Information contained in this article is of a general nature only and should not be construed as providing tax, legal, financial or accounting advice on any of the topics discussed. Please consult with your financial and/or tax advisor(s) before making any decisions.
Many of us have spent the long weeks of lockdown doing some spring cleaning. Now that windows are washed and junk drawers are decluttered, we recommend focusing on a project with longer-lasting benefits: cleaning up your personal spending. In today’s uncertain economic environment, trimming expenses and refocusing your savings goals can have a huge impact on your quality of life and peace of mind.
Before sending in the cleanup crew, figure out the scope of the job you face. Does your spending need a deep clean or just some extra polishing?
Deep clean your spending … if you’re not sure where the money is going
The first step is knowing what you spend. Track income and expenses for a set period (say, a month) and put them into categories (such as transport, living expenses, insurance, loans and entertainment). We have a free budget planner to help you.
When you know what you’re spending, you can consider both the total and the individual categories. Seeking professional help is a great idea, and the Financial Planning Association and Association of Financial Advisers both have directories of planners in your area. Alternatively, ASIC’s Moneysmart website has information on free financial counselling.
In the meantime, you can get started on your own deep clean. Consider these steps:
- Build a safety net. Are you spending more than you earn, or are you creating a safety net by ‘paying yourself’ every month? Think about getting a set percentage of your salary paid into a separate account every month to support your savings goals. Additionally, consider whether you are adequately insured.
- Are you reducing high-interest debt wherever possible? Carrying a credit card balance costs much more in the long run than the original purchase. Consolidate your debt on a credit card with a good rate and chip away at it every month.
TMB offers both high-interest savings accounts (such as the Online Savings account) and a credit card with no annual fee and a great introductory rate.
- Support your priorities. Does your spending reflect your priorities? For example, if you’re skimping on health care but spending big at the hairdresser, you might consider making some changes.
- Learn from surprises. Did you realise the true cost of those daily coffees? Take the time to consider what surprises tell you about what’s eating into your earnings.
- Ask for a better deal. If your insurance (health, car, home, contents) or your utilities have rolled over automatically into a new year, you’re probably paying too much. You can often save by simply asking for a better deal or shopping around.
Simply polish up your finances … if you’re across your spending
If you already know where your money is going, you’re a step ahead. But spending slip-ups can make their way into even the tightest budgets. Polish up your spending by eradicating some of these spending bugs:
- Misfit spending: old spending patterns that no longer suit you. You used to watch cable every night and never missed a gym session. These days, you prefer Netflix and a walk with a friend—but are you still paying the cable bill and the gym fees? Look for spending that no longer fits your lifestyle. After weeks of lockdown, many of us are living more simply anyway, so it’s a great time to foster new habits.
- ‘Too-busy’ spending: not planning ahead. Do you frequently pay for last-minute express shipping or purchase expensive cafe items on the go? Some simple planning is more efficient and can save you money.
- Take a few minutes every weekend to consider your spending for the week ahead. Make a basic meal plan (reducing waste and impulse purchases) and schedule washing so you can line dry your clothes. Buy healthy snacks and a reusable water bottle to take with you.
- Sleepwalker spending: costs that fly under the radar. The big culprits are subscriptions and direct debits, often from free trials that roll into ongoing payments. Check your bank statements to see whether you’re paying for anything you’ve forgotten.
- Double-up spending: paying for something you could get for free. Many of us sign up for programs and memberships without understanding the full suite of benefits on offer. Read the details to understand the inclusions (such as music streaming with Amazon Prime and cloud storage with Microsoft 365).
The ACCC points out that extended warranties often duplicate the assurances that are already provided by Australian consumer law. Without an extended warranty, you are still entitled to a refund, replacement or repair if a product does not operate as expected or cannot be repaired.
Who knows … maybe you’ll save enough to hire yourself a cleaner for your next deep clean!
Association of Financial Advisers, https://www.yourbestinterests.com.au/.
Financial Planning Association of Australia, https://fpa.com.au/.
Moneysmart, ‘Financial counselling’, https://moneysmart.gov.au/managing-debt/financial-counselling.
Budget planner: https://www.unibank.com.au/calculators-and-tools/budget-planner
Credit card: https://www.unibank.com.au/credit-card/overview-and-features
Online savings account: https://www.unibank.com.au/accounts/online-savings