Budget Tip: Implement Monthly Spending Caps

Budget Tip_ Implement Monthly Spending Caps

An idea I beat like a drum here at The Incremental Life, as well as in my coaching and teaching, is that the single most effective way to achieve your goals is through enacting behavior change. Behavior change isn’t easy—letting go of bad habits and embracing good ones is among the most difficult of human endeavors. But the truth remains that for us to experience the results we want over the long term we must change what we do and how we do it.

Habit change is central to long-term success when you’re working to get your finances in order. It’s relatively easy to make small changes for a short amount of time—an important first step—but when working toward long-term change the harder part is making those changes stick and then building upon them.

The idea behind The Incremental Life is making these small changes and sticking it out until they become habits, and then make more small changes. This is often called habit stacking, and it’s one of the best ways to foster long-term growth and success.

When you’re looking at your budget, much of what’s going on is a set of practices and habits that have developed over time. These habits continue out of sheer inertia more than anything else. Getting your spending habits under control means changing how you spend that money. A great way to start changing your spending habits is to place caps on that spending.

Placing caps on your spending is a nice exercise that helps you take in a broad view of your budgeting practices. The goal is to find areas within your budget where you’re overspending or where you can find some wiggle room to cut down on your expenses in certain categories.

It doesn’t matter if your goal is to get out of debt, save for a vacation, or start setting aside extra money in savings—implementing spending caps will help you take the first steps toward changing how you spend your money.

4 Ways to Cap Your Monthly Spending

1. Place a general cap on the entire budget.
Let’s say your family’s monthly income is $4,000. First, take a good look at your current budget category allocations and your spending habits to determine how much you’re actually spending on average each month. Next, see where you can trim your spending, especially in categories such as groceries and entertainment. Be sure you take into account how much you’re giving to charity and stocking away for retirement and college—these are part of your monthly outflow as well. When you’ve trimmed all you can, you may be able to get your total spending down to $3,600—a savings of $400 per month.

2. Place caps on specific budget categories.
Work your way backwards toward spending caps by limiting spending on specific line items within your budget. Look at how much you spend on certain budget categories and see where you can trim the fat. If, for instance, you’ve been spending an average of $800 per month on groceries, see if you can make cuts and get it down to around $675 or so—$125 worth of savings each month. Once you’ve looked over your entire budget, you may be able to shave off a nice chunk of money from your total monthly expenditures.

3. Place attempted limits on budget line items.
Though not the same as implementing direct spending caps, another approach is to experiment for a month or two and see how little you can get by spending on certain types of expenditures. For instance, let’s assume you spend about $160 on gas for two cars. Your habit may have been to fill up all the way then your car runs low, but instead you could make the attempt to spend no more than $140 on gas for the entire month. This equals four visits to the gas station totaling $35 each—two for each car. Instead of filling up all the way, stop when the pump hits $35, then see how far you can get on your partially filled tank. I’d lay odds that you’ll begin watching your driving habits a bit more closely, making sure you’re combining many errands and tasks into single trips in an effort to stretch your gas through the entire month.

4. Place temporary moratoriums on specific budget line items.
Instead of implementing specific spending limits on all or some of your budget, you may be able to better reach short-term financial goals through temporarily cutting spending altogether on certain line items within your budget. Line items you can consider cutting could be things like eating out, coffee runs, dry cleaning, high-end cable packages—anything that might not be part of your family’s basic necessities. Many families can save several hundred dollars in any given month by temporarily getting rid of non-essential extras.

Use Cash Envelopes

The best way to control your self-imposed spending limits is to start using cash envelopes for the budget categories for which you set those limits. Don’t over think this, using cash envelopes is easy.

In one of the examples above, I proposed a $675 monthly spending limit for groceries. Using a cash envelope in this instance is as simple as withdrawing $675 cash out of the bank, placing it in an envelope marked “Groceries” and then using that cash to purchase nothing but groceries for the entire month.

