Minted or skinted?

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It’s a myth that minimalists don’t have stuff. Of course we do.

Some proponents of simple living really do exist with just a handful of belongings. But, for most of us, that’s not how we do it. Rather, we don’t buy things we don’t need; we can be ruthless when it comes to letting go of excess; and we may also be quite frugal when it comes to spending money.

Naturally, minimalists buy consumables like everyone else. What I’m interested in is getting more bang for my buck. Is is possible to find high-performing products that don’t require high-end prices? I think it is…

Fragrance

Minted?

Diptique Philosykos perfume is a gorgeous, woody fragrance, reminiscent of warm Greek evenings. It retails at £115, so is a very exclusive perfume, sold at a price likely to exceed most families’ weekly grocery budget.

Skinted!

Di Palomo’s Fig eau de parfum is a great alternative to the ‘minted’ version. Transporting you to southern European climes, this value-for-money fragrance is a lovely option. Plus, I bought a bottle recently on eBay (it cost me £14.99).

Skin care

Minted?

Dermalogica’s skin care range is world-renowned but – if I’m honest – shockingly expensive. Its Daily Microfoliant looks fabulous but it comes at a whopping £49.50. Who can afford that kind of luxury – even if it does make your skin zing and glow?

Skinted!

Here’s where St Ives Blemish Control Scrub comes in. At just £3 from my supermarket, here’s a high performing product – paraben free and 100% natural – that makes you wonder why you’d ever spend more.

Make-up

Minted?

Years ago, I suffered a great deal with my skin. A beauty therapist I visited for facials recommended Clarins’ Extra Firming Foundation. Although presented as an anti-ageing product, she actually used it on brides, as it always delivered a lovely, radiant complexion. It’s fairly pricey at £34, so I haven’t bought it for quite a while.

Skinted!

Maybelline is available everywhere on the high street at around a quarter of the price of its high-end cousin. Its Dream Satin Liquid foundation is very impressive, providing just the right amount of coverage with a range of natural shades. Currently on offer at Fabled, you begin to wonder why you’d ever buy a prestige brand again.

The maths

Of course, there are reasons why we select prestige brands. You might enjoy the customer experience of buying consumables like this in a pleasant retail environment. There’s the lovely lighting, the helpful assistants, possibly some ‘freebie’ samples, the (unnecessary but oh-so-stylish) packaging and the cute little gift bag to carry as a symbol of your purchase.

But the enjoyment can only ever be short-lived when the dopamine hit has dissolved and you’re left with an empty bank account.

Take these little examples. If I bought each of the ‘minted’ items, I’d have spent a whopping £198.50 altogether.

Even at full price (which I rarely pay) my ‘skinted’ alternatives come in at £35.99.

= Total ‘skinted’ saving £162.51.

Apply this to the rest of your consumer spending

Apply this logic to the rest of your consumer spending and you could really make some savings in your budget.

For example, swapping a supermarket’s own product for a branded one can save you quite a lot off a weekly shop. As you substitute one for the other, you’ll see the cost of your weekly shop come down quite a bit.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that we shop online for our weekly groceries. It’s very easy to compare prices if you’re shopping from the comfort of your own home. Once you’ve got added of your items from your shopping list into the basket, take a closer look. You can definitely shave off a few pounds if you make a switch. Plus, the value lines offer perfectly good products at a fraction of the cost.

Of course, it’s only a bargain if you were going to buy it anyway. But being intentional with your purchases will really make a difference, especially if you have a savings goal in mind or you’re looking to get out debt.

Shopping the ‘skinted’ way will make a real difference: all of a sudden, it feels like you’ve got a pay rise.

What sort of substitutions have you found at a skinted price for consumables? Do please let us know by replying to this post, below!


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The shopping ban vs written budget

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I’ve recently started reading Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less. In this book (her debut), Cait documents (with a real openness and honesty) what was happening in her life during a 12 month period when she decided to go ‘cold turkey’ on her spending and instigate a year-long shopping ban.

Cait describes how she had documented the ‘year of less’ on her blog, inspiring others to do a shopping ban of their own.

