on your credit cards, loans, savings to buy the things you need (or maybe just want). Then, all the money you make goes to paying off your debt, so you take on even more debt to cover, well, life.
Become aware of the things that are likely influencing your spending–none of which have anything to do with how much or little you make–and understand how to best address them.
1. You’re living your best life on social media.
Scroll through Instagram any given day and you’ll see friends drinking martinis on rooftops, influencers traveling through Europe on yachts, and your arch-frenemy in the middle of some desert, frolicking her way through a music festival. Social media has perpetuated an environment of “living your best life” at all costs, creating an unattainable standard for most to achieve. This is the perfect setting to sell you more things you think you ‘need’ in order to achieve short-term gratification–often at a long-term cost.
Of course, we all know social media is largely a highlight reel of people’s lives — not the entire story. But knowing that doesn’t necessarily stop us from trying to keep up. Next time you catch yourself overspending to portray a certain lifestyle on social media, remember that you’re not living your best life if you’re in debt. Ask yourself if what you’re buying actually interests you and aligns with your longer-term goals–say, saving up for a down payment on your first home–or if it’s just a way to get more Instagram likes.
And it wouldn’t hurt to take a social media break every now and then. You might even gain some social currency from being mysterious.
2. It’s become way too easy to buy things. (And almost impossible not to.)
You don’t even need to get your wallet out anymore to buy things. Your credit card number automatically populates on your screen and in many places, you can simply hold up your phone to make a purchase. Your inbox is filled with items you “might be interested in” so you barely even have to shop in order to buy. You’re constantly served up deals that “expire at midnight,” creating a false sense of urgency so you act fast. But perhaps what’s making it easiest to buy is the fact that everything comes right to your door, like five seconds later, without you ever having to leave your couch.
This increasing ease of purchase is contributing to a growing trend of overspending or spontaneous spending. Because it’s so easy and convenient to spend, you technically don’t even have to be fully “present” to do it. And most of us aren’t. We go through the motions and by the time we come to, we’re in debt.
Before making any purchase, come up with your own way of taking a “financial pause,” assessing the item and becoming full present as you make–or don’t make–the transaction.
3. Brands are designing things you have to buy over and over again.
Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing either through their direct purchases or indirect influence on the purchases others make. So it’s no wonder brands have chosen to increase their marketing to women across channels. While their sales may be increasing, the quality of their goods is decreasing. This creates a constant need to replace them or buy more. (Hello, fast fashion.)
This is not a random trend. It’s a sales strategy, known as planned obsolescence, where companies purposely design products to go out of date or become useless within a known time period, in order to make consumers buy more.
Consider buying second-hand clothing, shoes, accessories, and home goods. This is not so much about saving money as it is about getting better quality. There are so many marketplace websites and apps, not to mention thrift stores, where you can buy high-quality, second-hand items that often last longer than newer or trendier, but lower quality, items.
And if you decide to make a purchase from a company that you’ve seen on influencer profiles or in targeted ads, make sure to read the product reviews to gauge their quality before you buy. It might seem smart to buy cheap, but in the end, it can cost you a lot more than it can save.
4. Your empty emergency fund is haunting you.
Only 40% of consumers can afford a $1000 emergency expense without taking on debt. Put another way: 60% of Americans don’t have adequate funds to cover unexpected costs, such as a surprise medical bill, a last-minute appointment with an exterminator to get rid of a bed bug outbreak, or a new air conditioner when yours dies at the height of summer. In cases like this, where there’s no real option of ignoring the problem, you’re going to have to get the money from somewhere–and too often that somewhere is credit cards or loans. If you weren’t living beyond your means before, you certainly will be while paying off this unexpected debt.
If you’re not putting money into an emergency fund each month, you need to reconsider where your money is going. Your emergency fund should have a minimum of six months living expenses. I know this sounds like a lot and that’s because it is. But what happens if you lose your job? Or finally decide you need to move out of a dramatic living situation? Or you get sick and can’t work? You don’t have to get there overnight, but you need to get there. Putting in even $10 a week at first will make a difference, while also helping you get into the habit of saving. Think of it as paying yourself first and then attending to all your other expenses after.
5. Your FOMO is your worst enemy.
FOMO is a real thing. You become anxious when people are having fun without you, especially when you see it happening in real-time on social media. This feeling might have you saying “yes” to more dinners, drinks, activities and vacations than you want or can reasonably afford to attend.
Don’t say yes without 1) thinking about how much it will cost you and if you have the means to support it, and 2) taking the time to acknowledge if you really want to attend or not. If you can’t afford it, you shouldn’t go. And if you don’t want to go, you definitely shouldn’t go.
If you keep saying yes to low-value opportunities because you’re afraid of being left out, you’ll inevitably miss out on other things that are important. For example, if you’re set on a dream trip to Italy, but are constantly spending money to eat out with friends to the point that you’re dipping into your savings, you’re pushing your dream further and further down the line.
There are many reasons that many people live beyond their means, that have nothing to do with how much they make. Take responsibility and identify what’s standing in your way of investing in your most important asset: yourself.