If paid every two weeks, it might be necessary to split up the $675 and fill up the envelope with $337.50 two times during the month. Either way, when the envelope is empty—when the $675 is gone—then grocery spending is done.

Carry this cash envelope implementation across several budget categories where practical and you’ll find your spending habits rapidly altering. When you can see the money emptying out of the envelope you become much more aware of how much your spending. When your envelope gets down to the last $20 or so, I guarantee you’ll be very judicious about how spend it.

Save and Spend Wisely

This is the flip side of building disciplined spending caps. Not only do you have to be intentional about changing your spending habits to free up all this money, but you must remain intentional about the use of that money once it’s free. If your plan was to save for retirement or pay down your debt, then choose to be disciplined and stick to that plan.

Have you ever used spending caps to get and keep control of your budget? Please share your story and ideas in the comments.

Free Download—99 Ways to Upgrade Your Life NOW!

Free ebook download—99 Ways to Upgrade Your Life NOW!After months of teasers, promises, and false starts, I’m pleased to announce that my new ebook, 99 Ways to Upgrade Your Life NOW!, is finally available.

Originally titled The Road to Awesomethis book took on a life of its own during writing—quickly ballooning from a few thousand words to well over 100,000. Feeling like I was on to something big, I soldiered on and decided to spin The Road to Awesome off as a full-fledged book in its own right. I’ll be talking a little more about that next week.

Once I was done writing The Road to Awesome, I came back to reality and started the work of writing my promised ebook. I took some of the best bits I’d written in The Road to Awesome, condensed it down to less than 90 pages of content, and retitled it 99 Ways to Upgrade Your Life NOW!

My hope is that you’ll download and read this ebook to find simple, purposeful, and practical ways you can improve your life one little step at a time. I focus on what I feel are the six most crucial areas of life—self, money, work, family, community, and faith.

Rather than read through the ebook and try every idea you find, my challenge to you is to read and discover which ideas resonate deepest with you. That you’ll either be open to finding your weaknesses and blind spots so that you can give them intentional focus, or that you’ll gain a new perspective on certain aspects of your life which will lead to greater momentum and contentment.

To get your own copy of 99 Ways to Upgrade Your Life NOW!simply fill out the form below (or the form in the sidebar to the right) and sign up for my newsletter. You’ll soon be redirected to a new page where you can download this new ebook in PDF, Kindle, and ePub formats. (HINT: The PDF version is the pretty one.)

Thanks for reading The Incremental Life. I hope you enjoy and find great value from 99 Ways to Upgrade Your Life NOW!

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Eight Tips for Dealing With Migraines

Eight Tips for Dealing with Migraines

Life is interesting because there will be times when stuff happens that’s completely out of your control. These can be the most frustrating times in life, especially when you’ve set goals and made plans for reaching those goals, only to have of these unwanted circumstances drop into your life like a bomb. I had goals and plans for my writing this week, but those have been delayed by at least a day due the migraine bomb that got dropped on me yesterday.

For me, migraines have been a thorn in my side for several years. Migraines are my own personal demon, one I’m never completely sure when it will strike. I’ve suffered from painful headaches for most of my life—since my early teens—but those headaches turned into intense migraines during my college years. I’ve had periods where my migraines were more intense and more frequent, which was typically due to a number of factors.

I’m one of those “lucky” folks who have several types of severe headaches—migraines, cluster headaches, tension headaches, sinus headaches, and more. Sometimes I have an aura, but other times I don’t. Sometimes I’m light and sound sensitive, but other times I’m not. One of the hardest parts about dealing with my headaches is figuring out which type I’m experiencing at any given time. If I guess correctly, I increase my chances of quickly overcoming said headache. If I guess wrong, my attempts at treatment can make it worse.

So, with all this in mind, I thought I might deviate somewhat from my usual topics and share some of the tricks I’ve picked up over the years to help me deal with my migraines and headaches. To begin, it’s good to know what causes migraines—certain causes have specific solutions.

