I know I should stop spending all my money on shopping and should be paying off debt instead. But I find it hard to control my spending. Do you have any tips?
This is a common question I get from my readers. While I don’t have any debt, I can certainly relate to having trouble controlling your spending. I’m definitely an emotional spender. It’s something I’ve known about myself for a while and have been working to improve. And while I don’t claim to have solved the problem in my own life, I do have a plan for how I’m going to tackle it. I’m excited to share those tips you in this post.
But before we dive in, I want you to know that it’s okay. Just because you know better, doesn’t mean it’s easy to do better. I know that better than anyone. It’s why continuously turn to comfort eating and retail therapy to make myself feel better even though I know it doesn’t.
Humans are just bad at doing what we know is good for us and the same applies to our finances. That’s why you’ll always hear me say “money is about two things: maths and behaviour”. Maths is just numbers. It’s not subjective and it doesn’t change. Humans are more complex. We’re at the whims of our emotions, which often control our behaviour.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to improve ourselves and our finances and do better. Learning to control your spending is about making better financial decisions. It takes time and effort, but it’s a huge step towards financial freedom.
Stay motivated towards your goal
Financial freedom is hard. But you know that it’s worth it. It’s easy and understandable to get discouraged when progress seems slow or non-existent. This is especially the case because financial freedom isn’t something you can achieve overnight. It’ll be years of hard work and determination to make your dream come true. As a result, it’s important to stay motivated and remember why you’re chasing financial freedom.
Why are you doing this? What are you hoping to achieve? What does a life of financial freedom look like to you? That’s what you need to keep thinking about to stay motivated on this journey.
My idea of financial freedom involves being in complete control of my life to do whatever I want and travel freely. I don’t want to have to spend the rest of my life selling my time to pay bills.
Get very clear about why you’re chasing financial freedom. Over time, it will become easier to control your spending and make decisions that align your goal. Because when you know what a life of financial freedom looks like to you, you’ll know what’s at stake every time you make a financial decision.
Keep a reminder of your goal in your wallet or as a wallpaper on any devices you use to shop online. You can write it out, or use visuals – it’s up to you. I keep travel photos close at hand on my phone to remind me of this. I’ve also set up my desk at home as an inspiring place to keep me motivated – complete with all the pink stationery I could find.
Hold yourself accountable
Before you click ‘proceed to checkout’ or tap your card ask yourself this: “Does this purchase align with my goals?”. Why are you buying this? Keep in mind that your goals aren’t just about financial freedom. It might also be to create a relaxing and inspiring space in your home. Or, like me, you might be trying to get healthy and in shape.
Money that is spent on things that are important to you isn’t wasted. However, money is wasted when it’s spent recklessly on things that don’t really matter to you. It would have been a better use of your money to pay off your debts or increase your investments.
This tip will also help you control your impulse buying as well. You’re forced to think about what you’re sacrificing when you slow down and ask yourself whether your spending aligns with your goals.
I know from experience that this is a lot easier said than done. As an emotional spender, buying something to make myself feel better often feels like a worthy expense. The problem with this, however, is that those purchases rarely make me feel better. I just open them and play with them for a few minutes, but it doesn’t actually make a meaningful change in my life. It just empties my pockets and fills my home with ‘stuff’.
Remove the temptation to spend money
Beware of bad advice
I will never tell you to ‘leave your wallet at home’ or give you any similar advice. In my opinion, that isn’t advice, it’s rubbish. You should never leave home without access to your money, preferably in multiple forms. I always carry both my debit and credit cards and have Apple Pay on my phone.
Leaving your wallet at home isn’t sustainable advice for controlling your spending. It’s a band-aid over a bigger, chronic problem that isn’t being addressed. Problems that aren’t addressed will likely keep coming up again and again but nothing will be solved.
Most importantly, leaving your wallet at home is a way to end up stranded without any money. For example, what happens if your car breaks down and you need to catch the train back home? How are you going to pay for your ticket if you don’t have access to your money?
Make it easier on yourself
However, there are other ways of controlling your spending that won’t leave you stranded in an emergency. The easiest one – don’t go shopping. Just don’t go. If you need to buy groceries, head to a standalone supermarket without all the fun shops nearby.
