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The levers of commerce are all too easy to pull these days. Sure, overspenders have been around since the beginning of money, but back in the day, there were more physical barriers to buying, like having to leave home for most purchases (except pizza).
Why we overspend
Today, most of us keep the world’s marketplace on our person at all times, which makes it uber-convenient to order unnecessary things. There’s also a psychological element at play, says Jonathan Kiehl, a certified financial planner based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“It really comes down to just emotions,” Kiehl says. “[Spending] is an attempt to relive or get back to the way a purchase made us feel in the past, or to kind of mask a feeling.”
This tendency to pursue what feels good, combined with the convenience to shop whenever can be a recipe for overspending. While curbing habits takes effort, small changes over time can lead to big results.
Let’s review eight strategies to resist the urge.
How to stop spending money
How to stop spending money on food
We all need to eat, but it doesn’t have to be so darn expensive. Take a second to reflect on your last takeout meal. Yep, those tacos were cold, soggy and overpriced after delivery fees. While the pandemic has led many people to make more meals at home, it’s also fueled our appetite for takeout and delivery.
If this is an area of weakness for you, try these small changes to spend less on food:
1. Shop the supermarket with intentionality
Soaring inflation aside, the grocery store is still likely to be more affordable than eating out. Schedule one day a week to shop for the ingredients to make a few more meals at home, and do so with purpose.
“Don’t walk into a store without an intentional list,” Kiehl says. It sounds simple, but the shopping list has served conscientious consumers for decades. Write your list on paper, the old-fashioned way, and stick to the script to save money on groceries once you’re there.
2. Skill up on the skillet
Not everyone can be the next Gordon Ramsay, but most can watch his cooking channel on YouTube or thousands of others. The point here is there's no shortage of ways to learn how to cook a few decent meals. With a little practice, you’ll be dining on cheaper, healthier and less soggy meals.
3. Don’t quit restaurants cold turkey
Celebrate your newfound frugalism with a meal out or ordered in one night a week, or every other week. You might just look forward to it, and appreciate it more.
How to stop spending money online
The temptation to spend lurks everywhere we look, especially on our screens. Personalized ads infiltrate social media feeds, influencers are in your face with “life-changing” products, and the Amazon app beckons every time you unlock your phone.
Try these tips to break the spend cycle:
4. Shop online with purpose
When you do succumb to the convenience of online shopping, Kiehl says to carry the same intentional approach from the brick-and-mortar store to the virtual shopping cart.
“If you randomly walk into the online marketplace, you’re going to walk out with something you didn’t expect,” he says. Avoid aimlessly browsing online sales like Cyber Monday to prevent buying things you don’t need.
5. Stop solving problems with new products
Do you really need a cell phone stand for your desk, or can you just lean it up against a few books to see incoming messages? Better yet, is it worth it to buy your toddler a toy drum set when you can hand them two spoons and an old pot to bang on instead? Try cotton balls for earplugs.
With a little bit of ingenuity, you might find you can solve simple problems with items you already have, and at least delay the next online order.
6. Sanitize your social feeds
As far as social media goes, Kiehl recommends reducing your scroll time altogether to avoid the marketing trap. If that feels too drastic, try removing the ads instead of the apps. More specifically, when you’re served up an ad on an app like Facebook, hunt around for the "hide ad" option to banish it from your feed. Repeat as many times as it takes.
How to make these changes last
Small changes can indeed have a big impact on overall spending habits. At some point though, you’ll need to address what truly drives impulse buying for you.
Now that you’ve got money on the mind, take these next steps:
7. Make a budget
One of the most important things you can do, Kiehl says, is slow down and take a look at the last three months to understand where you’re spending the most money.
For those who fear the “B-word,” rest assured that a budget doesn’t have to be complex. Using what Kiehl calls a “top-down” approach, you can establish a working budget with just a few simple line items. “You have your monthly income, you take off savings and fixed expenses that you know have to come out, and then whatever is left is what you have to spend,” he says.
The 50/30/20 rule, explained in this guide on how to budget money, is a similarly simple budgeting framework to get you started.
8. Find your 'why'
At the end of the day, Kiehl recommends a little soul-searching to understand “your bigger reason to be intentional.” What’s it going to take for you to focus on spending less money? Is it working toward a milestone purchase, saving for a vacation or planning for an ideal retirement? Only you can decide, and when you do, you might find that discipline comes easier.
“People can get super focused if they have a bigger ‘why’ than, you know, the pair of shoes on Amazon,” Kiehl says.