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Five ways to get the most out of your awesome raise

Key Points
  • Whether or not you realize it, whenever you think about how to spend or save, you’re really making plans.
  • No matter what money is within your reach – extra salary in the form of a raise, or disposable cash that you treat as free spending money – make some deliberate plans.
  • Here’s how to treat that raise so it doesn’t go up in smoke and how to outline some achievable goals.
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Yay, you got a raise!

Now, get some goals. The best thing you can do is learn how to make your money work for you. Otherwise you give in to the siren call of unplanned spending, a/k/a lifestyle creep.

That's spending more simply because you have more, a dangerous habit you want to avoid forming.

"If you can temper spending increases while your salary is going up, that will keep you in good shape over time," said Roger Young, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price.

Here are five things to think about when you scout the spending possibilities.

Where does the money go?

Tracking spending is huge, says certified financial planner Sophia Bera, founder of millennial-focused financial advisory firm Gen Y Planning.

What was worth it, and what was wasted? If something didn't bring you that much happiness, cut back in that area.

Check out your spending habits and their triggers. Money and spending are much more behavioral than we realize, Bera says.

Auto-pilot your savings

Are you walking away from cash?

"If you're not taking full advantage of the company plan match, do that," Young said, referring to company-sponsored 401(k) plans. Increase your contribution by however much it takes to snare that free money.

Behavioral change is great, says Bera, "but it's hard to think about doing the right thing every month." Automating savings is your best friend.

Reduce your spending speed

"We live in a mindless, spending culture," Bera said. Here's how to resist.

Create some friction between you and your shopping. You might wait 24 hours to buy something you think you want, longer for more expensive items. "Wait a week to buy a big-ticket item," Bera said. "Go back a week later. Do you still want it? Still need it?"

Try a zero-spend day. "Pick a day each week where you try not to spend any money," Bera said.

Rethink clothes shopping with a capsule wardrobe – augmenting a few clothing essentials with seasonal pieces and accessories. It can be a powerful way to rein in expenses. "Also, you're not spending as much time thinking about your clothes," Bera said.

Eating up cash

There are lots of levers you can pull with food, from eating out to grocery shopping. Bera says many millennials don't realize how much they spend on going out, especially alcohol. It adds up fast.

It's easy to find ways to cut back. "Go fewer times per week or go out for a happy hour instead of dinner," Bera said.

Commit to bringing lunch more often and making dinner once or twice a week.

Knock down debt

People often graduate with a little credit card debt alongside their student loans. It's so much easier to pay off $2,000 when you're 22 or 23 than $20,000 in your 30s, Bera says.

The problem: paying the minimum on the card while continuing to use it, but not paying off the new amounts charged each month. On your statement, check the "minimum payment warning" to see how this plays out for you.

Even if you stop using the card, paying just the minimum means paying off the balance will still take years, Bera says. Throw some extra resources at paying it down. Your 30-year-old self will thank you.

"Be more mindful with money," Bera said. Used the right way, it can bring joy instead of stress.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.