Strategies for how to stop spending money on unnecessary things, and instead use your income — what you work so hard on earning, day in and day out — on more of the things you want in life.
It's so great that you're wondering how to stop spending money on unnecessary things. Why? Because it means you care about making your financial life better, and you've taken the first step down that path.
I'm going to help you through how to get to the core of why you're spending money excessively, and then how to get past the bad habit.
How Do I Stop Excessive Spending
The best way for you to stop excessive spending is two fold:
- Figure out Why You Spend: What are your motivations for spending when you spend excessively? I'm not talking about spending money on groceries that you need to eat, or dental work you need done; I'm talking about finding the motivation behind why you are spending on the 10th pair of shoes this year, or the 7th online business course (when you haven't finished any of the other 6, let alone implemented them).
- Change Your Money Mindset: Then, you've got to change that mindset. We'll work on that below.
No matter what your spending mantras have been in the past (aka, the reasons why you HAVE to have x, y, AND z), I want you to repeat this new money mantra instead:
It's not what you earn, and it's not what you own. It's what you keep.
And the “what” in this case? Is money.
Though I am unsure of where I first heard the financial advice “It’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep”, every time it pops into my head I am in awe of its simplicity and truth. It is also slightly intoxicating for an entry level person in the workforce who is years away from banking good money — perhaps a large salary is currently out of my reach as I work through the ranks, but what actually counts is how much of that salary I am keeping.
It puts us all on a level playing field. Not only that, but it gives you a purpose for not spending money.
A shift to this sort of thinking would radically change things. The best example I can come up with to illustrate the difference this shift in thinking would make is in the dating world. Imagine how different dating would become if the financial metric of interest changed from how much money people make to how much money people put into savings. Suddenly Mr. $150,000-per-year-VP-Match.com-Hotshot who only banked $1,000 in the whole of 2010 would be picked over for Mr. $30,000-per-year-Nonprofit man who manages to bank $400 of his income per month.
Don’t get me wrong; the VP who makes $150,000 has the potential to offer financial security, material comfort, and savings because of his/her large income. But potential and behavior are two different things. The person who only makes $30,000 per year has a pattern of saving behavior that, in my opinion, offers much less of a financial risk.
At the end of the day, if you are merely the middle man/woman between your employer and your debtors, you've got to question why. Get behind the motivation to your excessive spending, and change it up with your new money mindset.
Bonus tip: Give your money a purpose. YOUR purpose — not someone else's.
How Can I Stop Spending Money for 30 Days?
Are you thinking about taking a no-spend challenge for 30 days?
It can really catapult your money goals, not to mention, be a catalyst in changing your spending habits.
Let me give you some strategies for how to stop spending money for 30 days:
- Remove All Temptations to Buy: This includes doing things like paying for your gas at the pump so that you don't sneak in a candy bar + coffee at the convenience store, going through a mass email unsubscribe from ALL retailers so that you don't get tempted when coupons are sent out, and DVR your television shows so that you can fast forward through product/service commercials. Also, unlink your credit card information from online shopping sites; it puts one more physical barrier in front of you + making a purchase!
- Keep Yourself Busy: You've got to keep busy. And not just busy, but engaged + enjoying your life. Otherwise, you'll think it's not worth it, and you'll start to spend your way out of boredom. Check out my list of 23 things to do instead of spending money.
- Use Up Your Resources: You'll want to do things like take the eat from your pantry challenge, read the books on your shelves you bought two years ago (my husband jokes that my reading list is 2 years long!), and complete some of those household and other projects you bought all the supplies for already.
- Use the Frugal Foundational Principle: Whenever you think you NEED to purchase something in those 30 days, go through the four-step process of figuring out whether you can use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without! Substituting with something else really works as well.
How Can I Spend Less?
I've got an entire, in-depth blog post on how to spend less money. I HIGHLY recommend you check it out.
If I had to share just three ways for spending less money, I'd share these:
- Put physical barriers between you and your spending tools
- Train yourself to spend less money
- Conduct spending audits
The details for each of these strategies (plus many more) are in this field guide for how to spend less money.
How to Avoid Wasting Money
I think the better question here is: how do I avoid wasting my life energy?
Let me explain.
