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Here's how to spend smarter as consumer prices rise

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After a year of lockdown, you may be ready to make up for lost time and start going out — and spending more.

At the same time, prices are rising due to inflation.

Consumer prices in May were up 5% from a year earlier, according to the Labor Department's Consumer Price Index, which represents energy, groceries, housing costs and other goods. It's the biggest gain since August 2008.

Therefore, it pays to be smart about how you spend.

Get a clear picture of your finances

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Before you open your wallet, look at your total financial picture. That can help you determine which parts need the most attention and where you have some breathing room.

Add up your assets, including the amount you have in checking, savings, investment and retirement accounts, plus the estimated value of your house or any properties you own.

Then, add up the value of your liabilities, such as credit card balances, student loans, mortgage and car loans. Where your finances currently stand lies in the answer to this equation: assets - liabilities = net worth.

Reassess post-pandemic spending

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Your immediate financial plan and priorities during the pandemic may have been different than what you would like to do with your money now. Think about what you are going to start spending on again, like dining out or travel, and incorporate it into your budget.

"It is really meant to help guide you so that you can have the best of both worlds: You can live your life in the now and still be financially responsible in a way that allows you to reach your mid- to long-term goals," said Jamila Souffrant, creator of financial education podcast "Journey To Launch."

Over the past 15 months, you may have also realized there are certain things you don't really need and other things you can't live without. Look back at what brings meaning to your life and write it down. Then analyze your expenses and see if there are items you can eliminate.

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One thing to try is cutting at least one recurring expense and saving what you would have spent. You may not need six streaming services now, so you can reduce it to three. Put that "extra" money in a special account for new splurges or new spending priorities.

Also, reverse any changes you may have made during the pandemic, such as a reduction in contributions to your retirement account. Student loans have also been on pause and are set to resume Oct. 1.

Before you start blowing through your paycheck, make sure you have an emergency fund. Experts suggest having at least three to six months of living expenses set aside.

Rework your monthly budget

Try using a budgeting strategy called the "60% Solution." The first 60% of your gross income (all of the money you have coming in for the month) goes to "committed expenses," which includes all taxes, housing costs (rent/mortgage, utilities), credit card and everything that you must pay each month.

The next 30% goes to savings: 20% to long-term savings and 10% to short-term savings, like your emergency fund and a looming big purchase.

The remaining 10% is "fun money" for you to spend on whatever you want to spend it on.

Resist the urge to splurge

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People are experiencing freedom, euphoria and relief post-Covid to varying degrees, said financial therapist and coach Carrie Rattle, CEO and founder of New York-based Behavioral Cents.

"It is easy to take that emotional release and translate it into shopping for material goods," she added.

Before you do, approach your purchase analytically before you put it in your cart. Do you already have one? How often will you be using it?

Tracking your spending can also help. When you buy something, write down what you bought and how much it was. Keeping that real-time tally can help you see patterns, such as situations that made you spend and sites you spend a lot of time on. When we see how much we spend per week, it can have a dampening effect on our urge to shop further, Rattle said.

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Budgeting apps can also help keep you from overspending, as can a debit card. We spend less when we know it is coming out of our account today.

In addition, try to avoid what Rattle calls the "shopping break" from work or during your day. When you are shifting away from a project on the computer or are tempted to pick up your phone, instead of loading items into your online shopping cart, walk away and do something else to let your emotion subside.

The bottom line

It is understandable that people are ready to start spending again. The key is doing it responsibly.

Rattle looks at smart spending as purchasing items or experiences that add value to your life.

"Spending smartly means you can afford these items and experiences without going into debt, while saving for those compelling goals in your life," she said.

"If you're not yet clear on what those goals are, you're probably overspending in all the wrong places."

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