The Approved Shopping List

In case you’re curious, Cait decided to change her relationship with spending by sticking to a specific number of self-imposed rules. The items on her Approved Shopping List were carefully considered: she worked out what would be coming up during the period of her shopping ban and planned accordingly.

To give you some examples, takeout coffees were firmly off the list, but replacement toiletries and cosmetics were OK, providing they weren’t “fun items” such as nail polish. Travel was definitely on the list, but clothes were not.

This got me thinking about the difference between getting on a written budget versus instigating a shopping ban. Were they polar opposites, or could one approach benefit the other?

Getting on a written budget

If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while, you’ll know that I have previously cited the work of Dave Ramsey. One of the key tenets of Ramsey’s philosophy is that, if you’re going to be successful with money, you have to get on a written budget.

Ramsey’s budgeting app, ‘EveryDollar’ (not available in the UK), is so named because the idea is that you literally tell every dollar where to go.

My dual account spreadsheet serves the same purpose. With two accounts rather than one, we run all of our regular bills and expenses (e.g. utility bills) off the first account. This leaves only the second account to manage in terms of discretionary spending on items including food, groceries, fuel and so on.

Why a written budget is so useful

A written budget is essential. It means you plan in advance of your spending, rather than worrying about where your cash has gone when there is ‘too much month at the end of the money’.

If your finances are joint ones, by sitting down each month and doing a written plan, you also balance any ‘go go’ (spending) tendencies against any ‘no no’ (saving) preferences within your relationship.

The benefits of a shopping ban

A complete shopping ban also has a number of benefits, especially if you’re someone who needs to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach.

Writer Gretchen Rubin famously abstains from eating carbohydrates; if she doesn’t eat carbs, she doesn’t have to think about them. A little bit of something in moderation isn’t her style.

The same goes for someone who can’t go shopping without returning home laden with bags of merchandise they hadn’t planned to buy. So, the ‘all or nothing’ approach might be beneficial.

By announcing your intention, you can also get accountability for your goals: your supporters will spur you on and help keep you on track.

‘No spend’ drawbacks

Cait’s experience made me realise that initiating a shopping ban might also bring some drawbacks.

For example, so-called well-meaning ‘friends’ would try and tempt her to buy something Cait didn’t need, or which wasn’t on The Approved List. They reasoned that ‘she deserved it’ or that a little retail therapy was no bad thing. In fact, this was tantamount to offering a reformed smoker a cigarette, a dieter a wedge of chocolate fudge cake, or an alcoholic ‘just one’ drink. Happily for her, a handful of true friends were on hand to help keep Cait on track.

Another potential drawback of a shopping ban is that you also have to deal with your own triggers. That is, if you’re working to achieve specific financial goals, avoiding putting yourself in situations where you might blow your budget is essential. For an abstainer, it has to be all or nothing.

As Cait writes, “The toughest part… was having to confront my triggers and change my reaction to them. It always felt like the minute I forgot about the shopping ban was the same minute I felt like shopping again.”

Why a written budget provides some flexibility

If you’re like me, you might prefer having some flexibility each month. That said, Cait certainly didn’t set out to veto all spending forever; it was, after all, an experiment.

What helps me is that I’m now really intentional in what I buy; getting on a written budget also avoids any feelings of self-deprivation. If we need something (in any category), we make provision on the spreadsheet for it. There’s no ‘forget it, I’m going to buy whatever I want’ and the extremes of a shopping spree or spending ban are avoided.

The middle ground

Where the ‘no spend’ philosophy might help is in cutting out expenditure that you know doesn’t add value to your life and which may impact negatively on your overall finances.

For example, if you regularly buy lunch out (perhaps at a cafe or by picking up a take-out meal), the cost of this soon adds up. Deciding to intentionally exclude things from your budget can help you achieve your financial goals. In a recent post, I discussed the idea that second-hand should become second nature; applying a ‘nothing new’ rule might be one approach to consider.

All or nothing?

I admire Cait Flanders’ forthright account. In applying her ‘no spend’ discipline, she not only learned a great about herself, but she lived on just a proportion of her income. This helped her not only to pay off debt but also to truly understand the important things in life.