Perhaps you feel like your lack of savings or debt is a direct result from you not being able to earn the kind of money you'd like to. After all, it would be easier to have a fully funded emergency fund if only you were making $70,000, $80,000, $100,000+, right?
For those of us disciplined enough to harness extra earning power, of course we would save more money as our earnings increase. But the majority of folks who earn more also end up spending more, and amazingly enough find themselves still living paycheck to paycheck.
In other words, it’s not just the paycheck amount that counts.
All of us have leaks in our budget where we're knowingly or unknowingly spending more than we'd like to; it’s just a matter of whether it’s a trickle we don’t really care about or a gushing geyser that is bleeding us dry.
I want you to do a sobering exercise.
Calculate Your Money Leak
If you don’t ever take a step back and see the forest for the trees, then you might miss out on plugging some major spending rabbit holes you've been hopping down.
So, let's see how bad the problem is.
In order to quickly capture your financial history (income earned and money spent) without hours upon hours of probing, I’d like you to open up your last Social Security Earnings Statement (you can get it online with a free account here), and add up all of the income you have made in your lifetime.
Unless you have just recently graduated college, your lifetime earnings is in the six figures. Of course, this number is your gross and not your net income, meaning that it is before taxes have been subtracted out.
In fact, we need to subtract several amounts from this lump sum to get a more accurate picture of your leak.
- Multiply your lifetime earnings number by an approximate tax bracket (try 33% or 28% as an average of the years you have worked if you don’t want to figure out each year individually) and subtract them out.
- With what is left, subtract out your estimate on rent/mortgage for each year that you look at, perhaps a car payment (we’re not talking a second mortgage here — be reasonable), and an extra $7,000 per year (depending on the number of family members you have) for other “necessary” living expenses like food, gas, debts, medical, etc.
Now, take a look at your current savings account, retirement account, investment account, perhaps any home equity that you paid into (careful here, as this would be an asset only if you sold your house for a profit).
Here’s the thousand-dollar question: Where did all of your money go? Really?
That’s the first question that came to my mind when I looked at my statement, and we’re talking about a person with a frugal mindset and a hungry appetite for savings.
Wasted Life Energy
After the shock of finding out my lifetime earnings and then taking a look at my “for keeps” accounts, I just felt plain angry. We just discussed paychecks in terms of time and energy traded in exchange for money. I think back to all of the stress, the time, the energy, and the heart and soul I have put into my work over the last five years, and I feel a bit gypped.
If you're feeling this way, let me redirect your thinking.
There are always two ways to look at things. Now that you've seen the consequence of your spending decisions, let’s look at the bright side to this exercise.
You, like I was, may be shocked at all of the money you have made in your working life thus far! I don’t, and have not, earned a huge income since graduating college. In fact, my little brother who never went to college likes to tease me about how he is still making more money than I am!
Yet my number is quite impressive. Looking at your figure, think about your earning potential in the FUTURE, and how you can better harness it for your goals, dreams, and ambitions.
If you feel like you don’t make enough money, you should now feel much more optimistic and capable of making choices that will lead to a more sound financial future. Your earning potential will be critical in the coming articles, as you cannot save money that you don’t first earn.
As your income continues to (hopefully) grow over the years, with the right saving and frugal mindset, so can your saving account.
How to Stop Spending Money You Don't Have
The easiest way to stop spending money you don't have is to pay cash for everything.
Cash is hard to part with. Really — it is.
To see all those greens leaving your own wallet and going towards someone else's — especially if it's for something you didn't want to pay for anyway, like a vet bill, or filling a cavity — is sobering.
It makes you think, and you need this built-in moment of pause before making purchases.
I'll leave you with one more strategy to stop spending money you don't have: the PAYGO strategy.
The US government used to have a rule from 1991-2002 called PAYGO, which basically meant that they could only spend money which they had coming in the door. Furthermore, if they wanted to increase spending, they had to come up with spending offsets through canceling other programs, bringing in more revenue, or spending less on other programs. Unfortunately this rule did not last, although there is discussion of bringing it back to try and get the deficit under control.
For you and me, PAYGO is a great concept to use. While we are paying off our debts or just in our everyday lives, PAYGO will ensure that we do not incur more debts, and that we have the money to put towards savings.
It's a North-Star concept to keep our finances on track!