Hi Leveraged Mamas! Today we're continuing to unpick exactly what it takes to get out of dumb debt, fast. Getting total visibility of your expenses is going to empower you to spend more consciously, and be able to manifest money when you need it, so that you don't need to use credit as a back up.
What is “dumb” debt?
A quick recap on what dumb debt – or bad debt – is, if you’re just joining me and are new to my blog – dumb debt is debt incurred to purchase things that lose value – clothes, food, entertainment, travel, anything except property really. Credit cards, store cards, any sort of buy now pay later arrangement.
You pay for this debt incurred in the past, with money earned in the future – so you have less for your future self, and may be paying big interest on this debt which takes even more money away from your future self.
If you want to get free of “dumb debt” and perhaps stop using credit cards altogether, I salute you!
But making a change like that isn’t as simple as just stopping using your credit cards. It’s actually a major behavioural change.
You need to address the behaviours that led to an income shortfall in the first place.
Because you probably have “dumb debt” for one of two reasons:
- Regularly spending more than you earn.
- Not waiting to purchase a big item – choosing instant gratification rather than waiting until you had enough money to purchase.
Today we’re going to look at how visibility can help you address the first reason: you regularly spend more than you earn.
A lesson from Scrum in transparency
You’ll probably know by now that in my day job I’m an Agile coach (edit: was!). I’ve coached software development teams in the use of Scrum – an Agile methodology for solving complex problems – for some seven years now.
In my experience one thing that Scrum is really good for, is exposing factors that are hindering the team’s success.
In fact, people sometimes mistakenly blame Scrum for causing issues – but in reality all it is doing is exposing issues that have always been there.
The reason you can so easily see these issues, is transparency. By making the work visible you can observe flow, and therefore everything that helps and hinders that flow towards the overall goal.
Total transparency exposes the factors that contribute negatively to your financial situation.
Applying the same level of transparency to your spending habits, will do the same thing!
You’ll be able to quickly see the flow of your money, and what behaviours are helping or hindering your progress towards your own goals.
If your goal is to spend within your limits, then you need to find the leaks – what behaviours are contributing to regular overspending?
I can promise you this – if there are some behaviours and other factors negatively contributing to your financial situation, then making your spending habits visible will expose them.
Manifest money when needed, without using your credit card
I also promise you this: once you have complete transparency of your expenditure, you’ll be able to quickly manifest money for the things that are most important to you – without using your credit card.
There are a number of reasons for this including:
- With total transparency you will have the confidence to adjust the levers across your budget, to make room for unexpected expenses that come up
- You’ll be able to easily identify money leakages and plug them – either permanently or temporarily to raise funds
- You can immediately see the impact of expense increases/decreases and decide if they are worth changing
- You’ll be able to create and maintain an emergency fund – further reducing your dependence on credit.
You may be able to work less, once you have total transparency
Finally, perhaps you want to work part time instead of full time hours – getting total visibility will allow you to see exactly how that will impact your budget without needing to guess and cross your fingers.
In order to get that level of of control over your finances, you need more than just a high level of visibility.
Because it’s only the visible stuff that you can control.
If you want to be able to control it, you need to make it visible.
The first level of transparency – what most people can see
It’s likely you already know what your expenses are, and have a budget of some degree of detail.
That’s great. That’s the first level of transparency – you know your total income vs. total expenses, and can see where things are tight. You can cut or reduce where needed.
This can mean major sacrifice, like downsizing your house or selling a car. But I don’t think you should do this first. If you go a few levels deeper into understanding your spending first, you can make changes that don’t impact your lifestyle so much.
If you only look at things from a high level, you’ll be forced to make major, lifestyle impacting decisions.
I suggest digging deeper before you do anything drastic.
And let me be frank here. Your spending habits could mean the difference between working part time and full time, between working part time and working for yourself. It’s that important.
The second level of transparency – going deeper
Once you understand all of the fixed and variable payments that are coming out each month, you’re left with the “spending” such as the weekly groceries, spending money, entertainment, food and drink etc.
This is the spending that usually ends up on the credit card if you don’t plan your spending. So this is what you want to plan for!
The second level of transparency will reveal to you where a lot of your income is being disposed of, perhaps a little unconsciously.
This is going to reveal any mindless spending that could be examined a bit closer.
