Yesterday I filmed my first “Ask A Money Expert” video for MSN Money. I’d done several videos for MSN in the past, but this is a different format: Readers post questions on Facebook, to be answered by people like Jim Jubak and Liz Pulliam Weston. And now by me too, also (as the cat from Mutts would say).
The challenge was giving good information succinctly, since I had just 3½ minutes to answer a trio of questions. I’ll post the link once the finished product is available. In the meantime, I want to talk about one of the responses I gave.
A reader asked for help with grocery shopping: She wants to cut down on food costs but her resolve fades once she’s in the supermarket. I mentioned a few old chestnuts, such as not shopping while hungry, creating menus based on the best deals of the week and making a list of only the ingredients you need to cook those meals.
Then I suggested a different way to write the list: Begin with a goal.
Holding ourselves accountable
Before you write “milk,” “bread” or “ground beef,” write down something else that you really want:
- Debt-free in 2011
- Pay cash for our next car
- Down payment for a home
Halfway down the list, repeat the goal. When you’ve reached the end of the list, write the goal one more time. I suggested it be written in capital letters with a black Sharpie so that it can’t be ignored, or easily crossed out.
Do this with every shopping list, every week. Seeing the goal spelled out should help hold you accountable as to where your money goes.
Our choices have consequences
While I think you should allow for a payday treat, it’s easy to get carried away — especially when you smell the chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the in-store bakery oven. Having your goal right in front of you may help you put things in perspective: Overspending on nonessentials is not getting me any closer to my dream.
Some weeks this might not help. Some weeks we really do want the Doritos, or to buy a rotisserie chicken and a sack o’ salad because we’re too tired to cook.
But we have to remember that choices have consequences. The more work that’s done for us, the less value we get. Money spent on Double-Stuf Oreos is a few more dollars that don’t help snowflake a debt. Frozen mac ’n’ cheese is much costlier than making our own. Those prefab bottles of “all natural” iced tea work out to as much as $13 a gallon. All this works out to money that doesn’t go toward your goals, whether that’s summer camp for your kids or a Roth IRA for you.
Yes, some days we’re just going to say “the hell with it” and buy the cut-up pineapple or the pre-marinated steaks. But if we do that consistently, we forfeit the right to complain about how much longer our months are than our money.
We can’t pretend that our choices have nothing to do with the bottom line. We can’t eat our cake and have it, too. Or, for that matter, our Double-Stuf Oreos.