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How to Train Yourself to Spend Less Money (12 Exercises to Do)

How to train yourself to spend less money with specific exercises so that you keep more of your money (plus feel good about your spending again).

Got an overspending problem you think you just can’t get rid of?

woman looking worried at desk, text overlay "you can train yourself to spend less money - 12 exercises to do"

Here’s the great news: you can train yourself to spend less money.


In fact, I’d love to help you do just that.

Think about these exercises as top-notch training to shape you into a disciplined spender.

Disciplined spenders are able to save money in a bank account each and every month because they:

  • Spend according to their priorities
  • Spend within their means
  • Feel like they’re in control of their spending

And that’s going to be you.

Ready to get going on that?

Exercises for How to Train Yourself to Spend Less Money

Like any established spending habit you’ve got – either good or bad – changing it takes awareness, practice, and substitution with new habits.

Need help exercising self-control to avoid overspending?

These exercises are going to help you do just that.

Let the training begin!

Exercise #1: Track the Number of Stores You Enter

Awareness around your spending habits is CRITICAL in getting you to change them.

And while everyone talks about tracking spending, I’ve seen almost no one talk about this really important exercise I’m challenging you to do:

Track the number of stores you visit, daily/weekly.

Think about it: stores are where the spending is happening. If you enter fewer stores, then you’ll be tempted less to spend.

Figure out your baseline number, meaning how many stores you visit (on average) in a given week…and then work on decreasing that number as you go.

Fewer stores = fewer chances to spend money.

If nothing else, it gives you fewer chances to fall for these 17 sneaky grocery store marketing tricks!

Pssst: of course, there’s online shopping stores, too! Here’s how to stop spending money online.

Exercise #2: Bring Only the Amount of Money You Need

Paying in cash is one of the easiest and quickest ways to train yourself to spend less money.

Because if you run out of cash? Then you can’t just “charge” the rest.

Not only will paying in cash forces you to better calculate/estimate the cost of your products before hitting the register, but it will also force you to stick with your list.

For the next month, I challenge you to make a list of what you need and want at the store, calculate how much it will cost (within $10-$20), and then only bring the amount of money you need to pay for it, to the store.

Great way to help with how to spend less money.

Exercise #3: Introduce Physical Barriers Between You and Spending Money

You need some physical barriers that drag the buying process into 2-3 more steps so that you can have time to rethink your decisions.

I call these tripwires – they trip up your thinking and typical spending habit of see-something-I-want, get-out-credit-card, buy-it.


  • Physically Separate Yourself from Your Credit and Debit Cards: There are several ways you can physically separate yourself from your plastic. The first option is to put them into a plastic sealable bag, fill it with water, and put it in your freezer. You can also cut up your cards (but still keep the accounts open for credit history purposes or to continue to pay off debt), or you could open up a safety deposit box at the bank and put your cards in there. Each of these methods gives you a cooling-off period to really think about your purchase before you make it (figuratively, and literally, in the case of the ice block).
  • Purchase Penalty-Laced CD Savings: You likely have a few large expenses each year, such as property taxes, six-month insurance bills (if you pay these all at once sometimes you save a few bucks), tuition, etc. Do you ever get afraid you might spend the money before the bill is due, or that somehow it might just get absorbed in the no man's land between your checking and savings accounts? Purchase CDs in the amount of your planned, large expenses. Make sure they mature right before your bill is due. Not only will you earn a little bit of interest, but because there's a penalty to cash them out (not to mention you might have to travel to an actual brick-and-mortar bank) you're not as likely to touch that money.
  • Pay Too Much in Taxes: I would normally never recommend doing this, because when you pay too much in taxes, you are giving your money to the US government instead of it earning interest or otherwise working for you (you're welcome, Uncle Sam). But we're talking about ways to physically restrain you from spending your money…and I can't think of a more effective method than involving the IRS. Work with your HR professional to purposefully have them withhold more taxes than you should actually owe (typically you'll change your withholding on a W-4 tax form). It's pretty much forced savings. The trick here is that at the end of the year when you receive your tax refund, you need to immediately put this money into a savings account and forget about it—it’s not an extra lump sum that you can spend.
  • Use a Gift Card Allowance System: Have you seen those gift card kiosks popping up in everywhere from grocery stores to Home Depot? Pick yourself out several at stores you frequent (including the grocery store), and fund each with your budgeted money for that month. You can either fund one gift card with all of the money for each of your categories of spending (such as a Visa or American Express gift card), or use one gift card per category, such as food, gas, and entertainment. When the gift card value is gone, so is the spending. Note: this physical restraint might penalize you with an activation fee, so be prepared.
  • Put a Freeze on Your Credit: When you choose to freeze your credit, then each decision that is made to open up a new credit card or credit line, purchase a car, a home, etc. will entail a phone conversation with a representative at each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). Talk about an inconvenience!
  • Un-link Your Credit Card Information to Online Stores: It is so much easier to just click “buy” online when you have your credit card information saved to your account and do not need to enter it all over again. By unlinking your credit cards and deleting the information, you are introducing one more physical barrier between you and whatever item you feel you need/want.

Exercise #4: Stop the Spending Snowball Effect

Don’t let spending money become a snowball effect.

For example, while you are at the store, you see some other things that you want/need, and you throw them in the cart because, hey, you are having a bad spending month anyway, right?

What’s another item at this moment?

You can do this by putting a limit of only 2 extra items per trip (adjust accordingly).

Exercise #5: Use Marketing as an Emotional Gauge, Not as a Reason to Buy

The next time you are in a store and you feel some sort of emotional tie with a product, a brand, etc., ask yourself why.

Read the message, look at the package, and figure out what it is in your own life that you are lacking, feeling self-conscious about, feeling inadequate about, or desiring.

