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Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Let's face it: most of us live from hand to mouth, and by the mid-point of our remuneration cycle, that hand is stretched out to friends and passers-by, sometimes elegantly, sometimes not. (Isn't it merciful that borrowing from strangers is so elegantly disguised by the formalities of the banking system)? We know we need to break this cycle. The bewildering question is how, and it is in this direction that I want to offer some pointers that are as practical as they are silly-simple.

The three keys I prescribe, because any and all of us can use them, are: Prioritize, Procrastinate and Paralyze. Let's take the three tricks one by one.

A day or two before you get your paycheck, sit down (literally) and draw up a list of items on which your life depends, and don't be frivolous about this. Be harsh, and exclude all luxuries. Each one of us lives in a specific context, so the point here is not to give a standard list, but I want to suggest three guidelines for your priority list. The first guideline is that the first allocation on your priority list must be to the overarching item that gives meaning to your life. When your list begins with funding the core value of your life, you are teaching your mind to be rationally consistent with your life goals. After all, the reason why that dollar fails to stretch is that nothing is disciplining it. Next, list survival items in the order of each item's lethality. To be a little melodramatic the better to illustrate the principle, it would be foolish to delay the ambulance that must rush you for the reversal of your cardiac arrest because you want first to pay the landlord his rent. Much as you might detest him, please don't force him to evict a corpse! Fund each item in strict order of real priority, and give each item no more than it requires. Do not "round off" anything, as this promotes a cavalier attitude to accounting, and many of us are in trouble because we are not accounting for every penny. Your survival list must include "savings account", even if only ten dollars goes there at first. It must also include "contingency", which will cover unpleasant surprises. Only after the must-have list is funded can you move to the "Perhaps" and "It Would Be Nice" lists, which you must deprive of-say-twenty dollars before you make allocations to them. Put the twenty dollars in your pocket.

Most of the spending items we feel an urgency to fund are not items on which our life depends. We can function without them, at least until tomorrow, and that timing goes for tomorrow too. Sit down again if you stood up in the first place, and make a list of the items you will defer. Put them in a queue, with the hungriest of them bringing up the rear. That new, frog green mascara can wait, and wait....On a shopping Saturday, find an activity, perhaps helping a charity or fishing, that puts a distance between you and the shops. Sometimes it is even more constructive to spend the day sleeping. Dreaming about non-essentials is less expensive than acquiring them! Service, fun and rest cost less. A mildly tolerable result of procrastinating on the purchase of these items will be that you will only fund them at a stage in your remuneration cycle where you are sure such purchases will not lead to starvation. The most desirable outcome will be that the longer you ignore them, the less sense it makes to fund these items, and you can put a little more in the savings account.

Remember the twenty that I asked you to put in your pocket? It's not so good if you do, because I want you to forget it. It's not too late, though. A silly truth that I have discovered in my own experience is that I can't pay for that ice cream cone on a whim if the cash is in the wrong jacket in the closet at home. I did this once or twice by mistake before I realised that doing it on purpose can be so helpful. Even if the ATM card is on you, if you decide to walk all the way to the machine, you most likely will find time to ask your spending conscience why it's letting you make such a fuss over an item that will cause you physical and financial pain in the dentist's rooms. Talking about cards, I am assuming you returned those credit cards to the issuing bank and rescheduled the repayment of any debts you incurred so you could stop spending money you have not earned, and might not earn!

Follow this silly-simple prescription and see if you do not still have a bit of money in your pocket-preferably in the wrong jacket-the day before pay day.

Do you have other tips to add to this, or even to replace these? Please share them by clicking the comment link, because in this area we all can use all the help we can find. Feel free to also just comment on my suggestions, even if you don't wish to add any new ones.