For more pages of personal help

When I joined in this discussion three decades ago, the idea of viewing personal finance from a psychological or theological perspective seemed pretty eccentric.

Not so today. Good voices have found ready audiences. Still, the message needs to be even more widespread.

One of the classics that has survived is Louise Hay’s Love Yourself, Heal Your Life Workbook. It leads the reader through checklists, exercises, affirmations, and power points for many different aspects of our lives, such as money and prosperity, health, work, fears, and intimacy.

If you haven’t already, check it out.

What other authors, columnists, bloggers, newsletters, or books have you found helpful?

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Add your dreams to your spending plan

As you look closely at your spending, you can bring the heads and tails sides of your money back into harmony. When the heads side runs rampant, with uncontrolled spending, you’ll soon get kicked by the tails side when the bills come due. What happens, in effect, is that you have a tiger by the tail — if you’ll pardon the string of cliches and mixed metaphors. It ain’t pretty, all the same. In fact, it can hurt.

The point of getting your spending under control is simply to allow you to redirect your efforts to ends you dream of achieving.

When I took up this Talking Money project, I was still reeling from a divorce and subsequent broken engagement. I wasn’t yet ready to reenter management, and I’d had a taste of freedom in the sabbatical I gave myself … before the money ran out.

Remember, my big goal was to have time to more fully devote to the practice of writing — poetry and fiction, especially.

It wasn’t the only one, as I’m reminded by the exercise, “List your top five ongoing life projects.” That still sounds pretty ominous, by the way, and I’m not sure the top projects are lifelong. But we have to start thinking somewhere.

I found myself looking at my categories of spending.

I was single, but dating was a big item — what I really wanted was an appropriate marriage and family.

I was renting, but I really wanted to be living in a suitable community. Translate that into homeownership.

Quaker activities occupy much of my time, but I’d really like to contribute more financially, too — as I would to a broader range of charitable, artistic, and religious causes.

As my fifth, I’d have to say culture — books, music, art, theater, film, even dance. Well, yes, dancing, too, now that I’m decent in New England contras and Greek lines.

Looking back on them — and the way they’ve morphed in my life — I’m dazed by the financial scope each one entails. Marriage and family, for instance, led to an old house needing tons of repairs and, as one of my wife’s dreams, a big garden needing labor. That in itself would seem plenty.

Now it’s your turn.

List your top five ongoing life projects and rank them by importance. How closely do they fit your dreams? 

Be honest. Don’t go by what others would say.

Now list them by what you’re spending on each.

Do the levels match? Do they differ? Why or why not?

As you review your overall spending, do you see ways your expenditures advance or divert your goals? Are there ways to adjust spending patterns to further them?

When you shop: Paper or plastic?

Are George and Abe and Tom and Alex and Andy and Ulysses and Ben facing obsolescence? For the record, I don’t think so, but they’re just not as common, either.

There don’t seem to be a lot of cash transactions at the cash register these days, are there?

Just watch the kids, especially, and it seems they’re buying the most trivial items with a credit card. A cup of coffee? Chewing gum? A burger, with or without cheese?

The merchants have to pay an extra fee for the service, and it ultimately raises the price of everything.

My more immediate concern has to do with awareness. I mean, I know when my pocket’s out of coins or my wallet’s out of dollar bills. But a credit card feels like free money … until the monthly statement arrives.

As for shopping online? It’s all plastic, right?

Do you purchase most items with cash? By check? Or with a credit card?

How many cards do you have? Why that number?

Do you carry a credit card only for emergencies?

Which method gives you the biggest sense of awareness of where your money’s going? Which gives you the biggest feeling of control? Or do you open your monthly statement with no idea of how much to expect? (Surprise!)

Do you pay off the full amount each month?

Do you ever put something “on plastic” to overcome a dry spell in your cash flow? Was this on a zero-interest introductory account?

As for those excuses?

As you review your spending, you’ll also come upon underlying reasons you opt for the more expensive option. It’s not always quality versus quantity, either, or straight dollars and cents.

You know, butter versus margarine. Or driving versus taking the bus.

Lack of time may keep you from packing a lunch, for instance, or the snacks may be prompted by a need to get away from your desk or computer for a breather.

When you come upon these, you can then look for a corrective action.

What might you buy at the grocery as part of your regular shopping, for instance, that you might nuke in the company lunchroom? It’s still more than leftovers but also cheaper than tipping a delivery person and the tax. Or where else might you wander for that breather?

Identify a rationale for something you’re spending on that has a cheaper alternative.

Care to tell us?

Look more closely at those numbers

As you develop your spending plan, give every cent you spend the third degree. Just because everyone else seems to be buying something or going somewhere is no excuse. If everybody else jumped off a roof — well, you could probably have your choice of nice, affordable high-rise apartments and high-paying jobs with corner offices, but only if you didn’t follow the crowd. Ahem!

What about cable television and broadband access? Telephone, both landline and cellular?

If you use air conditioning, can you find ways to use it less often? Can you wait longer in the autumn to turn on the thermostat — and ways to turn it off earlier in the springtime? Or the reverse, for the air conditioning?

What about your auto insurance? Is it time to switch agents or raise your deductible?

Question every expenditure. Is it necessary? Is it worth the extra cost? What can you eliminate?

What would you add to this list? What tips would you share?

How about lunch?

The lunchtime routine can easily add up. Even at $50 a week, that comes out to $2,500 a year. The vending machine snacks add up quickly, too. At $5 a day, that comes to another $1,250 a year without even thinking.

Now look at the alternatives. Good leftovers basically cost nothing! Over a five-year period, however, this can even add up to the price of a new car. Economy model, of course, but you’d be paying cash — and look at all the bank interest you’d be saving.

Economy model? Still, it’s one less debt you’d be facing.

By the way, when I was single, I was usually “ordering out” with the gang at lunch. Once I remarried, my wife started having me carry leftovers instead. I was amazed how much we saved, but better yet, my food was truly delicious. My coworkers were unabashedly envious.

How many times a week do you eat out? Why? Why not? How much are you spending?

Do you buy your lunch at work? How much is this costing? Could you pack a lunch at home beforehand? How much would you save? Why don’t you?

How much are you spending on coffee, sodas, candy, and other snacks? Could you carry a Thermos instead or buy in bulk at the grocery? How much would you save? Do the national name brands taste that much better than the knockoffs?