If you’re easily tempted by online shopping like me, then start unsubscribing from promotional emails. Unfollowing social media accounts of the most tempting brands and stores is also a great idea. Promotional material is literally designed to convince you to spend money on a psychological level. There is only so much we can do to control that. We can, however, try controlling how much promotional material we’re exposed to.
Over the past few months, I’ve been more determined than ever to control my spending. As much as I love them, I really don’t need another notebook! I’ve been actively unsubscribing from a lot of promotional emails. It definitely seems to be helping. I have no idea what new products they’re launching, so I can’t be tempted by them!
Keep an eye on your budget
I like to check in with my budget as often as I can, sometimes daily or even multiple times a day. Yes, it’s partially because I love my budget. But it’s also because seeing how much I’ve spent and how much I have left is a great motivator for me.
Keeping on track with your daily budgeting will show you when you’re about to reach your limit. Once you know this, you can decide whether to adjust your budget if necessary or stop spending. Not being aware of how much you really had left to spend is no longer an excuse. That’s why I do a weekly budget check-in. I add up all the spending in my variable expense categories and calculate how much I have left to spend.
If you need a little extra help motivating yourself to actually look at your budget, here are 7 must-have items that make budgeting fun and easy.
Give yourself a challenge to control your spending
I’m talking about a no-spend challenge. A no-spend challenge is essentially challenging yourself not to spend any money on non-essential purchases for a certain period of time. They can be quite tough, especially at the beginning, but they’re a great way to go ‘cold turkey’ on excessive spending.
I’ve successfully completed a few self-imposed no-spend challenges in the past. They’ve saved me hundreds of dollars. Sometimes, however, my no-spend challenge falls flat on its’ face. Within a week of starting the month-long challenge, I’ve broken it because I really wanted something. See? I told you they weren’t easy! But they are rewarding and a great way to control your spending.
You could also try challenging yourself to ‘shop your stash’ and use what you have before you buy more. I’m currently trying a shop your stash challenge because it’s a great way to declutter my home while saving money.
Getting a group of friends together to complete the challenge might make it more manageable and a whole lot more fun. You’ll have an accountability buddy and a group of friends who understand what you’re trying to achieve.
Need a little extra motivation? Set a reward for yourself! You can win your prize only if you successfully complete your no-spend challenge.
Make it difficult to spend money
If you’re like me, you love convenience. The ease of being able to use Apple Pay or 1-click purchase or an express checkout makes online shopping so much easier and enjoyable. But it’s also an easy way to spend more than you should. I’m sure you’ve noticed this. There you are joyfully adding things to your cart and you proceed to checkout.
But it’s a complicated checkout process. It’s like brewing polyjuice potion with all the lacewing flies and complicated steps. And it honestly could take a month to be completed.
So, what do you do? You look back at the items in your cart and decide you can’t really be bothered. Not for that item, it’s not worth it. You’ve just saved yourself some money because the process of completing the purchase was inconvenient.
That’s the danger with services like Apple Pay and 1-click purchase. As much as I love them, they make it too easy to spend your money. Therefore, to control your spending, try to make it harder to spend your money. Disable 1-click purchases and remove your cards from Apple Pay. If you really mean business, you could even tell your browser to forget your passwords.
Allow yourself to splurge at times
It’s still okay to splurge a little at times even when you’re trying to control your spending. However, to keep your spending under control, you need to be prepared. That means saving up for splurging. I set aside some fun money for my splurge fund every time I get paid, as long as it fits within my overall budget.
I allow myself to dip into this pool of money and splurge whenever I feel like it. My splurge fund isn’t a separate bank account. However, I do keep a register (like an old school ledger) of what goes in, what comes out and what the current balance is.
Create a splurge fund for yourself based on the rest of your budget. The amount you’re able to contribute to your splurge fund each month will depend on your life and circumstances.
It’s hard to break habits even when we know we should be doing better. However, by staying motivated, removing temptation and being prepared you can begin to change those habits. Changing your spending habits will help you develop the skills to make better financial decisions. And just like with any other habit, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.