Excessive spending can lead you down a debt spiral. When you’re spending money using only debt, you’re spending money you don't have. It’s money that isn’t yours and you’ll end up stuck with large amounts of debt that can take years to pay off. Knowing why you overspend and how to stop spending money makes a ton of difference.
In this complete guide, we’ll cover:
- Reasons why you’re overspending;
- Practical tips to help you stop spending money;
- How to stop spending money on food and groceries;
- Ways to stop spending money on clothes;
- How to stop spending money on household items; and
- What to do with your savings once you’ve stopped spending money.
Because here’s the often overlooked truth about personal finance. It’s more than numbers. It’s more than money. Your money doesn't walk out the door and spend itself. You spend it, or rather your behaviour and emotions spend your money.
I'm a spender at heart. I spend when I'm bored or emotional. There’s nothing wrong with spending money. You work hard for your money so you should get to enjoy it by spending it on things you like. But you run into problems when you start spending money you don't have. Left unchecked, overspending can lead you down a dark path to debt.
Reasons why you’re overspending
Let’s be honest, sometimes, spending money is fun. But sometimes it feels like an addiction that can be hard to break. The more you spend, the less you save. And when you’re spending using credit cards, you’re racking up debt as well.
If I'm not careful, I can spend all my money and not plan ahead to save for the future. I’ll admit that knowing how to stop spending money is not the same as knowing why you spend so much in the first place.
It’s like dieting. If you’re a chocoholic and insufferable sweet tooth like me, you know you should avoid sugar. Otherwise, you risk losing yourself in tornadoes of sugary pastries dripping with chocolate. As a spender, knowing why you overspend holds the secret to how you can stop spending and get out of the debt spiral.
The reality of the modern age is that life is lived twice: once in private and once on social media. Social media can be an easy trigger to send you into an unstoppable spending spree. It’s designed to allow people to show off what they have and what you don’t. I’ve fallen into this trap myself a few times. You spend hours scrolling through and you’re left wondering why they get to have these things and you don’t.
Don't let random people on the internet convince you that you need more and more to be a better version of yourself. The influencers you follow make you feel like you’re not enough. And that spending money to be like them will fill that hole.
Some of this stems from confidence and self-esteem issues. But material things won’t fill that gap (trust me, I’ve tried). And they won’t make people like or value you as the beautiful tropical sunfish that you are (thanks, Leslie Knope).
Social media forces you to play a comparison game that’s rigged against you. People put their best on show and it sometimes isn’t even the truth. It’s curated to look like the truth but there’s so much that’s hidden outside the frame of those little squares.
We have no idea what people’s lives are really like because they only show us what they want us to see. It’s like a fairy godmothers’ spell - we see a carriage when it’s out in public but it’s really a pumpkin when no one is looking.
Not tracking your expenses
This is one of the worst ways to spend too much money. You’re admitting that you’re ignorant about your overspending. Sometimes, you look over your spending and think “oh crap, I better stop”. But sometimes you don’t check your expenses or your bank balance. You keep on spending as if the money magically reappears when you’re not looking. I'm sorry to say that money doesn't work like that.
When you keep yourself in the dark about how much you’ve spent, the next thing you buy doesn’t feel like it’s too much. It’s only this one thing you want to buy. But one thing becomes 10 super quick and before you know it, you’ve spent more than you know you should.
Shopping to feel better
Now, this is my nemesis. After some careful reflection, I noticed I was more prone to spending when I'm emotional. There comes a time when I don't care about saving money at that moment. I think this shiny new usually pink thing is going to make me feel better and I want it. It might not be in my budget but I have some fun money saved up so I buy it. I know I shouldn't but quite frankly, I don't care. I need it.
Sound familiar? This is a trap I find myself falling into way too often. I know the things I spoil myself with aren’t going to cure my depression. But they help me feel better for just a moment and sometimes that moment is worth it.
It’s not worth it when you’re going into debt. It's not worth it when you’re spending money you don't have. It’s not worth it when you’re sacrificing your financial health. Because if you think you feel bad now, wait until you can't pay the rent on time. Or they shut off your electricity because you missed your last bill.
I will never judge anyone for buying things to fill a hole. But I've learned the hard way that a hole in your wallet doesn’t fix a hole in your soul. Believe me, I’ve tried and it’s a lot harder than that.
