August 6, 2009
Is spending less the new normal?
Unemployment numbers improved ever so slightly this month. And a new report from the Society for Human Resource Management anticipates hiring in the manufacturing and service sectors to outpace layoffs, too. Still, we're nowhere near out of the economic woods yet.
Given how far we've fallen in the past year, it doesn't surprise that the recession has permanently changed the relationship some Americans have with their hard-earned cash.
In July, a new Gallup Poll found that 32 percent of Americans plan to continue spending less money for years to come, recession or no. Gallup conducted the same poll in April and got similar results. I find this heartening. Perhaps we will learn to live within our means after all.
Equally encouraging, one in four Americans told Gallup they've recently begun socking away more savings and consider this their "new normal." Obviously this is easier said than done when you have more disposable income, as Gallup's aggregated April and July poll results show: 19 percent of people earning less than $20,000 a year said they're squirreling away more cash this year and plan to keep up this level of saving for years to come, while 34 percent of those making $75,000 or more said as much.
I realize that joining the ranks of frugal spenders and super savers sounds daunting for some. (While I've more or less got the frugality thing down, I could use a little help in the saving department myself.) So I asked Manisha Thakor, co-author of the personal finance books "On My Own Two Feet" and "Get Financially Naked" for guidance on how to curb those blasted impulses to cheat on that new monthly budget you've been living on since last fall. She suggested translating every purchase (okay, splurge) you're considering into the number of hours it took you to earn that money, a concept first popularized in the classic 1970s book on voluntary simplicity, "Your Money or Your Life."
If you don't know how much take-home pay you make an hour, you can easily figure it out by dividing your full-time salary by 2,000 and then factoring in your taxes. "On average, taxes chew up about a quarter of your take-home," Thakor said via e-mail, "more if you have an above-average income or live in a part of the country with above-average state or local tax rates. So multiply the figure by .75 or the percentage you get to keep."
Let's say you make $40,000 a year and pay 25 percent in taxes and as a result, take home $15 an hour. "If you have a bill that costs $150 a month -- say it's your cell phone bill or a fancy new outfit -- $150 divided by $15/hour equals 10 hours of work," Thakor said. "You can now ask yourself if this item is really worth it."
All this is assuming you're paying cash. If you're paying credit, you can double the value of the treat you're buying yourself because that's how much you're going to wind up paying for it, once you factor in the months of credit card interest.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a new dress I need to go return.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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