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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fixed vs. Variable Expenses and the Wisdom of Gail Vaz-Oxlade

If you are a fan of Gail Vaz-Oxlade and her shows, Money Moron, She’s a Princess, and ‘Till Debt Do Us Part, three TV shows about people who spend foolishly, you already know about the difference between fixed and variable expenses.  A fixed expense is one that does not change from month to month, and therefore over which you do not have much control.  Tuition fees, rent, utilities are pretty much fixed expenses.  However, most of the rest is variable expenses: food; clothing; transportation; entertainment, etc.  Not that these do not exist, but they can be trimmed; usually, there is lots of wiggle room between what we spend in each of these categories and what we need to spend.
Assuming you cannot change the budget of your fixed expenses, you need to look at your variable expenses to bring them down.  First step: write down everything you spend for a week.  Whenever you get home, pull out your receipts and write down what you spent since the last time you were home (home refers to wherever you are staying while at university).  An easy way to do so is to have a pad of paper at the corner of your desk or dresser where you’d typically ‘unload’ your purchases and wallet.  You’ll probably trim your expenses that first week as the week develops and you see on paper how much you are spending and on what – this is the affect I get anyway!
After a week of spending, put items into categories: food; clothes and gifts; entertainment (bars, movies, etc.).  Look at your spending and see if there is an area that is outrageous: do you spend money on restaurants many times a week? Do you use shopping as a hobby instead of when you need something? Is your entertainment spending larger than your share of the rent? If any part of your spending seems unless you have a category which is extremely low on spending (like $5 on gifts), trim it by 20 % and use that as a budget for the following week.  Twenty percent is normally do-able unless you are already very frugal.  Twenty percent is only reducing your food spending from $50 to $40.  For most people, it means reducing some restaurant expenses or fancy coffees.
Many people in Ms. Vaz-Oxlade’s show find that it is not difficult to live on less when they try.  Yes, they miss the shopping and the going out at first, but these are quickly replaced by much cheaper or free activities: you like clothes? Try designing your own on paper, or learn to sew; you like a night of drinking and music? Try it at home and make it BYOB.  Stop eating out; only buy what you can use and need.
And if you have not seen the show (available on Slice cable TV and ), you may want to watch a couple of episodes.  A few things that Ms. Vaz-Oxlade says in most of her shows:
- There are fixed and variable expenses: you can reduce the variable ones
- If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it
- You should not have consumer debt: the only debt to have is a mortgage (and maybe student loans)
- Shopping is not a hobby
- Make a budget that balances
- If you can’t handle credit and debit cards, learn to live on cash.
Sure, it may be easy to laugh at the mistakes people on her show make, but often we find that we make at least some of the same mistakes.  It’s worth a look at!

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