No matter where or how we shop, the temptation to spend money on random stuff follows us everywhere we go. I’m looking at you, $100-Target-run-disguised-as-a-quick-trip-for-shampoo.
And don’t get me started on the aisles right next to the store’s checkout lane. Mini hand sanitizers, minty-fresh gum and that magazine with the latest news on the royal family? It seems they’ve thought of everything—or that’s what they want you to think.
With so many ways to shop (online, on our phones and in store), how can we avoid making mistakes that bust the budget? Don’t worry, I’m here to walk you through how to stop spending money so you can start actually winning with money.
Reasons Why You’re Overspending
People spend money for so many reasons, and if we’re just a little honest with ourselves, a lot of those reasons can be chalked up to how we’re feeling in the moment. Many times, we can blame our overspending on five things:
1. Social Media
Picture this: It’s Saturday morning, and before you realize it, you’re scrolling through your social media feed to catch up on what your friends are up to. And before your feet even hit the floor, you’ve spent $30 on that new, life-changing thing an ad convinced you that you needed.
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If you’re honest, you probably didn’t have to work too hard to picture it because you did that last weekend. Let’s face it: We all want what we don’t have. And we want it because we think it will make life that much better.
But social media makes the comparison game even more intense these days. It’s your friend’s post about their brand-new couch with those perfect pillows, or a popular blogger’s sponsored post about that incredible, all-inclusive resort . . . When does it end?
News flash: It doesn’t. All of these things just drain your budget, rob from your future financial goals, and steal your joy.
2. Not Tracking Your Spending
It doesn’t matter how large (or small) your income is—if you’re not tracking your spending, you’ll never be in control of your money. In fact, you’ll always feel like your money owns you.
Listen: Living paycheck to paycheck is the pits. If you’re wondering where all your hard-earned money is going each month, it’s time to start tracking it in a budget! Stick with me, and I’ll show you how.
3. Shopping to Feel Better
Some people like to joke about being a shopaholic, but compulsive spending, otherwise known as retail therapy, is a thing. For most of us, spending on impulse just because we want it now is the problem. We see something and buy it before we think about what’s in the checking account (or our financial goals, for that matter).
4. Lack of Self-Awareness
If I had to choose one thing that’s made all the difference in my mindset around money, it’s gaining self-awareness. If I don’t continue to learn about myself and be aware of my money tendencies (I call them spendencies), it will be all too easy for an old habit or an “easy” out to creep in and ruin my progress.
You’ve got to know yourself well enough to know what you’ll be tempted by and what to guard yourself against. Are you naturally wired to be a spender or a saver? Are you a nerd or a free spirit? Do you value safety or status? Take my free quiz to discover why you handle money the way you do and learn how to break bad money habits for good.
5. Paying With Plastic
If you haven’t noticed, you might find that you spend more when paying with plastic, whether that’s a credit card (everyone loves shopping with someone else’s money) or a debit card. Think about it: When you’re shopping with plastic, it’s easy to spend more because you don’t physically see the money right in front of you.
But when you spend with cash, you feel it. You feel those crisp (or wadded up) green bills leave your hand, and it hurts. Something inside of you cringes. Just moments before, you had money, and now, you don’t. So, the next time you make a purchase, pay in cash, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Here’s the good news: You can overcome these spending habits with a little planning, self-awareness and long-term thinking.
8 Ways to Stop Spending Money
Here’s my plan to help you stop spending money:
1. Know what you’re spending money on.
Making and sticking to a budget every single month is what’s going to help you get out of debt and stay out of debt.
If this is your first time budgeting, you might be surprised by how much money you’re spending each week (or even each month) on little things, like coffee, lunches or that snack shop at work that your spouse doesn’t know about.
When you make your first budget, you need to make sure your basic needs (or your Four Walls) are covered. These are:
These are your necessities, and when you know your necessities, you know you can’t cut back here. But anything that doesn’t fall into one of these Four Walls can be reevaluated. You really don’t need to go out to dinner every night. And as much as I love it, Netflix isn’t really a utility.
2. Make your budget work for you.
Ready to create your monthly spending plan for all your other categories? This is what I mean when I say budget. And my favorite kind of budget is a zero-based budget, which simply means your income minus your expenses needs to equal zero because you’ve told every single hard-earned dollar where to go. Just remember, it’s a working budget. You have to keep coming back to it in order to stay on track.
If this is your first budget, you’ll want to give yourself grace. It takes a few months to make your budget work for you. But if you’re an expert, take another look at your monthly expenses to find other ways to trim your spending.