Common Causes of Migraines

  • Stress—This is one of the most common triggers of severe headaches and migraines. Looking back, I can see that the period of my life when I was experiencing migraines most frequently (two or three a week) was also one of the most stressful periods of my life. Once I was able to change my environment, and therefore reduce my overall stress, the frequency and intensity of my migraines dropped significantly. More important than any of the tips shared below, lowering your stress is the single most important thing you can do to prevent migraines.
  • Food—Many people don’t realize that certain foods can trigger migraines. Akin to having a food allergy, you may discover there are foods you need to avoid or prepare properly so that they don’t trigger migraines. For me, I learned that uncooked red onions, processed meats with phosphates, and Nutrasweet were some of my main triggers. Again, when I look back, I learned that some of my worst migraines occurred when I was almost exclusively drinking diet sodas made with Nutrasweet. Later on, I learned that gluten was likely one of my triggers as well.
  • Scents—Your sensitivity to this may vary, but certain scents can trigger headaches. All this depends on a number of factors that you have to figure out for yourself. For me, I’ve learned that I’m especially sensitive to perfumes and floral scents. Above all this, I’ve also learned I have a more acute sense of smell than the average person, and from a migraine-inducing standpoint that’s not a good thing.
  • Barometric Pressure—A rapid or wide shift in barometric pressure can cause migraines in some people. In addition, an extended period of stormy weather may increase your sensitivity to said migraines. Earlier this year, my area of Texas had one of the rainiest seasons in recorded history. During that same time period I had a big upswing in the number and intensity of my migraines.
  • Muscle/Bone Tension—Though this could be related to stress, that’s not always the case. These types of physical problems can be caused by sleeping positions, posture, and a wide range of other factors.
  • Sleep Issues—This is another issue that has a pretty wide sweep when it comes to causing migraines. Knowing how much sleep you need can be crucial. Many people get headaches when they don’t get enough sleep, but it’s even possible to wake up with a migraine if you’ve slept too long. Like Goldilocks, you’ve got to find what’s “just right” for you.
  • High Blood Pressure—Individuals with high blood pressure may find that they are also more susceptible to frequent or intense migraines. This doesn’t mean everyone with high blood pressure is at risk for migraines, but rather those who already have migraine problems may find their migraines are triggered and/or exacerbated by high blood pressure.
  • Other Illnesses—Unfortunately, being ill in ways completely unrelated to migraines can trigger severe headaches. Anything that causes congestion or sinus pressure is a no-brainer, but things like ear infections, tooth aches, allergies, and a myriad other maladies may set off a round of migraines.

