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09 February 2012

Trimming the Fat with the Ultimate Money Diet

Brian McGrory, Head, Consumer Debit Products – Asia Pacific, Central Europe, Middle East and Africa, Visa

Kyiv, February 8, 2012 We all like to tell ourselves that this year will be different, that we will lose weight, save money, take up a new hobby or quit smoking. We start the year with such good intentions but can sometimes set ourselves goals that we find hard to keep! Don’t overload yourself with a huge list of goals for the year to start tackling straight away, take things one step at a time. Pick one goal to begin with and stick to it. Top goals for many people include losing weight and saving more money. So let’s delve into the ultimate diet - the money diet -  and get your bank balance in shape and fighting fit!

Counting the financial calories

Taking charge of your financial future isn’t rocket science. You just need to be smart, organized and disciplined. You know when you want to lose weight you count the calories and compare them to the recommended daily allowance? Well the same goes for your money. Sit down and calculate your income each month and what your outgoings are. Be honest with yourself and include everything – from the big payments such as your rent or mortgage, to that coffee you buy on the way to work every morning.

Now you are ready to start trimming down the outgoings. Like a healthy body needs a good diet of vitamins and minerals, a good quality of life also needs some basics like a roof over your head, electricity, food and the means to get to work each day. These bills are both regular and essential, so make sure they are the first thing to go into your brand new budget. To keep in check with these important bills, debit cards are rising in popularity, often replacing payment by cash. A debit card is unlike a credit card because it’s tied directly to your bank account. When you make a payment with a debit card, it withdraws money directly from your bank account without you having to worry about paying it back later. You can also check with your bank or biller to check if they allow you to link your bills or loan payments directly to your debit card account so your bills are paid automatically before the due date. That way you don’t have to worry about late fees and you have more time to complete the other tasks on your to-do list.

Working out your new diet

So you have your essential bills included in your new money diet, but are you still finding it hard to sort the essentials from the luxuries? Here are some tips:

  • Wholesome food Vs Junk food: Question what you need and want you want. Make two lists – one for needs and one for wants and as you are making the list ask yourself:
  1. Why do I want it?
  2. How would things be different if I had it?
  3. What other things would change I had it? (for better or worse)
  4. Which things are truly important to me?
  5. Does this match my values?
  • Set guidelines: We all have different budgets based on our needs and wants. You may need to make adjustments for that daily latte fix.
  • What’s your recommended daily calorie allowance? Add up your income. To set a monthly budget, you need to know what’s coming in. Make sure you include all sources of income such as salaries, interest, pension and any other income sources.
  • Financial calorie intake: Estimate your expenses. The best way to do this is keep track of how much you spend each month. Categorize spending depending on your needs such as groceries and transport and wants such as your weekly cinema ticket or manicure.
  • Are you overeating? Managing your personal expenses is like identifying the difference between your recommended daily allowance and your actual calorie intake. Once you’ve created your budget, keep records of your actual income and expenses. This keeps you on top of the difference between what you budget and actually spend.
  • Track, Trim and Target: Once you start tracking, you may be surprised to find you spend hundreds of dollars a month on eating out or other flexible expenses. Some of these are easily trimmed but that doesn't mean you have to cut out everything you enjoy. Cutting back is usually a better place to start than completely cutting out. Be realistic.  It will help you to be better prepared for unexpected costs.

In any given week we buy and spend on many things and it’s often those smaller purchases that get lost in the mix. Knowing the miscellaneous expenses may just be what you need to know so you can reign in your spending and stay within your means. Think of that extra magazine as the sneaky biscuit making its way into your diet and messing with your calorie intake! With everything else going on in our lives keeping track of monthly expenses can be daunting. Simplify your life by using your debit card for your daily expenses, which will allow you to track spending with your bank statement and identify how much you’re spending and on what.

Slimming down the SMART way 

Unfortunately our bank balances have a limit so it helps to have a goal in mind when thinking about ways to trim and cut back. It’s all about SMART financial planning: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. Each step takes your aspirations and gives them a benchmark which is easier to attain than some lofty goal.

  • Specific: Be specific on what you want. Avoid just saying “I want to save money”. Instead say “I want to save money to travel to Bali.”
  • Measurable: Give your goal a benchmark. For instance traveling to Bali will cost $4,000 and if you have $800 saved your measurable goal should be to save the additional $3,200 you need. Try to break if down to a more manageable goal of $400 per month
  • Attainable: Make your goal realistic. Saying you want to travel in Indonesia for six months staying only in five-star hotels may not be attainable if you only have $800 to spend. Instead think what is within your means, for example, “I am going to save each month so I can visit Bali for three days and stay in a three-star hotel.
  • Relevant: The goals have to make sense to you. It’s not practical to work toward a goal that doesn’t fit your need. For example, if you are going to Bali for your wedding anniversary, you may not want to be staying in hostels and want to save for something a bit special.
  • Timely: Set a definite target date of when you’d like to reach your goal. Set a date for your trip and work towards it.

To stick to your new financial diet, remember to keep your budget planner and goals in mind every time you spend. Remember, there is nothing wrong with treating yourself every now and again, but if you overindulge too often you can find yourself gaining some unwanted financial worries! So stay smart, budget, and spend within your means to keep your bank balance nice and healthy. Your wallet will thank you for it! 


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