Use EveryDollar, our free budgeting app, to create your first budget in just 10 minutes. You’ll be able to plan your budget, track your spending, and monitor your debt and savings progress each month.
3. Shop with a goal in mind.
We’ve all been there. You’re out of shampoo and toothpaste. So, with those two items in mind, you make a quick run to Target. But as soon as you walk through the door, you feel the gravitational pull toward the dollar spot and fill your basket with a bunch of those colorful cell phone chargers and water toys for the kids that you swear will get used all the time.
Thanks to a few seemingly harmless impulse buys, a quick trip to the store for essentials just got expensive.
But does anyone really plan on getting sidetracked while they’re out shopping for essentials? Probably not. But if you often get caught in this scenario, you might want to make a point to avoid the stores that make you spend too much money.
4. Stop spending money at restaurants.
Changing how you spend money on food is one of the easiest ways to save money. And we all know that going out to eat gets expensive fast. If you’re spending $15 on lunch four times a week, that’s $60 a week—and $240 a month! Imagine how quickly you could pay off debt with that kind of money!
Consider this: Instead of heading into the grocery store and wandering up and down the aisles, create your meal plan for the week, make a list before you go, and then stick to it. If you need to leave the kids (or your spouse) at home to save even more, don’t think twice about it. Planning your meals in advance means lowering your overall food costs.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever treat yourself to Sunday brunch or a nice dinner on a special occasion—just cut back some, and make sure it’s in the budget.
5. Resist sales.
Who doesn’t love a good deal? I know I do! Retailers know their customers, and they also know the irresistible pull of a flashy (and perfectly placed) sales rack. But how much is all this saving really costing you?
If you buy a sweater you never intended to buy just because it’s 25% off, you’re paying 75% more than you would have. (Preaching to myself here too.) Sorry, guys, that’s still called spending, not saving.
Avoid these shopping traps by making a list before you go! Then, practice some self-discipline once you’re there. If you see an item on sale that isn’t on your list, it wasn’t meant to be.
6. Swear off debt.
If you’re serious about getting your overspending under control, you have to swear off debt—for good. After all, debt steals from your income. Not only that, you’re also stuck paying on the loan or credit card (plus interest) until it’s gone. It’s true: Your debt owns you until you pay it off.
We live in a world where just about anything can be financed or borrowed, which can give you a sense of financial security. But that financial security isn’t real. It makes you think that if you can afford the payment, you can afford the new car, house or big purchase. But in reality, if you don’t have the cash to pay for something right now, you can’t really afford it.
So, go ahead. Make the decision to cancel your credit cards and commit to living debt-free from this moment forward. And just as a refresher: Credit is an enabler. It enables you to spend money you don’t even have. But without it, overspending isn’t an option.
7. Delay gratification.
If you’re having trouble sticking to your new budget and shopping list, imagine how you’ll be using that must-have item a month from now.
Will that sweater still look good after a few washes? Will your kids still be playing with that overpriced toy set? Will those cheap shoes last through the season?
The majority of the time, the answer is: Put it back. But what if you still want it? Then, you wait. Work it into next month’s budget and revisit your feelings in 30 days. If you still love it, you’ll be able to buy it without the guilt because it’s already in the budget.
8. Challenge yourself to reach your new goals.
Put your willpower to the test by buying just the bare necessities for one month. You’ll be amazed by how little you actually need.
You’ll also be able to identify the things you don’t necessarily need, but simply like to have. Do you like using your gym membership because it helps you stay active? Keep it. Does your weekly visit to the chiropractor keep your back in tip-top shape? Keep going. If it fits into your budget (and doesn’t cause you to go into debt), you can spend money on it.
The key to stop spending too much money is to create better money habits in your daily life. I know that’s easier said than done, which is why I wrote my brand-new book, Know Yourself, Know Your Money. This book will show you how to make lasting change so you can make actual progress with your money like never before! Buy it now and you’ll also get the audiobook (read by me!), the e-book and my video course on a top money fear for free. Don’t wait—these bonus items are only free if you buy now!
About Rachel Cruze
As a #1 New York Times bestselling author and host of The Rachel Cruze Show, Rachel Cruze helps Americans take control of their money and create a life they love.
She’s authored three bestselling books, including Love Your Life, Not Theirs and Smart Money Smart Kids, which she co-wrote with her father, Dave Ramsey. You can follow Rachel on Twitter and Instagram and online at rachelcruze.com, youtube.com/rachelcruze or facebook.com/rachelramseycruze.