Life At The Zoo: Your Ticket To Stress-Free Spending

Life At The Zoo: Your Ticket To Stress-Free Spending

A red panda bear sprawled out on a tree limb, illustrating the power paying yourself first has to deliver stress-free spending.
Photo by borkertd, CC0 1.0 license

Paying bills isn’t the most fulfilling feeling in the world. And buying necessities like grocery staples doesn’t exactly provide any ultimate feeling of satisfaction or reward.

But when you decide to treat yourself by indulging your taste buds, buying that item in support of your favorite hobby, or splurging on your favorite vice, you expect to obtain a feeling of fulfillment, satisfaction, or reward.

However, the typical joy of discretionary spending can be quickly sapped by the stress of financial uncertainty, fear, guilt, shame, regret, or worry. With this in mind, today we’re taking a look at how you can ensure your spending is as stress-free as a well-fed animal in the zoo.

The Stress Of Financial Uncertainty

You get hit up by a friend: “Hey, we’re all going to such-and-such restaurant/coffee shop/store. You coming?”

Your people-pleasing tendency causes you to quickly agree. But your ability to enjoy yourself during the outing is overshadowed by a gnawing feeling that you can’t truly afford it.

You smile and laugh along with your friends, but you’re silently worrying about whether you’ll have enough money left to pay that bill next week. Or whether this indulgence is going to prevent you from ever being able to pay off that credit card and get out of debt.

The fear of not knowing whether you’ve overspent and will be unable to pay your bills can set in before the waitress even brings the check.

Feelings of guilt, shame, or regret over hamstringing your ability to meet your savings goals can arrive even before you unload that shopping cart into your car.

Worry and dread over the likely argument with your significant other once they become aware of your spending can weigh on you for days and strain your relationship.

Uncertainty. Fear. Guilt. Shame. Regret. Worry. Dread.

These are the polar opposites of financial freedom. And it’s no way to live.

Trade Your Spending Stress For Some R&R

So how can you avoid running the gauntlet of these negative feelings and restore the joy of discretionary spending?

The answer lies in giving yourself permission to spend, worry-free. Doing so will provide you with the financial equivalent of some much-needed rest and relaxation.

Sounds super-cala-fraja-listic-explee-ala-docious! But how exactly can you trade your spending stress for this worry-free nirvana?

If you’ve been following the Master Your Money series from the beginning, you’ve likely already inadvertently mastered this art form. Surprised? Read on, young grasshopper, read on.

Knowledge Is Power

The first step to eliminating your spending stress is to fully understand your financial situation. Simply crossing your fingers and hoping the checking account stays in the black all month isn’t going to cut it.

You need to understand how much money you have and where it is going. This knowledge alone will help eliminate the uncertainty and fear associated with not fully understanding your financial situation.

You also need to ensure you have a fool-proof system for paying all of your bills. Implementing a bill pay safety net and de-stressing with online bill pay will allow you to take your first deep breath of financial relief.

Cover Your Budgeting Bases

The next step towards stress-free spending is identifying how much money you need for monthly essentials like bills and groceries. Establishing baseline budgets for your income, bills, and non-discretionary spending gives you an idea of how much money you’ll have left to spend at the end of each month.

Budget-busters are next up on the stress chopping block. Large, irregular expenses like home/auto/life insurance bills or property taxes can sneak up on you and blow up your monthly budget unexpectedly. Avoiding the unexpected bill scramble drill brings you one step closer to the R&R of financial freedom.

Pay Yourself First With Savings Goals

After you’ve determined your disposable income, it’s time to do your future self a favor by reviewing the power of delayed gratification.

Next, use your disposable income to beat Murphy’s Law and defeat financial emergencies. After doing so, you should feel your money stress flowing away like water off a duck’s back.

Draw up your financial freedom shopping list to transform your vision of financial freedom into tangible goals. Evaluate the wealth potential of your personal debt mother lode and determine if you can strike it rich by mining your debt. Finally, prioritize your savings goals and use them to build a ladder which will enable you to reach the finer things in life.

The concept of paying yourself first is the key to stress-free spending. After fully funding your savings goals, whatever amount of disposable income is left over in your budget each month is yours to spend, no strings attached. No more worries about whether you can afford such spending, or whether it’s inhibiting your ideal future lifestyle.

Give Yourself Permission To Spend

This is the largest and most critical piece to the stress reduction puzzle. Where the rubber meets the road when it comes to giving yourself the gift of stress-free spending.

Using your past discretionary spending as a guideline, carve out room for discretionary spending categories in your budget. This may require that you re-allocate some disposable income from your savings goals to discretionary spending instead.

Finding balance on the save vs. spend tightrope is a game with high stakes. Save too aggressively, and your budget may well feel too restrictive. But allocate too much to spending, and you put your future financial freedom at risk.

Don’t forget to budget monthly for large annual forms of spending like Christmas gift-giving or vacations. Doing so will make all the difference to reducing your stress level come holiday season or the dog days of summer.

And if you’re in a serious relationship, you can eliminate the potential for discord, arguments, and spats over mundane spending decisions by implementing the solution we used to reconcile our wildly different spending habits.

Last but not least, you’ll feel the last vestiges of spending stress slip away after implementing this tactic from the high seas to combat impulsive and compulsive spending habits.

Spend What’s Left – Free & Clear

Following the roadmap outlined above will provide you with clearly-defined monthly amounts you can use for stress-free spending on eating out, mad money, entertainment, shopping, or hobbies and interests. Think about what this means for a minute:

  • No more uncertainty or paralysis regarding whether or not you can afford a given purchase. The answer is a quick check of your online budget status.

  • No more fear over whether a spontaneous night out on the town will prevent you from paying your bills or reaching your savings goals. You’ve budgeted for and have fully funded your bills, necessities, and savings goals already. What’s left over is yours to spend as you wish, free and clear.

  • An end to the dread of telling your significant other about a purchase which you know they won’t agree with. You now have spending autonomy, within clearly defined limits.

  • No more guilt or shame due to  overspending your budget and putting your financial freedom at risk. You have implemented a highly effective tactic to fight back against impulsive spending.

Life At The Zoo

If you’ve been following the Master Your Money series from the very beginning, you’ve likely already accomplished all of the above. You can therefore rest confident in the fact that you have a financial plan which has you on track for your desired future lifestyle. Your spending should no longer be a cause for concern, worry, or stress.

If you are a new reader, I encourage you to review each article in this series and implement any concepts which apply to your particular situation. Doing so is your ticket to stress-free spending.

Animals at a zoo never have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Locating a viable water source and escaping predators are also on the list of their non-existent concerns. Compared to their wild counterparts, the lives of zoo residents are relatively care and worry-free.

Follow the blueprint outlined above, and your spending will become as stress-free as a well-fed and cared-for animal at the zoo.

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My friends are quite accustomed to my joining them at restaurants but not eating. I always leave a few dollars as a tip. Isn’t the social aspect really the whole point of getting together? No one but you gets to decide how to spend your money.