Now here’s the key: use this information to enhance your life, not to buy the product.

For example, perhaps you see Werther’s Original packaging and begin to feel sentimental…but really, deep down, this is a bigger issue dealing with you missing your family.

Walk away, and do not spend your money on the product.

Instead, look deeper within yourself, explore why you are feeling what you are, and get to the core of the issue.

Pssst: learn more about why spending money doesn’t make you feel better (and what type of spending actually CAN make you feel better!).

Exercise #6: Use Cash 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.

Exercise #7: Use PAYGO to Stop Spending Money You Don’t Have

Here’s another strategy to stop spending money you don't have: the PAYGO strategy.

I can’t take credit for this one – it’s from the government.

The US government used to have a rule from 1991-2002 called PAYGO, which basically meant that they could only spend money that 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 a 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!

Exercise #8: Learn this New Money Mantra

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 save. 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 for your excessive spending, and change it up with your new money mindset.

Exercise #9: Learn How to Stop Spending Money for 30 Days

How Can I stop spending money for 30 Days?

Take 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.

A win-win!

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, un-link your credit card information from online shopping sites; it puts one more physical barrier in front of you + making a purchase! Here's another resource to help you with how to hide money from yourself.
  • 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 74 things to do with friends without spending money, and 37 things to do when bored, broke, and alone.
  • 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.
  • Use a No Spend Tracker: I've listed out 11 free no-spend tracker apps and printables for you to use.

Exercise #10: Change the Order in Your Paycheck Gets Used Up

Save first, then spend – change your savings to an automatic withdrawal or savings account direct deposit that occurs at the beginning of each month, or right after you get your paycheck.

This will force you to spend what’s left over. Not to save what’s left over.

Exercise #11: Come up with Alternative Dopamine-Boosters

There are actual psychological reasons for overspending, and part of them centers around the fact that spending money gives you a temporary boost in dopamine.

To counter your overspending problems, pick out some activities that will boost your dopamine…without spending money (or with spending very little).

In fact, I created an article with 365 different ways to reward yourself (over half of them are free). Check it out – and figure out some great dopamine boosters that won’t cost you money.

Exercise #12: Learn How to Control Impulse Purchases

You can better control impulse buying if you know what causes it.

In no particular order, here is a list of what I deem to be the 7 deadly purchase sins that also happen to cause a lot of impulse buying. Read these over so that you'll avoid buyer's remorse.

  1. Ideal Self Purchases:  Do you ever purchase things because the type of person whom you ideally want to be, or the person who you see yourself as would use such items? For example, I purchase a lot of tea. In my mind I can see myself enjoying cups and cups of hot tea in handmade pottery mugs all day long, curled up with a book. In reality, I drink hot tea only a couple of times per month. Most of the money I spend on tea is wasted because ideally, it is what I would like to do, but in reality, I know that I will not.
  2. Self-Improvement Purchases as a Way to Self-Improve: I love self-improvement. Whether you want to lose weight, get yourself financially fit, be more independent, or live in the present moment—these are all admirable aspirations and qualities to have. But when you purchase exercise equipment as a first step in your self-improvement regimen, or umpteen number of self-help books thinking that you have begun your journey, you are wasting your money.  The key to self-improvement is in the first word of the phrase: “Self”. Want to lose weight? Start by looking at your diet, your exercise, emotional cravings, etc. Want to become financially fit? Analyze your bank statement and figure out where your money is going, then sit down and write some goals. Of course, having equipment to help you exercise and books to seek guidance from is important, but purchasing self-improvement products without actually putting in the effort is wasted money. Start with your Self.
  3. Status Symbol Purchases: Enough has been written on this category. Basically, when you are making a purchase, ask yourself why you are purchasing that product. If you have visions of suddenly becoming cool, of others wanting to be like you, of attracting a mate, etc., then ask yourself if you really should be making that purchase. This is especially true if you cannot afford it.
  4. Guilt Purchases: Have you ever bought a gift for someone because you felt bad for the way that you behaved, or because you have not spent enough time with that person and so you are trying to make it up to them by purchasing something? Don’t make the purchase, make the amends instead.
  5. Laziness Purchases: Some examples of these purchases could include purchasing convenience foods because you don’t make the time to cook as often as you should (my favorite being cheesecake filling in a container that came out a few years ago, where you literally just put the cheesecake filling into a pre-made graham cracker crust, and viola! Almost like homemade…), buying new instead of repairing for simple repairs, not taking care of personal belongings and thus having to replace them every season (like a rusted grill you could have wheeled into the garage), etc. Are there any areas in your life where you throw money out of convenience? Once again, not all of these purchases are bad, but if you make a consistent habit of doing them, they will drain your bank account.
  6. Because-it’s-Cheap Purchases: I am a sucker for a great sale, and I love to buy bulk. But sometimes, buying an item because it is cheap does not make financial sense. In my own life, some examples include a bulk package of Dove deodorants I bought after graduating college; out of the 7 extra large sticks, only three of them I could use before they expired. Another example is when I find a pair of pants that are insanely cheap, and even though they don’t fit me in a slight way (making them not my number one choice when I open my dresser each morning), I purchase them because they are so cheap. Note to self: cheap and bulk products are only helpful if you will actually make use of them.
  7. Obligatory Purchases: This category can include many things, such as Christmas presents for all of your family, office presents for other coworkers, expensive gifts for the boss, picking up the restaurant or bar tab for a group of friends, etc. Once again, these are all nice things, but not if you do not have the money.

I hope I've shown you how to train yourself to spend less money. Not only that, but that it can actually be done. Take action on just one of these tips, get really good at it, and then move on to a new one. Before you know it, you'll have increased the gap between your paycheck and your spending…meaning you'll have found some money to put into savings!

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.