Tip #27: Use barriers to prevent yourself from spending money
December 08th, 2008 - 30 Comments
Today’s tip is to use barriers strategically to save money.
It comes from Liz Steihart of Los Angeles, CA:
With regard to all emails from retailers or etailers: remove yourself from their daily or weekly email lists. I don’t care if you love the shopbop.com emails, or the updates from Old Navy. Remove yourself and you won’t be tempted to internet shop impulsively because there is a new collection out, it is a new season, there is a sale.
Liz’s key insight is to use barriers to prevent yourself from spending money.
In my original article on barriers, I defined them in two ways:
Active barriers, the kind that stop you from doing something, and passive barriers, whose absence actually stops you from getting things done.
* Active barriers are physical things like the plastic wrap on my food, or someone telling me that it’ll never work, etc. These are hard to identify, but easy to fix. I usually just make them go away.
* Passive barriers are things that don’t exist, so they make your job harder. A trivial example is not having a stapler at your desk; imagine how many times a day that gets frustrating. For me, these are harder to identify and also harder to fix. I might rearrange my room to be more productive, or get myself a better pen to write with, etc.
How to apply barriers to your personal finances
1. When I wrote about how I track credit card receipts, I mentioned that I keep a folder on my desk that I check once a week. This is incredibly useful when it comes to actually managing my receipts. If I kept the receipts all around my house — or even in a folder in the next room — I wouldn’t bother checking the receipts. The barrier and activation energy to locate, gather, and sort the receipts would be too high.
2. Lots of people talk about freezing their credit card in a block of ice, or hiding it with a friend. If you have a problem with self-control, make something as difficult as possible to reach. Watch too much TV? Smash your remote control with a hammer (send me the video, I’ll post it). Eat out too much? Stock your fridge with perishable goods and force yourself to eat at least 50% of them before they go rotten. Your food goes rotten too fast? As soon as you get home, cut everything up and put it into bags that are ready to consume (more about packing lunches here).
3. Liz’s specific point is great: If you find yourself spending too much on shopping, make it harder for yourself to shop! Unsubscribe from all magazines and email lists you’re on. The simple fact is, if things are automatic, you will do them. And as the excellent book Nudge demonstrates, you can engineer whether these automatic things are good or bad.
Key point: Don’t just look for where you’re spending today. That’s surface-level. Look deeper to see what’s causing you to spend, and if you decide you don’t want to continue, then eliminate those causes.
Total savings: $10 to $200 per month
Last thing to do
1. Check out the other tips in the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge
2. Leave a comment on this post describing how much you’re saving with this tip and any unusual techniques you use to make this tip work.
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