Millennial Money: Unexpected perks of scaling back spending

COURTNEY JESPERSEN of NerdWallet

When I originally set out to write this column, I wanted to share the unexpected benefits of cutting back on my online shopping habit.

At the beginning of the year, I set a personal challenge to reduce my online orders from several times a week (insert embarrassed emoji) to a few times a month. As time passed, I realized I had fewer deliveries to track and more money left in my bank account at the end of the month.

But then COVID-19 happened. And now eliminating online shopping is more than a fad or a New Year’s resolution. For millions, cutting things out of the budget is an absolute necessity.

If you’re having to scale back on discretionary spending — whether that’s shopping, travel or something else entirely — here’s how to give up that financial habit without feeling deprived.

SEE THE SILVER LINING

The news is filled with fear, worry and sadness. But it helps to see the silver lining, says Denise Downey, a certified financial planner and owner of Financial Trex LLC, based in Spokane, Washington.

Depending on where you live, you may be forced to stop some spending — on travel, sporting events, haircuts, entertainment and more. This involuntary saving can help you make changes you wouldn’t have otherwise made on your own.

“Those decisions are being made for us right now,” Downey says. “It’s not a matter of, ‘Do I cut the vacation this year or not?’ It’s cut. There’s no decision to be made with that.”

“If you want to put a positive spin on it, it’s making it easier for people to cut their expenses because they’re removing that decision-making hurdle.”

It’s all about perspective. So, if you can, focus on the benefits. For instance, you may find you’re feeling a positive boost as you watch your bank account grow and your credit card bill stop climbing.

So sure, my deliveries of clothing, makeup and the newest scented candles aren’t as frequent. But much like the thrill of getting a delivery, I’m finding that not spending is also appealing.

GET YOUR POWER BACK

It’s probably obvious that placing fewer online orders equates to saving more money, as long as you don’t substitute an expensive activity in its place. The same goes for other types of spending. Cutting back any spending habit can lead to savings.

It can also give you a sense of empowerment, says Drew Harris, CFP, senior financial advisor at Greenway Wealth Advisors LLC, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“It’s a good way to gain back some control by taking ownership of our spending,” Harris says.

Cutting back means you’re giving something up. But you’re also gaining freedom from the financial stress that discretionary spending can cause, as well as the buyer’s remorse that so often accompanies spending.

This sense of empowerment can help you feel better. L. Kevin Chapman, a licensed clinical psychologist, says you may “adopt a sense of mastery when eliminating something that has led to financial strain.”

Basically, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, which allows you to feel positive (rather than negative) about the changes you’re making.

LEARN A NEW HABIT

Don’t get discouraged. Your decreased spending won’t have to last forever.

But then again, you may find you don’t necessarily want to return to your pre-pandemic spending habits. And that’s OK, too.

Chapman says many people will become more accustomed to shopping less following the COVID-19 outbreak, especially if they’ve replaced their shopping habit with more cost-effective activities.

Take this time to learn some new habits in place of your old costly ones. Harris suggests going for a walk, talking with family and friends or finding some other inexpensive activity you enjoy doing.

Another example? Downey says her children were constantly busy with extracurricular activities — activities that cost money. But since the family has been home, she’s noticed they’re happy and entertained, even with a not-so-busy schedule. That has led her to rethink enrolling them in quite as many activities in the future.

Regardless of the specific substitutions you make, the changes you’re implementing during these unprecedented times will help boost your savings and emergency fund. Best case scenario, when life returns to some degree of normalcy one day, hopefully that fund is more than you ended up needing, Downey says.

In that case, you can reward yourself by buying something you’re putting off right now — and paying for it in cash.

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This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

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Budgeting 101: How to Create a Budget http://bit.ly/nerdwallet-create-budget