It’s okay to spend money when you feel miserable. But knowing that it’s not the cure is a gamechanger. Give yourself an allowance of happy money instead, based on what your budget can afford.
Shopping when you’re bored
Read a book. Bake a cake. Find something else to do other than spending money. Don’t go to the mall and turn off your Apple Pay. Spending money when you’re bored is a pretty dumb way to spend yourself into debt.
Occupy your time with a free hobby. Learn a new language on Duolingo. Binge-watch Schitt's Creek on Netflix. Go find something else to do. Or better yet, rummage around through your things. You’re bound to find something you once bought out of boredom that you forgot you had. When you rediscover it, it’ll feel like new. Go play with that for a while.
Paying with plastic
I love paying with plastic or better yet, with Apple Pay. It’s so much easier and much more convenient for me. I hate carrying cash. It makes your wallet heavy. I worry that it’ll get stolen, I hate looking for ATM’s and I'm too lazy to take regular trips to the bank.
But the truth is that paying with cash makes it harder to overspend. It's easier for our brains to understand that we’re losing something when we hand someone cash. Not to mention that when you’re spending with cash, you can only spend so much. Eventually, all the cash will be gone and you can't spend anymore.
It’s one of the reasons why the cash envelope system of managing money is so wildly popular. I don't recommend it as a long term solution because it doesn't fix the problem of why you’re really spending money.
Just because you spend with cash it doesn't mean you’re not spending to feel better. Or because someone on social media told you that you absolutely need something. But cash can help you control your spending in the short term. It helps you make better decisions about what you’re spending your money on.
And unless you borrowed cash from the sea witch in exchange for legs, you aren’t going into debt by spending with cash only.
The fear of missing out
You only need to look at the toilet paper craze of 2020 to understand this one. You know, spending money like it’s going out of style. When we think something is going to disappear and we don't have enough, it’s easy to panic like a chicken about to be turned into a pie and buy, buy, buy.
We’ve all done it at some stage. Only one packet of rice left in the pantry? Better be safe and buy two next time in case you run out. Only 2 left in stock? Better get one now because who knows when it’ll come back.
The fear of missing out, or the scarcity principle makes you spend more than you should. Marketing techniques are even designed to add a sense of urgency so that you’re more likely to spend money now. It doesn’t give you a chance to wait a few days in case you change your mind or find something else.
Advertisers try to instil that fear of missing out in you to make you spend money. It's better to be safe than sorry, right? But it’s even better to be debt-free than saddled with debt that’ll take years to pay off.
Delayed reward discounting
Let’s get a little science-y here. We’ve gone through a few psychological reasons why you’re overspending and why it’s hard to stop. I’ve got one more for you. And it’s one we’re all guilty of. It’s the idea that, as humans, we’d rather take a smaller reward now, than a bigger reward later.
I'm sure you’ve seen this in action. Eating the cookie because you want it now instead of the salad even though it’ll make you healthier in the long run. Or spending money on something you want today instead of saving that money to buy a better one next year.
The longer it takes to get the bigger reward, the more susceptible you are to taking the quick win. This type of behaviour programs you to spend, not to save.
Breaking up a large goal into smaller achievable milestones makes it more achievable. It brings the reward closer, so you’re less likely to sacrifice what you want most for what you want in the moment.
Practical tips to help you stop spending money
Should you leave your wallet at home?
I’ve heard a lot of people say that in order to control your spending, you should leave your wallet at home. I’ve never heard such terrible advice and I'd never tell you to do that. You should never leave home without access to your money, in multiple forms. I always carry both my debit and credit cards and have Apple Pay on my phone.
Leaving your wallet at home is an invitation for disaster. You need to have access to your money at all times. Otherwise, you're asking to get stranded up a certain creek with no paddle.
It's not just about big emergencies happening while you're out like a car accident. It's also small things like you getting hungry while you’re out or needing to pay for parking.
Besides, leaving your wallet at home isn't actually addressing the underlying problem. You’re not fixing anything. You’re applying a bandaid solution that isn't a sustainable way to manage your finances. It won't help you in the long run. It's the difference between a crash diet and learning to make healthier eating choices.
