Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Solution to Maintaining a Budget Is Awareness

Credit Carl Richards
Editors’ note: Here’s one of our favorite stories from the archives, now being featured in our Smarter Living collection.
I talk to many people who have problems with spending. Sometimes it’s friends. Sometimes it’s co-workers. Sometimes it’s neighbors. And yes, sometimes I talk to myself about my own struggles.
What I’ve discovered over the years is that most of our problems do not come down to income. Instead, we don’t notice enough. Spending mindlessly, without even thinking about it, has become a national bad habit. And we all know how hard it is to break habits. So we make the same mistakes over and over again.
Oops! I did it again! Another month, another blown budget.
We keep having this problem because we keep using the same tips and tricks while expecting a different result. We tear up our credit cards and use only cash. We may even wear a shock bracelet (there’s actually somebody who advocates that), which you can use to zap yourself when you buy something.
Crazy, right? Well, it’s time for a new approach.
Solutions that focus on negative reinforcement are like hacking at the branches when what we really need is to focus on the roots. What I’m proposing is really simple, and it’s based on one central hypothesis: The solution is not making spending more painful; the solution is awareness.
So I want you to try a little experiment I’ve created. It’s called “30 Days and Three Seconds.”
Here’s how it works. For 30 days, when you spend money, I want you to take three seconds and simply notice what you’re doing. That’s the program. Simple, easy and doable. It can be before, during or after the purchase. Be consistent, and make sure you do it for every purchase.

Just Stop and Notice What You’re Spending

Carl Richards Issues a 30-day Challenge
For instance, if you’re buying lunch at Whole Foods, when the cashier says, “That will be $8.67.” After you pay, stop for three seconds and say to yourself, “Eight sixty-seven for lunch. Isn’t that interesting?”
And those are exactly the words I want you to use: “Isn’t that interesting?” Not, “Isn’t that dumb.” Not, “Oh, I should have…”And certainly not, “Not again.” I just want you to notice.
The point of this is not to beat yourself up about your spending. All of the emphasis for the next 30 days is on awareness — that’s it.
One way you can do this is by setting up your credit card or Apple Pay to send you an automatic message each time you make a purchase. In the Whole Foods example, you spend $8.67 on your card and, almost immediately, you will get a text message saying, “You spent $8.67 at Whole Foods.”
If you don’t like that idea, get a receipt for every purchase. When you walk out the door, look at the receipt, read it and say, “Isn’t that interesting?” Then throw the receipt in the trash. And if you don’t like that, just say it to yourself each time the cashier tells you the total.
That’s all you’re going to do.
And then, 30 days from now, on May 25, send me an email about what you learned, the experiences you had or what happened to you. You can reach me at I’m going to take some of those lessons, and some of my own, and write a follow-up column that you can count on seeing two weeks after that, on June 13.
Look, I could tell you what the goals of this exercise are. I could tell you other tricks and tips on how to achieve them. But we’re not going to do any of that stuff. No budget, no list and no adding it up at the end of the month. Again, the entire objective is awareness. I don’t want you to judge yourself or to change what you’re doing, just simply notice.
Thirty days, three seconds.
Experiment with it, see what you discover and then shoot me an email.
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Five Places to Go in Berlin


Five Places to Go in Berlin

The Victoria Bar in Berlin. CreditAndreas Meichsner for The New York Times
Potsdamer Strasse, one of the busiest streets in Berlin before World War II, has long been known for its abundance of streetwalkers, sordid sex shops and strip clubs. But in recent years, art galleries have gravitated to this district, abutting a namesake park. And in the last few years, stylish restaurants, cafes and bars have followed. The sex shops are still here, though fading. Now the Potsdamer Strasse crowd has evolved into a hodgepodge of artists, hipsters, older Turks, and the occasional woman sporting stilettoes, fishnet stockings and a come-hither glance.

Victoria Bar

This sophisticated Art Deco cocktail spot began creating libations on Potsdamer Strasse long before the artists discovered the area. The extensive beverage list includes the classics, such as the martini and Negroni, as well as the more original tea-infused gin drink, Earl of Victoria.
Potsdamer Strasse 102; 49-30-257-599-77;

CreditAndreas Meichsner for The New York Times

Oliv Eat

This popular cafe, which opened last June, offers the usual espresso drinks coupled with comfort food dishes like pulled pork sandwiches, avocado toast and house-made muesli. The minimalist dining room with a high ceiling is lovely for lounging, and the sidewalk tables are great for people-watching in warm weather.
Potsdamer Strasse 91; 49-30-552-338-23

CreditAndreas Meichsner for The New York Times


This restaurant, in a space filled with art, serves fare like venison tartare and grilled Duroc pork belly from the Alain Ducasse protégée, Sophia Rudolph. The spot’s discreet courtyard location evokes a secret clubhouse where the city’s art world and fashionistas hang out. (In December, the Panama team opened Tiger Bar next door, pouring craft beer and cocktails.)
Postdamer Strasse 91; 49-30-983-208-435;

CreditAndreas Meichsner for The New York Times


Indulge in the German proclivity for avant-garde eyewear at this diminutive shop, opened last April. The shop owner Abdullah Demir sells from his own 10,000-piece collection of vintage never-used eyeglass frames, including eccentric designs seen on Elton John and Lady Gaga and colorful frames created by Karl Lagerfeld.
Potsdamer Strasse 79; 49-30-616-537-02;

CreditAndreas Meichsner for The New York Times


Stop into the designer Sophie Oemus’s one-and-only shop, set in a courtyard below her atelier. Opened last July, the luxury boutique sells her signature simple but sophisticated ready-to-wear blouses and dresses, many of which are made of satin and leather.
Potsdamer Strasse 91; 49-30-801-050-28;