Whichever route you choose, laying some ground rules (and getting accountability for your goals) will truly reap the benefits. And less is definitely more.


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Why buying second hand should be second nature

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For a number of years, my wardrobe has comprised around 50% secondhand clothing and 50% items that I have intentionally bought in the sale of brands I trust. Rarely do I buy clothing that is full price.

Since I follow the Project 333 approach, that’s roughly 16 items ‘new’ and 16 or so ‘second hand’ altogether. It’s more than enough and buying second hand is such a good thing to do.

Here’s why:

Second hand offers great value for money

Buying second hand a great way to buy what you need at a fraction of the cost of what the item would have cost new.

One of my more recent second hand purchases was a gently-worn and perfect-fitting brown suede skirt from Monsoon. It cost just £8. To go with that, I picked up a Mint Velvet cowl neck knit for just £1.66.

My most recent acquisition, which inspired this post, is a little black dress by Coast. I’ll wear this for a work-related ‘do’ in early March. It cost just £9.99 from eBay and I’m currently watching a co-ordinating pair of shoes whose starting price is £3.99. My whole outfit is likely to cost less than £15 overall. I had recently sold a number of dresses myself, so the direct cost of this purchase was far less than the actual sale price. Plus, I’m sticking to my principles of one in, one out.

Pre-loved is better for the environment

My heart sinks whenever I enter a store selling ‘fast fashion’. Like me, my teenage daughter’s on the lookout for value for money, but she’s far less likely to buy second hand. Whenever I enter one of these high street stores (which, mercifully, is seldom), I’m struck by the vast quantity of merchandise which, on closer inspection, often seems flimsy and of poor quality. We all know that the world has reached ‘peak clothes’ so it’s especially important to be intentional when we buy. What better way to signal that we care about the environment by doing so via what we wear? 

Gently worn supports great causes

We often moan that today’s high street consists mainly of coffee shops, estate agents, hairdressers and charity shops. Yet, we often fail to recognise the important contribution charity shops make to the causes they serve.

Writer and friend, Rae Ritchie,  is fashion ambassador to Myton Hospices Charity Shops. Not only do these shops offer great value for money, they’re supporting a much valued local cause.

To give you a sense of their importance, Rae explains: “Myton Hospices require £8.8 million per year to fund their vital end of life care at three hospices in Coventry and Warwickshire. Their 22 stores play an important role in raising that money.”

In terms of fashion finds, Rae tells me that Myton’s Coundon store currently has some Vivienne Westwood shoes. Her own recent buys have included a vintage leather handbag, some barely used yoga pants and a denim tunic that is being continually washed and worn!

Second hand is not second best

For kids (who grow so quickly you can almost see them sprouting upwards), second hand clothes are absolutely fabulous and definitely not second best.

When our daughter was tiny, we used to buy all her clothes from the NCT Nearly New Sale. As her mummy, I loved putting all the cute little outfits together, but never had to be overly anxious about anything she wore; nothing cost more than a couple of pounds.

Once you’re fully grown (and assuming you maintain a stable weight and size), it’s wonderful to be able to buy second hand clothing online, as you know what’s going to fit. Most brands are fairly reliable in terms of sizing, so you can bid and buy with relative confidence.

Where to buy

Fargo Village in Coventry is the perfect place to meet up with friends, enjoy a coffee and a browse in the Big Comfy Bookshop. While there, nip into Myton Fargo Village, Myton Hospice’s very cool and carefully curated charity shop (and you can get a sense of their one-off bargains by checking out their Instagram account).

Dress agencies are another way to find beautiful gently-worn clothes at great prices. I used to love Corina Corina in Warwick, as well as the aptly-named Savoir Faire in Kenilworth. Anyone remember them? Sadly, they’re no longer trading, but there are lots of alternatives, notably in Leamington Spa and Solihull.

Top tip: dress agencies only keep stock for a certain period of time. Once an item remains unsold after a number of weeks, it is either returned to its owner or passed to a local charity shop.

