Sense & Centsibility Blog

Budgeting 101: To Spend or Not to Spend, That Is the Question

Do you have an actual spending plan for those purchases that vary from day to day or do you just wing it? Many consumers will admit that they are totally unaware of when they are overspending and some don't really see this as a problem. You might blindly swipe your debit card when you get the urge to splurge and yet still consider yourself a successful budgeter because hey, all of your bills got paid on time, you managed to avoid any overdraft fees, and as an added bonus, you are wearing a really cute sweater you found off of the sale rack. So, why bother setting limits to spending if you can get away with living by the "wing it" philosophy?


I used to be a "wing it" kind of gal—a debit card carrying coffee addict who knew no limits. The plastic I carried gave me permission to impulsively purchase all the five dollar fancy frappes I could drink. And I admit that some days, I apparently thought I needed more than one.

I was a regular customer at the local coffee shop. I even graced that drive-thru with my presence more than once a day sometimes. Lucky drive-thru.

"Well, now you look familiar," the lady at the checkout would often point out.

On this particular day, the coffee lady continued with her interrogation. "No wait... seriously, weren't you just here a little bit ago or am I going crazy?" She was determined to break me—to get me to confess that this was in fact the third drive thru run I had made on that particular day.

“Uh, I think you might need a vacation," I answer her, crumpling up the receipt she handed me and carelessly tossing it over to the dirty passenger side floor mat, except, you couldn't see the floor mat because there were so many other crumpled up receipts fighting for the same spot.

The mountain of evidence majestically loomed before me, receipts for random purchases from who knows where, and I could no longer deny the fact that more was out of control here than my coffee spending.

It hit me that my "wing it" attitude was costing me a little bit more than I was comfortable paying. I decided it was time to take control of my finances, and as a first step, I would clean out my car. I added up all of those dirty little receipts and discovered the hard truth: In a span of 22 days I had already blew through more money at coffee shops and fast food, than I pay for a whole month of rent! Yikes. It made me feel ill because I realized all of the other things I could have used that money for. 

A bunch of my friends had recently left on a Caribbean cruise and I told them I couldn’t afford to go. Taking a good look at my finances made me realize that I could have gone on that trip if I would’ve taken the time to set limits to flexible spending.

spend and save

I didn’t realize that when I chose not to pay attention to what I was doing with my money, I was also choosing to miss out on other opportunities and experiences.

Would I choose less coffee drinks if the pay-off was a week with my friends in a tropical location? Yes, I think I could have done that, and you can do it, too. You don't have to let your money control where you end up in life. If you are "winging it" in hopes that it will all work out someday, realize now that it won't. You might get through just fine, but you will almost certainly wonder what could've been, had you made that choice to take control of your money.

Get in the driver’s seat

If you can relate to the “wing it” philosophy, perhaps it is time for you to get in the driver’s seat. Think of your money as the gasoline that will move you towards your destination. You wouldn't burn through all of your gasoline driving in circles if you knew you had an appointment across town in a few hours now would you? That would be silly, and not to mention totally wasteful (especially with the gas prices these days). And yet, this is exactly what I was doing with my money, burning through it and missing out on those life appointments that really matter to me. Don't miss out like I did.

It is never too late to make a U-turn

u-turn sign

If you're not sure where your money is going, create a monthly cash flow and track your spending. Then, write down your goals, whether it's a Caribbean cruise or paying off your car. Take control of your money life today and before you know it, you’ll be cruising in the right direction...down the road to financial wellness. 

If you need a refresher about "driving" this course, give us a call at 1-888-577-2227 to schedule an appointment with one of our Financial Counselors. We would be happy to help you create a budget and provide strategies for sticking to it so you can reach your goals. You can also GET STARTED ONLINE NOW... it's quick, easy, and just as effective as phone or in-person appointments. Take action today!

Author Mary Mckeague is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS and specializes in Budget and Debt Counseling.