If you've landed here on this page…I'm willing to bet your spending habits aren't (as Mary Poppins says) ship-shape. Writing about how to stop spending money (and save it instead) is something I cover often here on the site. For me, I hate telling myself to cut back.
Because suddenly, when I tell myself I can't do it….spending is all I want to do.
Below is a list full of the solutions I've covered/written about/or read that have helped me learn how to stop spending money over the last seven years I've been running this blog. I'm a reformed shopaholic and still more of a spender than a saver.
The good news is that (like me) you're bound to find something that works for you, and something that will help you to overcome your spending problem: whether it's a full-blown addiction or a bad habit you'd like to break in order to live a better financial life.
How to Stop Spending Money: 8 Things to Try
Get rid of all your cards
Seriously. Do it. Do it now before you lose your nerve. I'll just sit here and wait for you to come back.
But for real, if the thought of cutting up all your credit cards scares the life out of you, then at least cut up all but one. (Especially keep one if you don't have any type of emergency savings or rainy day fund set aside!)
Then, put the one remaining card in a plastic container and fill with water. Put it in your freezer Confessions of a Shopaholic Style. Out of sight, out of mind on this one. You won't be tempted to use the card for every impulse whim when it takes 2+ hours to defrost.
- Then, consider an all-cash diet. Getting cash out of an ATM always puts me on the right path. (When I remember to do it!)
- At a minimum, use only your debit card.
- There's science-backed research behind this. Paying in cash is more painful in your brain, meaning it is harder to part with. You want it to hurt a bit every time cash leaves your wallet because this will teach you how not to overspend.
Track your spending
One of the best ways to learn how to stop spending is to gain a clear view of where your money is going – even down to the penny. The first step after realizing you have a compulsive spending problem is to then begin tracking your expenses for a minimum of 30 days. There are a variety of ways to do this:
- Try keeping a money diary for a week to see how much you're really spending.
- You can print out all of your statements and tally up categories one by one. (Excruciating, but effective.)
- Leverage an app that syncs with your spending accounts so you can see very quickly where the money goes and even keep up with your spending via mobile app.
Identify your spending triggers
When I first began working with a therapist on my shopping addiction, she had me keep a journal close by and write down all the moments I felt like I wanted to shop. Then, she wanted me to write down how I was feeling and if anything happened immediately before my shopping itch kicked in.
After a few weeks, we began to see the pattern: I liked to shop whenever I felt sad. Boyfriend troubles, a bad grade on an exam, confrontation with a co-worker at my part-time job, I used shopping to cure whatever bad feelings I had.
The trick to learning how to stop spending is to put significant distance between the triggers (feeling sad) and shopping.
When I was learning how to get over compulsive spending we didn't have online shopping yet (it was 2008/2009), so it was a bit easier to avoid stores than it is today. I recommend the following:
- If you know flash sale emails are a trigger for you, unsubscribe from all emails (I use Unroll.me for this and have used it for YEARS!)
- Try putting your laptop away late at night so you won't be tempted to spend when you're mindlessly scrolling on the couch.
- A fight with your Mom send you over the edge? Knowing your trigger is half the battle. If something happens that triggers you to spend, acknowledge the feeling and journal or go for a walk instead. (This sounds so cheesy, but I'm a big fan of journaling and my therapy 10+ years ago is where it all started. It works!)
Create a budget that allows for spending
When learning how to stop spending, I recommend people start with sticking to a budget and then once they've mastered that skill to move on to learning how to save more. Budgets don't have to be restrictive. Instead, look at them as your permission slip to spend on what you can afford.
So, a budget is just a game plan for getting what we want. Cool, right?
Using the 50-30-20 method, someone who takes home $3,000 each month will have 20% (or $600 each month) to spend however they choose. A few nights out, a new wardrobe, a day at the salon…you name it.
Staying within that $600 limit is where people struggle, but honestly, isn't it better knowing you have $600 to spend than trying to stop spending cold turkey?
Tackle a no-spend challenge
One of my favorite ways to “reset” my spending habits when I've been a bad, bad girl is to do a no-spend challenge.
For one month I try to only spend on the necessities: food for the fridge, gas for the car, bills…and that's about it. No skincare products from Follain. No clothing items I found on Like.to.Know.It. Definitely not anything unnecessary from Amazon.
And guess what? It helps. It reminds me I have plenty and that I can get by with what I already have.
