Paycheck Chronicles

Take a Summer Break from Spending and Reap Rewards Later

If things follow their normal pattern, I’m pretty lean this time of year. I tend to blow up during the holidays and start the thinning process with the New Year. By the time we get to July, the number on my scale is about as good as it’s going to get.

That’s not always the case, of course. Some years require a mid-summer course correction. In my experience, challenges with food and money can be similar. There are times during the year when my budget is stretched to the max—and times when it looks pretty good. And in both cases, whether we’re talking about my physical or financial health, it’s easier to stay the course if I maintain healthy habits that level the playing field throughout the year.

Here are seven financial diet strategies and their potential payoffs:

  • Stem the dangerous drinking and eating. No, I’m not talking about alcohol (yet). I’m referring to the oft-mentioned daily cup of boutique coffee and propensity for eating out. When it comes to sticking to a financial diet, strategies like packing a bag lunch, brewing one’s own coffee and sharing home-cooked meals around the kitchen table pay big dividends. Trim to save $3 per day on coffee/soft drinks and $30/week on eating out, and you could make some serious headway.

                Annual payoff: $2,655

  • Stay hydrated. Water, water and more water. Great for your weight and light on your wallet. To calculate the payoff, I’m eliminating $10 of soft drinks a week.

                Annual payoff: $520

  • Skip the alcohol. It’s time to attack this budget buster and health hazard. This can be an expensive habit, especially if you’re drinking outside the confines of your home. I will be generous here and put $15 a week in the win column for taking a pass on your next margarita moment.

                Annual payoff: $780

  • Capture cash from every pay raise or promotion. This may not be a blinding revelation for you, but it’s a truth I’ve seen over and over. We all are blessed with an amazing capacity to spend all we make. Dieting (cutting expenses) is not the only way to positively impact our financial health. There’s also exercise (increasing income, or using new income for financial good). To calculate this annual payoff, let’s say a 0-2 service member slides from “Over 2” to “Over 3” and saves the difference.   

                Annual payoff: $7,420

  • Capitalize on a two-for-one deal. The cost of a pack of cigarettes varies widely from state to state, but here I’ll use six bucks. And no, I won’t account for any additional costs created or generated by this not-so-healthy habit. Bam, get financially and physically healthy.

                Annual payoff: $1,080

  • Enjoy the great outdoors. It’s summer, and that means there are plentiful low- or no-cost opportunities to have fun with your family and burn some calories. Skip the gym membership, and you’ll save…

                Annual payoff: $1,200

  • Babysitting swap. Having mowed more than a few lawns in my teenage years, I’m not targeting teenage entrepreneurship. Still, avoiding the $50 all-in cost on a monthly babysitter pays off. Volunteer to watch your friends’ kids, and they’ll likely return the favor.  

Annual payoff: $600

You’ve probably got your own playbook for course corrections on both the weight and budget front. There’s no time like now to get started.

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