Here in the UK, eBay sales of second hand clothes are booming. I’ve both bought and sold over the years. Here’s where your knowledge of what fits really comes into its own; I know that a Phase Eight Size 10 is a pretty good bet if I’m buying a dress, for example.

Local Facebook groups are often great sources of second hand clothes, especially kids’ bundles. For buyers, there’s the nuisance factor of having to go and collect, but it’s free for both buyers and sellers, so there’s often a good deal to be had.

Let buying second hand become second nature

So, let buying second hand become second nature. You’ll be glad you did.


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Why I’m performing plastic surgery on my credit card

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Many years ago, I applied for a credit card that offered 2% cash back on all purchases. That was pretty generous, so you can tell how long ago that was!

Every month, we would use the card for all of our discretionary spending (that is, anything we bought on a week-by-week basis such a food, fuel and so on). We’d pay off the card every month in full. Then, once or twice a year, we’d get a decent cheque in the post with our cash back amount.

As we always paid off the balance in full, the credit card company actually made little money from us directly.

When I’ve used a credit card

I still have a credit card but I don’t use it for everyday purchases. Instead, I have used it for that one-off, occasional or unusual purchase such as our daughter’s prom dress.

However, because of the ease with which one can use a credit card in this way, there’s always a nagging thought in the back of my mind. Every time I do this (even for a relatively modest single item of expenditure), I‘m borrowing against next month’s income.

In effect, I’m creating a shopping hangover.

A change of heart

So, I’ve had a change of heart. The fact of the matter is this. If we’re going to win with money in the long term, this is what I’m going to do.

I’m going to perform plastic surgery on my credit card. Yes, I’m going to cut it into little pieces and throw it away.

Now, some of you still use your credit card in the way I used to. You tell me that you find it easier to track your spending this way (although, for me, I can’t understand this).

For me, it’s crunch time and here’s why.

What the research shows

Research shows that credit cards are ‘friction free.’ That is, handing over a card is less painful psychologically than handing over actual cash. In an article for Psychology Today, Scott Rick explains that people tend to spend more when they use a card than they do when handing over actual cash: “Experimental research….suggests that credit cards can stimulate overspending: People are often willing to pay more for the same product when using credit than when using cash.”

Indeed, Rick cites a range of psychological factors, which compel consumers to use a card over cash.

Even though I don’t put a lot on my card, I know that when I previously experimented by cutting up my card, I definitely spent less money overall.

Business Travel

“But what about business travel?” I hear you ask?

I once attended a work conference, which across the pond in Anaheim, California. I took my credit card for ’emergencies’ and actually ended up having to use it when I found my employer had failed to pre-pay my bill.

At my hotel’s reception desk, ready to check out, but fully expecting my account to have been settled, I learned that the transaction hadn’t gone through. Worse, the time difference between California and England meant that there was no-one in the office back at home to sort it out. I’ll admit that this was a time when I was glad I had my personal credit card.

However, this does not deter me from my plastic surgery. What I’d do in the future is request a corporate card, rather than rely on my own personal card, which required me to claim this expense on my return. No corporate card? No travel!

But a credit card’s for emergencies!

In my last post, I wrote about why I believe we all need an emergency fund.

In fact, a fully funded emergency fund should contain 3-6 months of expenses. So, if we have a fully funded emergency fund, we shouldn’t need to use the ‘shopping hangover’ method to cover unexpected bills.

The post-Christmas hangover

As the nation anticipates its post-Christmas credit card statements, I decided to do some research on card spending. What I learned really shocked me.

The UK’s spending habits

In October 2017, an article in The Independent warned that credit card lending was on the increase, in spite of warnings about the high levels of UK household debt. In the article, journalist Ben Chu cites regulators’ concerns about the extent to which households are turning to credit to finance their consumption.

Indeed, in the previous month, we saw headlines suggesting the UK was experiencing a ‘debt crisis’, as household debt had increased by 7% in the preceding 5 years.

Going slightly further back in time, the sheer volume of annual card sales is revealed in the UK Cards Association’s report of April 2017. I was staggered to read that, in the month of April 2017 alone, 315 million purchases were made on a credit card (up on the previous year’s figures by 41 million transactions). The overall total of money spent on a credit card that month was £16.8 billion (versus £15 billion the previous year).

