By Gráinne McGuinness
Hands up who will take enthusiastic part in Pancake Tuesday today but be less inclined to eat fish tomorrow?
Lots of us stick with some traditions of Catholic Ireland but not others, and ‘giving up something for Lent’ appears to be a resilient habit.
Many who won’t go to church tomorrow will still contemplate going without sugar, crisps or some other treat between now and Easter.
Maybe it is because going without seems more manageable now than when making resolutions in the post-Christmas blues, so we use Lent as a natural starting point.
If you want to make a Lenten sacrifice that could have long-term benefits for your finances, you should consider managing without your credit and debit cards for the duration, and paying in cash only.
I was reminded of this tip when shopping expert Ken Hughes suggested it as a way to stick to a grocery budget but there is good reason to try broadening out to all aspects of spending for a while.
Even if it is unrealistic to manage without your credit card for that long, it is worth trying to shift to paying cash for as many day-to-day items as possible and using the credit card for only larger, pre-planned expenses with no impulse buys.
Research conducted in the United States found that people spend 12-18% more when using credit cards instead of cash.
Because the ‘pain’ of paying for the item is deferred until the card statement comes in, consumers tend to be less concerned with whether something offers good value.
Handing over actual notes and coins prompts people to give more consideration to their purchase.
If you want to give it a try you need to work out how much you should be spending on, for example, a weekly basis and then just withdrawing that amount.
Once the cash is in your wallet, the card should be left behind at home for the week.
Watching the money dwindle as the days pass will help focus the mind on how necessary each purchase is before you make it.
Whether it’s the nice coffee on the way to work or the special offer tossed in the basket while grocery shopping, every spend reduces what you have left for the rest of the week.
If simply having one amount for all spending seems too vague, you could consider a system of envelopes for the week/month, into which you divide your budget.
So X amount for groceries, clothing, travel costs, etc. You can have an envelope for discretionary/fun spending and use that for treats and extras.
Again, because the amount in the envelope reduces with your spending, it will force you to address the cost of treats and decide which ones are genuinely worth it.
That bet on the racing on a Saturday isn’t much but if you do it each week you may have to go without in a different area by the end of the month.
If you were paying by card you would probably go ahead and get whatever it was you wanted, cash concentrates the mind on what has already been spent and needs to be spent in the future.
One tip while on your cash-only drive is to keep all your receipts.
Many of us are inclined to wave away receipts for day-to-day spending on our cards, knowing we will have an electronic record.
We may do but honestly, how often do we really analyse it?
Keep your receipts for several weeks and then sit down and split them into different areas of spending.
You may spot a problem or overspend in an area that went unnoticed while swiping and tapping your card.
Even if there is no dramatic overspend, you might simply see what a particular habit is costing and decide you and your family would get more out of spending it elsewhere.
It is unrealistic for most of us to fully dispense with cards in our lives.
And if giving this method a try, bear in mind the risk of theft and don’t keep too much cash on you or at home.
But leaving the cards at home has many potential benefits as a temporary reset, giving a real insight into household spending.
Once you have a clearer picture, you can then try to make improvements.
If you feel guilty about using a religious observance for financial self-improvement you could donate a portion of any money saved to charity.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
If you haven’t got yourself sorted for Valentine’s Day and intend impressing your loved one with a home cooked meal, Lidl have just the deal for you at the moment.
The German retailer’s Valentine’s Meal Deal offers a main course and side dish, a dessert, a bottle of prosseco and a box of chocolates — all for €15.
Main course options include striploin steaks, corn-fed whole chicken and duck breast fillets marinated in garlic and pepper and among the side options are roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese and mini stuffed mushrooms.
You can round it off with fresh banoffee pie or Irish cream liqueur cheesecake before settling down with the chocolates and fizz.
The offer is running until tomorrow but has been in the shops since February 10 so don’t delay if you want your romantic meal sorted for a bargain price.
If there are any consumer issues that you’d like Gráinne to address or if you have problems that Gráinne could help with, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.