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ASK CARRIE Need to Redirect Your Spending? Let Your Goals be Your Guide PDF Print E-mail
Written by CARRIE SCHWABPOMERANTZ Creators Sydnicate   
Thursday, 20 January 2011 04:41

Dear Carrie: My husband and I have been together for five years and are now in our mid- 20s. We've never bothered to save before, so our debt is rising a little more each month. I think we've developed bad financial habits, but I don't know how to break them. How do we reverse five years of irresponsible spending behaviors? - A Reader

Dear Reader: Thank you for asking this question - and for asking it now while you're still young. You and your husband have lots of time ahead of you to not only change some bad spending habits, but to also start building a solid financial future. It won't necessarily be easy, but it sounds like you've taken the most important - and possibly the most difficult - step by acknowledging that there's a problem. Now of course, you both need to commit to solving it.


If you and your husband have never had a heart to heart about your individual spending habits, now's the time. Chances are you each have your weak spots. What's the biggest spending temptation for each of you? Clothes? Eating out? The latest high-tech gadgets? Do a little soul searching. Are the things you're spending money on really that important? Will you care about them five years from now?

Don't just talk about these things, though. Also, put them down on paper. Take a detailed look at one month's spending. How much goes for rent, food, transportation and other necessities? Once those things are covered, how much is left? Be honest about where the rest of the money goes. And take a hard look at whether credit cards are part of the problem. Then make two important agreements: 1) to stop using credit cards unless absolutely necessary, and 2) to avoid tempting situations like restaurants or department stores until you get your bills under control.


Credit card debt is one of the easiest things to build up - and one of the hardest to get out of. To get on the right track, pick a single card (or one each) to use for any future charges and put any others out of reach. That's No. 1. Now you need to make a pact to systematically pay down your debt.

If you have a balance on more than one credit card, direct as much as you can to the highest interest card each month, while continuing to pay the minimum on the lower interest cards. When the first one is paid off, tackle the next. It may be a slow process, but it works if you stick with it.


I can't overemphasize the importance of starting to save now. I completely understand how hard it can be to get going, but the best way I know is to give yourself some concrete goals - and keep them front and center. Say you want to save for a house. Then put a picture of your dream house on your refrigerator. Start a savings or investment account specifically for this goal. Then track your savings and congratulate yourselves on your progress. You can do the same for smaller goals like a new TV or a vacation.

And while a goal like retirement can seem too far off to be real, consider this: If you put just 10 percent of your annual income toward retirement starting now - and continue saving that amount each year during your working life - you'll be on your way to a pretty sound financial future. If either of you has a 401(k), start contributing to it (always take full advantage of your company match). If you don't have a 401(k), each of you should open an IRA, ideally a Roth, right away.


With your spending history and future goals clearly in mind, make a realistic budget that allows you to pay your bills, put money in savings, and still have some fun. You'll have to be flexible and won't be able to do it all at once, but you'll have a place to start.

Then make it easy on yourself by setting up automatic payments for whatever you can - rent, utilities, insurance, credit cards. Have a certain dollar amount automatically transferred to your savings account and IRAs each month. With those things taken care of, the money left in your checking account will be yours to spend. However much or little it is, you'll enjoy spending it that much more knowing that you can actually afford it. Good luck!

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (tm) is president of the Charles Schwab Foundation and author of "It Pays to Talk." You can e-mail Carrie at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . This column is no substitute for an individualized recommendation, tax or personalized investment advice.