7 signs you’re spending way too much money
If you’re living on a budget that costs more than you can afford, it’s time to get back on track
The rush you feel when you receive your first paycheque is pretty great. Independence, power, freedom, all because you’ve earned wages, all on your ownsome. But it can also be very easy to fall into bad spending habits once you’re solely in charge of your finances.
If you want to end up wealthy one day, it’s crucial to keep your spending in check.
Many millionaires say the secret to building wealth is living below your means. But it’s not always easy to manage if you have a below-average income, student loans, or other people to financially support.
How much of your income you should spend vs save or invest depends on the lifestyle you want to live now and in the future, as well as your personal financial goals. You may be able to identify these and make a plan on your own, but if you feel overwhelmed or unsure, a financial planner can help.
Here are seven red flags that indicate you’re spending more than you can afford and tips for getting back on track.
1 Your budget is based on your salary or hourly rate
You probably have a nice, round number attached to your job title, whether it’s an annual salary or an hourly rate, but that’s not what you’re actually bringing home. After the government takes its share of taxes, you’re probably left with less than you think. This is true whether you’re taxed each month, or receive a bill once or twice a year.
If you budget your money based on your pretax number and not the amount that ends up in your pocket, you’re likely overestimating how much you can afford to spend. Use a simple online calculator to find your take-home pay and go from there.
2 Your expenses exceed your income
Life can be costly, but the key to achieving financial stability is having more money coming in than going out.
When you list all of your monthly fixed and variable expenses – from rent to food to your gym membership – the sum should not exceed your monthly income. If it does and you don’t cut back somewhere, you may end up in debt.
Managing cash flow can be tough for people with inconsistent income, such as contractors or freelancers. Try finding your income baseline – either the average of your income for the last 12 months or, to be extra safe, your worst-earning month – and use that to decide your limit for expenses.
3 You have a negative net worth
When your expenses exceed your income for too long, you may end up with a negative net worth – where what you owe is greater than what you own.
If you find yourself in the hole, you’re not alone. For example, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported in 2016 that about 15 per cent of households in the United States have net worth equal to zero or less.
For some people, filing for bankruptcy can provide some relief, but not all types of debt are forgiven in bankruptcy. What's more, it can affect your ability to borrow money in the future. Devising a debt repayment plan with a financial planner may be better option.
4 You consistently owe money on your credit card
Using a credit card for all or most of your purchases is perfectly fine, as long as you are able to pay off the balance in full every month. If you don’t, or you simply make the minimum payment, the remaining balance will begin to accrue interest and grow exponentially.
Credit-card debt doesn’t mean you’re doomed, but it’s a sure-fire sign that you’re spending (or have spent) money you don’t actually have. Consider consolidating your debt with a personal loan or a 0% balance transfer card.
5 Your rent or mortgage exceeds 30% of after-tax income
A rough guide to measuring housing affordability in the West is 30 per cent of pretax income. For example, someone with an annual salary of US$50,000 should ideally spend less than US$1,250 a month on housing costs. But that doesn’t factor in taxes. It also doesn’t account for someone with a take-home pay of, say, £10,000, for whom spending £3,000 a month on housing would be far from affordable.
A more helpful way to gauge whether you’re overspending on housing is to try and limit your total monthly expenses to 30 per cent of your after-tax income. This can be tough to manage in a high cost-of-living city, but it’s a good benchmark to aim for. Use an online calculator to estimate your take-home pay, multiply that by 30%, and divide by 12 to get your target number.
6 You buy things to keep up with or impress your friends
If you’re buying a ticket to every festival or joining every happy hour because that’s what your friends are doing, it may be a sign you’re spending more than you can afford.
Social media exacerbates the “Keeping up with the Joneses/Chans/Kardashians” affliction many of us suffer from. You probably don’t know the financial situation of each of your friends and assuming you can afford something because they can – or worse, you’re trying to impress them – isn’t a sustainable strategy.
7 You aren’t saving at all
Saving for retirement and big expenses should always be a part of your budget, even when you’re in your first job. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself you can’t save because you don’t make enough money or your rent is too high, but chances are you’re simply spending too much.
There are a lot of helpful apps that you can use to take a hard look at where your money is going every month, and which help you choose one or more things to cut back on or eliminate all together. Or better yet, meet with a financial planner who can help map out a strategy for short-term and long-term savings goals.
You have more control over your money than you may realise.