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A close look at invisible spending.

by:
Laurie Campbell

September is a time to buck up. And by that I don’t mean it’s time to start throwing bucks around. I mean exactly the opposite. It’s time to gird financially for what to most of us is the real new year.

The kids are back at school. Work places are vibrating with plans and new energy. We’re all looking ahead to braving another season of sleet, snow, and … spending. Yes, that’s always part of the Canadian forecast, which includes additional spending, and, of course, more spending.

Spending for school. Spending for clothes. Spending for the household. Spending for transportation. Spending for fun. Spending for the not so fun. Spending for Halloween. Spending for Thanksgiving. Spending for Christmas. Spending for an escape.

I could go on, but I’d like to leap to what should be of vital interest to all participants in the economy of the Great White North.

Invisible spending.

It’s nefarious. It skulks around one’s behaviour patterns like a polar bear in a blizzard, running off with your hard-earned dollars while rarely showing signs that it is out to make a fiscal fool of you for not heeding its presence.

Ironically, invisible spending hides in plain sight, - in supermarkets, restaurants, coffee boutiques, bank accounts, bars, gas stations, tobacco shops, and on and on – even in membership services. You will know it by its effect on your personal or family budget (if you have one, which you most definitely should).

Invisible spending amounts to all the little expenditures we make in life that we are not fully conscious of, or that we could otherwise avoid by taking a few simple steps.

It’s a question of awakening to our habits and following the money.

Here, then, are ten ways to make the invisible visible. Give them all a close look, because by doing so, you could stand to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the fiscal year ending next August.

• Just say no to full-price goods.

Store sales, sales clubs, points programs and coupons are available for the asking daily, weekly, seasonally. Got access to a computer? Use your fingers to search the Net and give invisible spending a good, hard pinch in the butt.

• Eating out too often? Try a fiscal diet.

Sure, once in a while it’s okay to enjoy a posh feast. But in a town like Toronto, for example, with so many good, cheap restaurants, you can fill your belly without emptying your wallet. Also, join the slow food movement. Cook at home. Make it fun and imaginative.

• How much is that gourmet coffee in the window? Don’t ask.

So you flip out over four bucks for a gallon of gas while in the process of drinking a five dollar cup o’ Joe from a gourmet coffee joint. Please stop it. Or look at it this way: what’s five bucks a day - five days a week - for a year amount to? That’s right – a visibly upsetting number.

• Don’t snooze around the cost of booze.

I don’t think I have to say too much about how quickly money disappears down the drain during a night of partying at the bar.

• Water, water everywhere. And it costs money, money, too.

Speaking of expensive liquids, how about bottled water? Granted, tap water may not be for you – or your kids. But if you go the purified water route, buy in bulk, and take the cheap stuff with you in your travels. Or get yourself a good tap filter. Otherwise, you’ll just be fiscally wet behind the ears.

• Another expensive liquid – gas.

In matters of transportation, don’t just think convenience, think size, think energy, think health, and think about slowing down when you can afford to.

Start with an energy efficient car. Use public transit when it’s not a pain. Wheel around on bikes (make it a family affair). Also, remember the old Patsy Cline song: ‘I Go Out Walkin’.

• Is that a flaming $10 bill you’re using to light your smoke?

Say you smoke a $10 pack of cigarettes a day. Times that by 365 days. Do you think that maybe $3,650 a year is a little unreasonable for the privilege of coating your lungs with tar?

• Put a freeze on unnecessary fees.

Invisible spending thrives on laziness and negligence, particularly in relation to banking and financial services. Interest fees, overdraft fees, late fees, and finance charges can snowball if you’re not smart about your business.

• Membership has its downside.

I can think of no greater waste of money than unused memberships and services. Keep on eye on your membership fees whether they pertain to cell phones, cable TV services, Internet services, health clubs or anything else. Go for no-term or short-term contracts if possible, and watch for automatic billings.

• Little convenience purchases can add up to big bucks.

If you don’t give much thought to small, everyday purchases you make on the run – things like candy, pop, magazines etc. – then I have a challenge for you. Track spending on these purchases for just one month and get back to me.
There you go. The financial magic of making invisible spending visible.

Watch for the signs.

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