UNDERSTAND HOW YOU SPEND
Let us start by understanding the FOUR most influential drivers and influencers of your day-to-day spending patterns:
Driver 1: Parents
Regardless of how hard you fight this, you are a product of your parents. Parental influence is overwhelming. At times you are a carbon copy of your patents, and other times you are polar opposites as you make a conscious effort to rebel against them. When it comes to money, the most likely outcome is that you are a carbon copy.
To understand the impact of parenting, it is worthwhile looking into generational trends. To refresh your memory, we are currently four dominant economically active generations currently in play:
Baby boomers, also known as the Me Generation, are the people born following World War II from 1946 to 1964. The boomers were a product of the post-war spike in libido and were strongly influenced by the counterculture and revolution in the social norms of the 1960s - Beatlemania, Twiggy, JFK assassination, Woodstock, Cassius Clay, the Cuban missile crisis, a man on the moon, Vietnam and Jim Morrison. Time named the Baby Boom Generation as its 1966 "Man of the Year".
Generation X (or Gen X for short) is the cohort following the baby boomers (for full disclosure, I am part of this generation). The generation is generally defined as people born between 1965 to 1980. They are neatly sandwiched between the baby boomers and the millennials. Time referred to the Xs as the "unsung generation, hardly recognized as a social force or even noticed much at all".
Millennials, also known as Generation Y (or Gen Y for short), are the generation following Generation X who grew up around the turn of the 3rd millennium. The generation is widely accepted as having been born between 1981 and 1996.
Generation Z (or Gen Z for short) are the people succeeding the Millennials. Researchers and popular media typically use the mid-to-late 1990s as starting birth years and the early 2010s as ending birth years.
The majority of millennials are kids of the boomers and the majority of Zs are products of the Xs. To better understand the spending patterns of generation Z, do not look at their older millennial siblings. You need to look at their parents. To understand the spending patterns of the millennials, you need to look to their baby boomer parents.
Boomers and Millenials are SPENDERS
The wildness of the millennials is explained in part by their hippie upbringing from their baby boomer parents. The boomers wanted it to be easier for their kids and they succeeded. They spoiled the little buggers and created a strong sense of entitlement in them and this has lead to a generation of compulsive spending. A 2015 PWC survey showed that only 24 percent of millennials have basic financial knowledge and only 27 percent seek financial advice on saving and investing.
Gen X and Z are SAVERS
Gen Xs are products of the stress and turmoil of the seventies and the eighties. Nixon was leopard-crawling down government passages with a flashlight between his dentures, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, assassination of Indira Gandhi, Chernobyl, the Challenger explosion, the launch of Fox Television, and the Exxon Valdez oil tanker belching 240,000 barrels of oil into the ocean. Socially, the 1970s saw a spike in divorce rates. The confluence of all these factors created a cynical, pessimistic, and hardnosed generation. This has had a profound impact on their kids.
The Zs, like their parents, are more financially literate at a much younger age than previous generations. This is thanks largely to the financial anxiety that the Xs have passed down. The Zs are also more likely than millennials to save a good chunk of their change. They are more likely to use budgeting apps like Mint and Acorns. They also stay out of debt. They would rather rent assets than buy them.
This same financial discipline and austerity are manifested in their social activities. The Zs are not a wild bunch. You will not find them passed out on the couch at Keith Richard's annual vodka and anthrax party.
Bryan Gildenberg, the chief knowledge officer at Kantar Consulting, says that Generation Z is a "very old group of young people." They drink less, take fewer drugs (except for pot, which they don't view as harmful) and have less sex. Again, there are parallels here with their Generation X parents, many of whom saw sex and drugs as dangerous due to the AIDS epidemic and Mrs. Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign.
Frugality is the religion of Gen X. They love to hear words like "value for money", "responsibility" and "sustainability". They are also more likely to buy second-hand clothing.
Driver 2: Culture and Society
Americans are spenders while the Chinese are savers. Culture and society go a long way to explain why spending patterns of these two nations are diametrically opposed.
The Chinese typically save up to 40 percent of their income. The Chinese are precautionary savers - they are worried about costs of health care, education, and old-age pensions and are unsure about how much these costs might change over time. They respond by saving more.
In the US, on the other hand, which boasts more developed education, healthcare, and retirement systems, this same anxiety does not exist. This, coupled with decades of economic prosperity that goes back to the 1950s, has created an intensely consumerist society that does not think twice about driving an hour out of town for a $25 pizza!
Driver 3: Religion and spiritual beliefs
Religion can have a strong impact on spending habits, such as tithing, giving alms, donating to charity, and participating in traditional celebrations that require significant expenses.
Take for example the phenomenon of the Quinceañera - the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, marking her passage from girlhood to womanhood. The quinceañera is both a religious and social event that emphasizes the importance of family and society in the life of a young woman. It is celebrated in Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean, as well as in Latino communities in the United States and elsewhere. Humble families do not think twice about heavily indebting themselves to pay for this celebration.
Driver 4: Social Media
Social media has done a sterling job in equating happiness with physical possessions and lavish experiences. Sumptuous mansions, Italian sportscars, first-class airline tickets, expensive gadgets, and shining jewelry creates the impression that happiness can only be achieved through spending. It has never been more challenging to keep up with the Joneses. The social pressure to move away from saving and into the camp of spending is immense but as with all trends, there are counter-trends. This counter-trend comes in the form of minimalism as more people realize that spending does little to enhance human happiness.
Why is it hard to break spending habits?
Over time, it becomes more and more difficult to change a habit because that habit has become more natural to who we are and how we act. And research shows that we automatically favor what is familiar to us—even if we know it's not to our benefit. The challenge is creating a new normal, which involves behavior change. Think about dieting: if you've spent years and years eating the same way, it's obviously very tough to change that pattern. That's true even if you want to change, know you should, and understand what the new pattern would look like.
You need to understand your spending patterns. Given that the majority of modern-day spending is done electronically, you have records in the form of bank, credit card, and online payment statements. If you pay cash for something, keep a slip or receipt. This sounds like a monumental pain in the arse but you need to see this as an investment in your future financial freedom.
Once you have your data, organize the numbers by categories, such as gas, groceries, and mortgage, and total each amount. Use your credit card and bank statements to make sure you're accurate.
I would recommend the following categories (in alphabetical order):
1) COMMUNICATION – cellphone, internet, fixed-line telephone
3) ENTERTAINMENT – alcohol, betting/lottery, digital subscriptions, going out, movies, other entertainment, software/games, tobacco
5) FOOD – groceries, other food, restaurants, takeaways
6) HOUSEHOLD – electricity, furniture & appliances, garden, gas, home improvements, housekeeping, levies & taxes, municipal bill, other household, rent, security, water
7) INSURANCE – funeral cover, home insurance, life insurance, other insurance, vehicle insurance
8) LOANS & ACCOUNTS – credit card payments, home loan payments, loan payments, car payments
9) MEDICAL – doctors & therapists, medical aid, pharmacy, other medical
10) PERSONAL & FAMILY – activities, children & dependents, clothing & shoes, donations, gadgets, gifts, holiday, personal care, pets, sports, hobbies, tax
11) SAVINGS & INVESTMENTS
12) TRANSPORT – fuel, license, parking, public transport, tolls, vehicle maintenance, vehicle tracking
Tip: Look for free spending tracker to help you get started. Choosing a digital program or app can help automate some of this work.