smart spending

Spending too much? Try the 7-day challenge

Do you ever wonder where your spending money goes or how you can spend so much on practically nothing in so little time?

In the old days people brought their paychecks to the bank, deposited most of the money and pocketed the rest in cash. The cash was supposed to last until the next check. If it didn't, it was an obvious cue that too much money was being spent.

Fast-forward to these days when paychecks are deposited electronically and we stuff our pockets with debit and credit cards. Beaten-up dollar bills and heavy coins never dirty our hands. It's so much nicer than the old days. Unfortunately, it makes it too easy to bust the budget.

Without that dwindling pile of cash it's harder to recognize how much is being spent. Sure, you can log on and look at your bank account every day, but most people probably don't. When they finally see their balance they think, "no way!" More than likely it's not the mortgage that's killing them, it's the daily money drain. If that scenario fits your life, the seven-day money challenge may help you get on track.

Certified Financial Planner Ed Gjertsen, vice president of Mack Investment Securities in Glenview, Ill., uses the challenge to give a wake-up call to clients who don't realize how much they're spending.

"They don't need to be like Henry Ford and write down every nickel, but people don't realize how much money is oozing out of their pockets. I ask them to guesstimate to the best of their ability how much cash they'll need for a week's worth of spending. It's just the day-to-day stuff like gas, groceries, going out for meals. The usual outcome is they're out of money by Wednesday."

Learn your weaknesses
Karen Vitale of Bloomingdale, Ill., went to Gjertsen to get a grip on her finances after she had recently been widowed. The mother of four children took him up on his money challenge.

"I was trying to go from Monday to Monday," says Vitale. "I carried a little notebook and would write it down if I stopped for coffee or went to the drugstore. Wednesday night I went to buy gas and I didn't have enough cash. I had to resort to my credit card to get me through the rest of the week. I was shocked and a little disappointed."

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It's probably safe to say most people can relate. Vitale figured out her weaknesses and resolved to tighten her spending habits, but it took that eye-opening experience for her to see what was happening.

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