What the hell were we all buying?

The report shows we’re using credit cards for a whole range of goods and services from food to fuel, with a marked increase in the use of cards (both debit and credit) over cash in these categories.

What if you have to use a card?

If you listen to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus’ podcast, you’ll have heard them say quite clearly: “If you have to use a card, you can’t afford it.”

In my case, if I decide to use a credit card, I’m swapping convenience for a shopping hangover. And I no longer want to do that.


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Why we all need an emergency fund

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Happy New Year 2018!

January’s blog post theme

During the month of January, I’m going to be thinking about money, as we have set some specific financial goals for our family in 2018.

It follows that my blog posts may follow a bit of a financial theme in this first month of the new year.

Holiday listening

In particular, I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast over the holidays. Ramsey’s consistent, straight-talking and sound advice has benefited thousands of people worldwide and his simple series of Baby Steps has helped his readers, listeners and YouTube watchers get a grip on their finances and – in Ramsey’s words – “Change their family tree.”

Baby Steps

The Baby Steps help break down Ramsey’s plan into manageable chunks and build momentum. Indeed, the small wins that can be achieved early on in the programme through these Baby Steps help psychologically with motivation.

Baby Step 1

The very first of the Baby Steps is to start an emergency fund of $1000 (or, in the case of us Brits, £1000).

This should be done as fast as you can.

If you’re already a seasoned declutterer, you may find this easier than you think. A good rummage through your garage, wardrobe or loft may yield some excess stuff you no longer need, so you may soon be able to pull together the funds to get started.

If, like me, you’ve already learned to let go of stuff, freeing up unwanted items to contribute to this initial £1k may not be too much of a challenge. It may take only the effort of cleaning them up, photographing them, then listing them online on sites such as ‘Things for Sale in Kenilworth’ (our local community site on Facebook) or eBay.

Why Baby Step 1?

Ramsey’s approach is to establish this beginner’s emergency fund so that if you have a genuine and unforeseen expense, you won’t have to go into debt to pay for it. In a later Baby Step (#3), a fully-funded emergency fund of 3-6 months worth of expenses is put in place, but this starter fund is where we begin.

When you need an emergency fund

Between Christmas and New Year, we had a sudden and unwelcome fall of slushy, grey snow. We came down for breakfast the morning after Boxing Day and noticed something was odd about the hedge that usually sits against the wall by the side of our kitchen window. The supports to the hedge had given way in the wind and snow, so the prickly shrub had lowered itself forward over the border, covering all of the smaller plants and herbaceous perennials beneath.

Thankfully, with some significant effort (and 6 hours’ commitment), my lovely husband managed to shore up the woody stems, drill new supports into the wall, and push the hedge back into place.

However, this unexpected job reminded me that we weren’t quite as lucky when the fence blew down.

When the fence blew down

On the other side of the garden, we share a boundary with our next door neighbours.

One very stormy night two or three years ago, our shared fence decided it was no longer fit for purpose, leading to an unexpected but essential replacement. This cost about £375 per family, which our emergency fund was able to cover easily.

The point of this is that, whilst you’re taking steps to get your finances into good shape, the last thing you need is a mini-emergency to set you back.

In 2016, research by the charity Shelter found that 37% of working families in England could not cover housing costs for more than a month in event of job loss. Ramsey’s approach is designed to mitigate against this and putting an emergency fund in place is a first step in the right direction.

Do you have your emergency fund in place?

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to get your emergency fund in place.

So, when the metaphorical fence blows down, you’ll have the financial resources to deal with it. Plus, there’ll be no call on your emotional reserves either, as you won’t be stressed about how you’re going to pay for it.


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The Life Energy Experiment – One Year On

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A little over a year ago, I conducted a simple experiment. The essence of it was simple and you can read my rules here.

The Life Energy Experiment

The experiment invites you to consider how much ‘life energy’ (or time in paid work) you have to devote to pay for something you want to buy?

As Henry David Thoreau put it, “The cost of a thing is the amount of one’s life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long term.”

