4 signs you’re financially cheating on yourself
By Gina Freeman
Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter
Dec 07, 2023
Read time: 2 min
Your commitment to a financial plan began with tons of good intentions and loads of positive energy. Live within your means? Sure! Pay down debt? Absolutely! Increase your savings? 100%!
And then life got in the way, as it often does, possibly weakening your resolve and your ability to stay focused.
That’s okay. Pretty normal, in fact. Take a minute to do a quick self-check for these four signs that you’re straying from your commitment—to yourself!
As the new year approaches, this is a perfect time to reset and resume your financial journey.
What is financial infidelity?
Financial infidelity is being dishonest or secretive about the money moves you make. That might mean spending more than you know you should, borrowing unnecessarily, or shortchanging your retirement. When you put your head in the sand and ignore your budget, you’re cheating on yourself.
Do any of these signs look familiar?
1. You haven’t checked back since creating your budget
There are four steps to budgeting: understanding your old spending habits, creating a budget, evaluating your actual spending vs. budget, and making adjustments. Budgeting without circling back is like going on a diet and never weighing yourself again.
Budgeting is an ongoing process that requires frequent feedback, especially in the beginning. Recommit to your budget by knowing what you can spend before taking out your wallet or hitting “Submit Order” on any purchase. Check your spending on a weekly or monthly basis so you know where you were under budget, where you were over budget, and where you can adjust your spending to be successful.
2. You’re blurring the lines between needs and wants
We all have needs and wants to budget for. If your budget includes target spending amounts for needs and wants, you have to be brutally honest about what goes into these categories. Needs are the basic requirements for life—food, shelter, utilities, healthcare, and transportation.
For example, a serviceable apartment in a safe neighborhood, healthy groceries, utilities, medical insurance, and a modest vehicle or bus pass.
If you’re counting restaurant meals, a new iPhone, a fancy health club, or luxury clothing as “needs,” you’re fudging.
There's nothing wrong with spending on wants, as long as you’re covering needs and savings (or debt reduction) first, and as long as your spending doesn’t exceed your income. If you find your budget too painful to maintain long-term, you can adjust it.
3. You paid down your debts, but you’re carrying balances AGAIN
Credit card companies love to help consumers fool themselves. That’s why they require tiny minimum payments on huge balances. If you just count minimum payments in your budget, you can fool yourself into believing that you’re on track. But in fact, you may be spending more than you can afford. It doesn’t take long for credit card debt to eat into your finances and rob your future.
Paying down credit card debt is a need, not a want. Make clearing those expensive balances a priority. If you get temporarily derailed by an emergency repair or other need, that’s okay. But don’t let excess spending creep into your life and convince you that you’re still honoring your budget. Use the free Achieve GOOD app to help you make progress against your debts.
4. Your favorite word is YOLO
Do you tell yourself that it’s okay to spend money on the things you want because you (a) only live once, or (b) you deserve it, or (c) you’ll save more in the future (the future is far off)?
Take a moment to reflect on what you really want. What if you were given the choice between a new phone or a comfortable retirement? Choosing to have many years of financial security would be a no-brainer. You do get to choose a job for every dollar you have. You can choose to spend it right now, or you can choose to let it help you build the life you want.
You’ll have more success with your financial budget if you build in some spending for pleasure. A reasonable amount. Decide what will give you the most joy for your buck and say no to the rest.
Keep your eye on the prize, and visualize financial comfort.
Your budget is your buddy. Don’t cheat on it.
Your financial budget is your key to long-term financial health. To a secure future and a more comfortable lifestyle. Recommit to your goals, to your family, and to yourself, because every day that you honor your commitment strengthens your relationship with money and makes you that much stronger.
Gina Freeman has been covering personal finance topics for over 20 years. She loves helping consumers understand tough topics and make confident decisions. Her professional history includes mortgage lending, credit scoring, taxes, and bankruptcy. Gina has a BS in financial management from the University of Nevada.
Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.