Analysing your spending
All you need to do is take a look your spending for the past 3-6 months, to see where it’s going. Look at Eftpos accounts and credit card statements (assuming you don’t withdraw and spend cash – in which case, you’ll need to start tracking where this is going manually, to get any insight).
A really useful thing I’ve found to do, is to categorise and “percentagise” my spending – because sometimes it’s quite surprising to find what you’ve been spending your money on over time. For example, I didn’t realise but I spent a LOT of my spending money on books and toys for my daughter, just through lunchtime browsing when I worked near a bookshop. I was quite shocked to see just how much of my spending money was channeled this way.
This takes a little work but what I do is export my account transactions from my internet banking, and methodically go through and categorise each transaction – food, drink, entertainment, toys, education, whatever comes up.
You just need to do this once to get some good insights.
Insights from the patterns
A few things may come out of this exercise.
Sometimes you’ll find you’re doing something mindless that’s adding up to quite an expense over time.
Other times you might find that there’s a recurring expense coming out of your spending that you should probably plan for (make visible).
THIS is where visibility is useful! If you can pull out all these recurring expenses, you can get a FULL picture of how much your lifestyle is costing you.
I’m not saying – hey look at that expense, you should cut it! No no no… I’m saying, hey take a look at where you are spending your money. Are these things important to you?
Also, you may find that if you did less mindless spending, you could actually spend your money a little smarter.
Here’s an example – let’s say that you can see that you spend $100 a month quite mindlessly on little books and toys for your baby. She has SO many books now it’s just crazy. If you continue to buy mindlessly like that, she’ll just end up with a massive amount of perhaps lower quality books.
Yet, if you actually create a line in your budget for books and toys – $100 a month, you give yourself some new superpowers over your spending:
- You can consciously decide if that’s an appropriate amount to be spending on random books and toys every month
- You can see that perhaps you already do have a budget for books and toys (under some other heading), but you’re overspending on the sly! Does that mean you need to increase the original budget? Or question your spending?
- You can consciously decide NOT to spend that money for a month, and instead redirect it elsewhere.
Instead of spending mindlessly, you now have given yourself some control back.
Just by making it visible.
The third level of transparency – transcendence
So you didn’t think you could get more detailed than that? Well you can.
If the first level of transparency allows you to estimate the monthly income shortfall and adjust, and the second level of transparency creates some more conscious spending, what does the third level of transparency do?
This is where we go deep.
If you care enough about how you spend your time, you’ll want to know that where you are spending your time, and your money, is making your future-self happy.
- With that first level of transparency you probably felt some discomfort about revealing that you’re spending more than you’re earning every month – hence the creation of “dumb debt” in the first place.
- With the second level of transparency you started to look quite critically at your actual spending habits, and how mindless spending mounts up over time. This was probably significantly uncomfortable – if you were totally honest about your spending…
- But with this third level of transparency you need to look yourself square in the face and question EVERYTHING.
Does this (whatever you’re spending your money on) actually matter?
You don’t need to sit there puzzled, just pay a visit to your future self and ask them. They will tell you more honestly than anyone else can!
Ask them if it mattered that you bought a $500 coat. Did it make a difference? Ask them if it mattered that you bought the best outdoor furniture so that your friends were impressed.
“Does the $1200 I spend on cable TV each year matter to you?”
What it comes down to is this:
You work to earn money – so you’re trading your time for money.
What you spend your time on, is what’s important to you.
Time generates money.
If you feel awesome about where you are consciously spending your money then that’s great.
But if you don’t, it may be because it’s not really connected to your WHY.
It doesn’t matter.
How much can you see?
So to wrap up – how much visibility do you currently have of your expenditure? It’s not a bad thing if you don’t have total visibility, that actually means there might be some gold for you to uncover!
By making your spending habits highly visible, you'll be able to redirect money to where it matters to you. Without major sacrifice, major lifestyle changes or working harder.
It’s the same with the teams I work with – instead of taking a drastic action and hiring a new team member to help with the workload, I get them to look more closely about what they are spending their time on, and cut away the stuff that doesn’t matter first.
What can you cut away that doesn't matter, so that you don't have to cut away stuff that does?
As always I'd love to hear your comments, please feel welcome to drop a comment below!