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Take the stairs to reduce spending

Featured Image
A set of stairs going up in an arena.

All or nothing thinking can get in the way of our best intentions.

When it comes to holding the line on spending, going all the way can sabotage success.

When I’m planning to spend money, I find that breaking the decision into parts can help me reduce the total amount I’m going to spend. Sometimes it helps to imagine that a spending decision is like steps on a staircase.

Let’s say you and a friend want to see a movie. You want to have dinner beforehand. You each want a popcorn and soda while in the theater. Total cost: $75. But if you break it into parts, you can shave a little bit off each part of the plan.

Take the movie: Do you have to see a movie during primetime on the opening weekend? Could you go to a matinee and reduce the ticket price? See a second-run movie at the Byrd instead of the blockbuster that just opened? Stay home and watch a movie from Redbox or on cable for next to nothing?

You see, it’s really not a choice between all or nothing. It never is. Instead, each of those options can represent one step down from the top of the staircase. I’m not sure who came up with it, but it’s called the stair-step method, and it can help anyone reduce the cost of just about anything.

Get the concept? You can also do it with the meal. A fancy dinner would be the top of the staircase. A casual restaurant would cost you less. Fast food or having a fun dinner at home would be another step lower on the staircase.

With just about anything, you can find a “step” on that staircase that enables you to have fun and still fit it in your budget.

As anyone who has ever tried to diet can tell you, the problem with all or nothing approaches is that they are too restrictive. We eventually give up and blow it. Learning to visualize the “staircase” in every financial decision can help you spend less and stay motivated.