Eight Tips for Dealing with Migraines

  1. Sleep It Off—The absolute best way to deal with a migraine is to sleep it off. I know this isn’t always possible due to the demands of life, but give yourself some grace and sleep your migraines off whenever you can. If you’ve got a boss who is understanding and will let you take the time off, stay home and stay in bed. If you can hand off family or volunteer responsibilities to others in the midst of a migraine, then stay in bed and let people who love you temporarily pick up your slack.
  2. Medication—This is a tricky one and something you’ll want to approach with a doctor. Rather than give you specific advice concerning medications I’ll leave that to the professionals. What I will say, however, is please make sure you’ve got a doctor who is willing to work with you and find the best treatment for you. Some doctors only write a prescription for whichever migraine treatment is most popular at the moment and that’s that. Instead, you’ll want to take the time (several months) to work through alternatives and find which treatment does the most good. You’ll want to keep an eye on medication overuse as well.
  3. Ice Packs and Heating Pads—This is where knowing what type of headache you have becomes important. Why? Because choosing the wrong end of the temperature spectrum here can actually make your headache worse. For instance, if your migraine is triggered by muscular tension in your back, neck, or shoulders, then the use of a heating pad would likely help. However, if your migraine was triggered by vascular dilation (the blood vessels in your brain expanding), then using a heating pad will likely make it worse. This would be an instance where cold showers and ice packs are a better option.
  4. Food Diary—Learning your food triggers will go a long way toward helping you avoid many migraines. Keep a log of everything you eat for at least a month, and record your reactions to particular foods. When I say “everything,” I mean everything. For instance, if you have a salad or a sandwich, record every component of the meal separately. Don’t simply write down “salad,” but rather write down the ingredients—lettuce, tomatoes, onion, carrots, type of cheese, type of meat, type of dressing (including fat free/light/regular). You should even start keying in on additives such as artificial sweeteners, coloring, and potential allergens such as gluten, nuts, or dairy. This is how you’ll narrow down what might be causing some of your migraines, leading you to remove the offending foods from your diet altogether.
  5. Biofeedback—This is a fairly new one to me, but there are some biofeedback techniques you can try at home that may help you deal with the pain of a migraine and shorten the length of your migraines as well. You’ll want to investigate this with a professional, but one of the most common forms of biofeedback that can help you deal with migraines is to raise or lower the temperature of certain parts of the body. Again, this is where knowing what’s causing your migraines is important. For instance, I recently discovered that if my migraine is caused by vascular dilation, then I can soak my feet in hot water. This “redirects” my blood flow toward my feet and away from my head, lowering the pressure in my brain and easing my headache.
  6. Pressure Points—Though this idea will rarely help prevent or shorten the length of a migraine, knowing how and where to apply pressure on certain points of your body can help you temporarily deal with the pain. Applying pressure to the pulse points on the side of the forehead and neck can help, as well as applying pressure to the temples. Pressing on your forehead just between your eyebrows can alleviate some of your pain as well. A new practice (one that I haven’t done and likely won’t) is to get a daith piercing in your ear. While you might not opt for a piercing, applying pressure on the daith point of your ear’s cartilage might mitigate your pain. To help with the nausea often associated with migraines, I will apply pressure to my wrist or squeeze my ear lobes.
  7. Essential Oils—I’m relatively new to essential oil use, but I’ve become a believer after experiencing results for myself. Peppermint is one of the most effective oils you can use to help you deal with your migraines. Peppermint oil can be used orally in tea or as an additive to other foods. It can be used topically by diluting it in a carrier oil and rubbing it on your temples, forehead, and neck. You can also use it aromatherapy-style by rubbing it into your palms or placing it on a cotton ball and then inhaling, or you could try placing a few drops in a bowl of steaming water and breathing in the steam. Peppermint also helps lessen nausea, but it isn’t the only essential oil that’s great for migraines. As with the tips above, do some research and find what works best for you.
  8. Beneficial Sleep—Getting enough of the right types of sleep can go a long way toward helping you stave off frequent and intense headaches. Knowing how much sleep you need is vital, as is getting on some sort of sleep schedule if possible. Many people sleep better at night when the room is cool, and for migraine sufferers this can be even more important—a cool room can help prevent headaches caused by vascular dilation. Beyond all this, investing in a good bed and pillow are critical. Migraines caused by neck tension are often triggered by improper neck support and alignment during sleep.

These are a few of the things I’ve learned to help me prevent and deal with my migraines. What have you found that works? I’d love to hear about your ideas and experiences. Please share them in the comments below.

Reflections on The Incremental Life


After a week off of posting, as well as two previous weeks with minimal posting, I’m back to getting posts out at a regular clip. I’ve had my head down putting finishing touches on my first Incremental Life-related book, The Road to Awesome. I’ll be telling you more about the book and a lot of other really cool stuff later this week.

I pushed publish on the very first Incremental Life post almost ten months ago, and as a result of my final round of writing and editing I’ve been of a mind to reflect on what it means to live The Incremental Life.

Many people today are so focused on achieving success that they disregard the lessons learned along the way. They’re so intent on reaching their destination that they fail to enjoy the journey and miss out on making the most of each moment along the way.