And it forces me to get creative in the event I want to do something but don't have the money. I used to be wildly creative in my early 20's when it came to living the good life on a budget. Now I'm in my 30's and have gotten incredibly lazy. Convenience trumps cost every time.
A no spend challenge brings me back to earlier, more frugal times and I always welcome the change of pace, at least for the short term. Click here to read how to do a no spend challenge of your own.
Sit on it
Anytime you'd like to make an online purchase, put it in your cart and wait 24 hours. I do this whether it's a big purchase or something that's $19.99.
I know that if I'm still thinking about it the next day, it's likely something I'll use, enjoy, and get an incredible amount of value from. If I forget about the item, I know it was just an impulse.
A big way to see just how much money you're throwing away each month is to redirect the money you would've spent ($40 here, $7.99 there) into a high-yield savings account. Doing this enables you to see just how much every little bit counts.
Set yourself up for success
Changing lifelong spending behaviors is a marathon, not a sprint. With this in mind, it's important to spend time not spending money, but also on getting to know yourself better. Take the time to not only track your money patterns but learn about your feelings behind money and how to (potentially) change your money mindset.
- First, figure out why you're spending in the first place: are you an over buyer or an under-buyer?
- Then, write down why you want to stop spending. Is it to meet some financial goal? To achieve a milestone or quit hurting people with your behavior?
- Write down your “why” and then create a vision board that supports your goals. What does your life look like if you cut down on compulsive spending? What will you be able to accomplish?
- Draft your own set of money beliefs. How do the shopping and spending money fit in?
- Continue your education by reading books and blogs on the topic. Learn how to change your consumer-driven lifestyle by reading Cait Flanders or The Minimalists for inspiration on how to live with less and spend more mindfully.
- Find a licensed therapist, particularly one who specializes in addiction or money counseling. You can even go online and get a therapist who will meet with you via phone or Skype via new technologies like the BetterHelp app.
How to Stop Spending Money: 61 Things to Do Instead
It's so hard to keep yourself entertained without spending money. Whenever I'm trying to stay on budget or cut back, I'm reminded again and again of how hard this is.
- Scrub your house, top to bottom. You won't like it at first, but it'll feel so good once you're done.
- Get out in nature. Hiking, biking, and swimming on public beaches are all free (or at least available for the low cost of parking.)
- Cut down on money spent on eating out by trying a meal kit delivery service instead (here are the ones we liked and didn't like.)
- 56 things to do instead of spending.
- Spend time doing a full at-home spa evening. Take the time to pamper every inch of yourself.
- Clean out all of the closets in your home. Nothing makes you feel more abundant than seeing how much you've already accumulated over the years. As an added bonus, you'll find items you can probably resell for some quick cash.
- Take an inventory of your clothing and figure out what you may need to create a more functional wardrobe.
- Replace your bad spending habit with one of these 8 quick (under five minute) money habits.
- Try a “Save as much as you can in (x) amount of time” challenge. Here's how I saved $1000 in 45 days doing this!
- Stay at home and work your way through one of your favorite television shows. I like this because I always see something I missed the first time around. (Looking at you SATC or Downton Abbey)
- Put your energy into getting better at a skill you really need. For example, try cooking at home or getting better at making new friends.
- Instead of shopping on your phone, try out one of these 20 money making apps instead.
- Try signing up for a focus group – super fun + they pay you.
- Sometimes those who overspend do so because they haven't tried a good budget. Here's how to set up a budget that will actually work FOR you, not against you.
- Focus on nurturing your inside rather than your “outside” by trying one of these self-care routines.
- Instead of using extra energy to shop and consume – put your energy into a creative outlet like starting a new blog or new side hustle.
The TL: DR
It's tough work to change your behavior when you've been spending unfettered for so long, but it CAN be done.
As you can see, it isn't so much about completely cutting out spending.
Instead, it's about re-routing your energy into things other than spending. Many of the tips above will help better your finances if you just devote the time and energy to them. Funnily enough, I've found that once the spending stops, all of that spare brain space in your head opens up and allows you to really focus on getting your act together.
Funny how that works, right?
CIT Bank should be your only option (this is where I keep my savings, too!) because of its higher-than-average interest rate (25x the national average) and no-fee structure. All it takes is $100 to open and you get rewarded for automatically saving each month. Click here to learn more about their Savings Builder program.