Should you have any of my character flaws, as my children might say, you can't wait for the Holidays. Not only does it mean that we are well into the football season, but the air is crisp, the anticipation is rising and the stores are baiting their traps. That's the Holiday season for sure. I know what is ahead and it doesn't matter - I am a kid in the candy store again. As a conservative financial being, it should go completely against my grain, but my love of family and friends, food and beverage, parties and outings and those wonderful giggles and screams at the opening of the packages are just too hard to resist. As I am writing this, my inner excitement is growing. Let's just get past Labor Day and we are there. Well, almost.
What my beloved Holiday season does to the finances of most Americans is a tragedy.
We budget, we plan, we pray for self control and pragmatism, and each and every year we lose the battle, albeit some years it is more of a skirmish than a battle. Who among us has not reached for that extra gift because you know it's right? Wrong!
Each year I cajole my clients to do it with cash and truly have a "new" year. Each year they say they will, and each year they basically, for the most part, won't.
It's bad because of the ever-expanding Holiday season. When was Halloween supposed to be an expensive occasion? Just grab some old clothes, some paint for your face and that's that. Have you priced Halloween Costumes lately?
This year we get to pay a heck of a lot for the gas to get to grandma's house and that won't be budgeted for either. By now you should be getting my point: Holiday season isn't inexpensive. In fact, it can be down right costly. We will discuss this further after the Labor Day break, but now I have bigger fish to fry. Weekends!
Have you ever figured out how much you spend on a weekend? A stern warning must be given if you haven't stopped to figure it out: It could be a heart stopper. Every now and then, usually every 3 to 5 years, I stop to figure out what I spend on a typical given weekend, and I am depressed for weeks. If my wife hands me a large stipend of cash (she is a CPA) and checks again on Tuesday we generally won't talk again until Thursday. Just kidding...it's more like Wednesday night.
Why am I even discussing this? Because if you could control your spending (I am in there too) over the weekends, you could easily go from your 4 year old 30-year fixed to a 15-year fixed and actually be able to afford it. On a $400,000 loan, it means saving about $65 a day for the two days of the weekend, and the additional 5 or 6 days a year when we enjoy a 3 day weekend. How easy is that? Let me give you some suggestions:
1. Come up several years on the wine.
2. Skip the skins game on the course unless you know you can beat them.
3. Take the senior citizen discount even though you know in your heart that in your case, it is a mistake.
4. Plan your mornings so that the usual 4 trips to the store can be cut to 1 or 2.
5. Even though the kids are grown and gone, spend some time at the park, beach, forest or lake. Minimum, it will bring back some great memories.
You get my point. Make the savings an adventure and before long it will become a habit. What will it do for you? Cut a decade or more from your mortgage payments, saving you around a quarter of a million dollars, and change your financial life forever. Fifteen years from now, when you won't have a mortgage payment, you can spend what you want on a weekend, if you can break your current habit.
I always try to give you a light hearted approach to a serious subject so you will realize that changing your financial being isn't that hard. In fact, it is a lot easier than you would have ever thought. Remember when you were growing up and you marked your height on the door frame? Well, repeat the exercise with your weekend savings and watch the pot grow!
Next time the Holiday spending gets the knife -- figuratively speaking that is. For now, lets get the weekends under control, and the 15-year fixed working for you. It will be the best move you will probably ever make financially.
Roger Schlesinger's Mortgage Minute is heard on hundreds of radio stations and daily on the Hugh Hewitt radio show and Michael Medved shows. Roger interacts with his hosts and explores the complicated financial markets in order to enlighten his listeners and direct them along their own unique road to financial freedom. Roger is the President and founder of Manhattan West Mortgage.