As I was digging through my notes from back before I wrote my first post, I rediscovered some words I wrote while I was in the process of formulating and codifying the ideals behind my blog. These notes, written well over a year ago, remain as true several month later as when I first typed them out. Here are some of the truths I’ve learned in my 40-something years so far that form the foundation of The Incremental Life.

The Incremental Life is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Except in rare cases, there’s really no such thing as an overnight success. Yes, sudden fame or fortune may find you, but that’s not the same as success. Like a lottery winner, a sudden windfall of money or notoriety doesn’t guarantee long-term wealth or popularity.

An interesting email hit my inbox over the weekend, one announcing Pei Wei’s 15th anniversary. While not as successful or as well known as some quick serve restaurants, Pei Wei does extremely well in the American marketplace. But that success certainly didn’t happen overnight, nor did it happen without hard work and excellence. I’m also certain there was great deal of trial and error along the way.

The facts are there’s no way Pei Wei could have achieved their current level of success very quickly. Could it have happened faster? Certainly, but there’s no way they could have opened up the 200+ stores that exist today all at once. Pei Wei’s growth has happened incrementally, and will continue to happen incrementally. Sure, these growth increments may be larger now than in the past, but the growth remains incremental. (Proverbs 10:4; 12:24; 21:5)

The Incremental Life is a Process

In stating that The Incremental Life is a process does not imply that there is a particular procedure one must follow. Rather, The Incremental Life is one of stages, not separated episodes. Each stage in your life is one that becomes a building block upon which the latter stages are built. Throughout the stages, you are gaining wisdom, insight, and knowledge that enable you to prosper in ways otherwise unattainable.

Again, we can look at lottery winners who strike it rich but then end up destitute and worse off than before in a year to two. What happens to them? Why couldn’t they handle the money? How could they blow it all so poorly and so fast?

It’s because they’d never built good money management habits over the course of their lives. Rather than learn how to manage their finances well when they had little, they sudden had thousands or millions of dollars dropped in their lap along with little or no guidance on how to be the wise stewards

By contrast, The Incremental Life builds both patience and contentment because those who live it must endure hardship and toil over time. Those who live this life often learn most from their setbacks and mistakes. While they may experience these hardships in life—hardships which may bring the to the brink of insanity—their experiences are forged during a time when life is hard and finances are tight. By the time someone living The Incremental Life begins to taste real success, they’re much better-suited to handle what life may throw their way.

Livers of The Incremental Life prove their faithfulness in little things, so they are given stewardship over mighty things. (Matthew 25:14-30)

The Incremental Life is Interconnected

The Incremental Life is a connected whole—a life that is not lived in a compartmentalized manner. Everything we do in life is interconnected, and we’re foolish to think we can keep one part of our lives completely isolated from the rest. Each and every aspect of our lives affects all parts to some degree. (Proverbs 4:23)

Understanding this truth, that all of life is interwoven into a cohesive tapestry, it comes as no surprise that our lives begin to feel frayed along the edges when we attempt compartmentalization. We’re stressed and stretched in ways we were never meant to experience when we think we can live a double-minded existence. (James 1:8)

The Incremental Life Leaves a Legacy

The Incremental Life is a life that is well-lived, and as a result leaves a legacy behind. It doesn’t mean it was a life of perfection, or even necessarily of wealth, power, or influence. It’s one that the people who watch it being lived—family, friends, strangers, enemies—want to emulate. (Proverbs 13:22)

  • The Incremental Life has goals and dreams in view—a destination.
  • The Incremental Life has steps mapped out toward those goals—a plan.
  • The Incremental Life has intentionality behind every step—a purpose.
  • The Incremental Life has no excuses for shortcuts—a work ethic.
  • The Incremental Life has counted and understands the costs—a budget.

Are you still new to The Incremental Life? I invite you and challenge you to investigate it and join us on the journey. Step your way back through the posts you find here, and keep moving forward with us as new posts are written each week.

Decide today to begin living a life of intentionality, focus, and purpose. Start living The Incremental Life.