As a rule of thumb, I used my gross hourly rate, but if you were going to be 100% accurate, you’d use your net hourly rate (less the cost of getting to work and other work-related costs such as clothing). That really focuses the mind.

Some examples

Imagine your gross hourly rate is £10 per hour (for easy maths) and you work a standard 7.5 hour day. I know that’s a simple way to view this, but let’s take it as an example. You can work out your own figures.

See how much of your life you’d have to devote to earning the money needed just to buy the following things:

  • Take-out pizza from Domino’s – £9.99 = 1 hour of your working day and just moments to consume!
  • New (full-price) coat from Zara – £99.99 = 10 hours of effort (so more than the average working day)
  • Your family’s weekly shop from mid-range supermarket – £120 = 12 hours of paid work (or 1.6 days’ effort)
  • A tank of fuel for a small car – £39.50 = 4 hours of work or half a day in the office! I know that I could get a monthly pass for the bus for just £5 more….

What about things you don’t really need?

Once you’ve started viewing your expenditure through the lens of the Life Energy Experiment, you might hesitate a little as your finger lingers over the ‘Buy it Now’ button.

You might look for ways to achieve the same goals (or to get what you’d like) in other ways:

  • Buying second-hand
  • Borrowing
  • Finding a substitute

Think about the Life Energy Experiment

So, think about the Life Energy Experiment as you go about your Christmas shopping this year.

For me, it’s definitely changed the way I view how I shop and what I choose to buy. And, as Amy from More Time Than Money says, there are times when you look at something and can simply proclaim, “This can stay money!”


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Sticking to your budget – week by week

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For a while now, I’ve been using my dual account budgeting system for our family finances. In case you haven’t read about this before, I use two separate accounts. One is for all of our regular standing orders and direct debits, the other for discretionary spending including food, fuel, clothing and so on.

Use two accounts

Splitting out our two major spending groups means we never have to worry about our bills. These are paid automatically. Plus, we make sure there’s always the money we need in the first account to cover this planned, regular expenditure.

Track with an app

As well as my dual account budget spreadsheet, I’ve been using an app called Spending. This helps me work out what proportion of my overall expenditure is devoted to the different categories I have specified. By seeing the percentages in Spending’s pie chart, I know that I’m allocating the correct proportion of our overall household budget to each category.

Try breaking expenditure into weekly totals

In spite of paying a lot of attention to budget tracking, August seemed like a very long month in money terms. The long summer holidays meant our usual spending patterns shifted and there seemed to be too much month left at the end of the money.

So, I decided to take my ‘what gets measured gets improved’ philosophy a step further. I opted to divide my monthly budget amounts into weekly totals. This way, I could pace our expenditure, and track our overall monthly finances at the same time.

Here’s how I did it

I quickly worked out the number of weeks in the month. It’s easy if every month is February (28 days/7 days in a week = 4 weeks in the month). But, what about a month in which there are 31 or 30 days? Well, a 31 day month has 4.43 weeks and a 30 day month has 4.29. So, that’s the maths out of the way.

An example

Imagine you’re allocating £575 per month to your family food and groceries and you’re in a 31 day month, that gives you £129.84 to spend per week on your weekly shop. Seeing this amount as a weekly total really helps you focus when you’re doing your online shop. I have found that if I spend a few more moments comparing prices and making substitutes, I can keep within the weekly amount.

When it gets tricky

Other items are a little more tricky to manage on a week-by-week basis. For example, a single tank of fuel can exceed the weekly budget, but I know that we only fill up around once a fortnight. For this category, I might allocate fortnightly amounts.

I also think it’s OK to vire between budgets (get me with my finance terminology!). For example, if I know that there are no school lunches to buy during vacation time, I can boost another ‘pot’ if that would be helpful or allocate those funds to savings.

What next?

So, I’m going to continue for the remainder of the month and see whether or not this ‘pacing’ of expenditure makes a difference. At least, I’m not buying stuff we don’t need. That’s such a blessing in so many ways.

How about you? What helps you stay on track? Do you use an envelope system and pay for everything in cash? Do you have a favourite app? Do share!


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