It’s the same thing as throwing your credit card in the freezer and letting it get swallowed up into a block of ice. You’re not solving the problem. You’re throwing a tantrum and hoping that the problem goes away.
Spend with a goal in mind
This is along the lines of shopping with a list. Imagine you go out shopping because you want to buy a new little black dress. Every wardrobe needs one, right? You shop around in different stores, try a few on until you find the perfect one.
You know the one I’m talking about - it’s the perfect fit for your shape and the soft fabric and delicate lace complement each other oh so well. It makes you feel like a goddess. Goal accomplished and money well spent.
Now, imagine you go shopping because you feel like shopping and spending money. You pop in and out of different stores finding things here and there that catch your eye. And because you’re out shopping and you want to spend money, you do. You don't have a specific thing you want to buy, so you buy whatever you find.
Suddenly, you’ve bought a new floral dress, ballet flats, a Kate Spade handbag, some new perfume and Bobbi Brown lipstick in the most gorgeous rosy colour you’ve ever seen.
Now you’re hungry. A latte and oversized pain au chocolat ought to fuel you back up so you can keep shopping. By the end of the day, you’ve spent a ton of money on stuff you weren’t looking for. It might all be stuff you like but you didn't know you liked it until you saw it.
Give your spending a purpose
When you shop with a goal in mind you’re giving your purchases more purpose. You’re buying something you need or something you want that you’ve already thought about.
You’ve taken the time to make a logical decision on what you want to spend money on instead of wandering aimlessly around the mall throwing money at anything pretty that comes your way.
Also, when you’re looking for a specific thing to spend money on, you’re focusing on that one thing. When you’re looking for that perfect little black dress and you’re rifling through the racks, you don’t pay as much attention to the floral dress. You skip over the blush pink button-down shirt. You keep looking until you find what you were truly looking for.
It’s like dating. I was never any good at it, especially as a teenager. So you end up going on all sorts of strange dates with a bunch of weirdos. They make for great stories in your 30s, but it's still awkward when it happens. When I was older, though, I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t. So when I kissed a frog that stayed a frog I moved on. I was looking for my Prince.
Start a new free hobby
Unfortunately, my favourite hobby is also my most expensive one. I like collecting and using pretty planners and all the matching pens, stickers and notebooks that go along with it. A hobby that’s free may be a little hard to find these days but you can still find hobbies that don't cost more than a few dollars.
I’ve recently made the decision to stop buying physical books. I’ve loved books since I was a child. I love holding them, carrying them around in my library bag and that delicious fragrance of the ink and pages.
I still remember the way my Harry Potter books smell. It's a perfume that's been in my head and my heart for almost 20 years. But the truth is that physical books can be really expensive in Australia.
So, I've decided to slowly transition my library entirely to my Kindle. The most expensive Kindle book I've ever bought is $15. The cheapest one has been free.
Pay yourself pocket money
Let’s be honest - sometimes you just want to spend money. I get it, I've been there too. I'm a spender at heart and just saying that I want to stop spending money doesn't make it so. It’s not a magical spell, it doesn't work like that.
You're a spender like me, it's part of your personality. Telling yourself to just stop spending isn't going to work. If you want to stop spending, you need to work with your personality, not against it.
That’s one of the reasons why I love the idea of giving myself some pocket money or blow money in my budget. It's money that I can spend on whatever I want, whenever I want without feeling any guilt and without sacrificing my financial goals.
Knowing that I have that money to spend helps me control how much I'm spending. That's because my spending money is part of my budget. It’s not some villain out to destroy it because it’s the prettiest budget in the kingdom.
Look over your budget and start a blow money or pocket money fund for yourself. It doesn't have to be fit for a princess, it just needs to be enough for your budget to handle. Start small and add honey to the pot as you go. Soon you’ll have accumulated a nice sum of money to spend however you want.
Know your triggers
I’ll be the first to admit that I'm an emotional spender and an emotional eater. I know that about myself. When I’m having a bad day or feeling low, I like to treat myself to things I enjoy. My emotions spend my money.
Your triggers might be different. It might be because you admire your bestie’s home decor and you want the same. Or maybe you like having the latest trends in makeup. Perhaps you spend money when you’re bored. Or shop online to wind down at the end of the week.
Your money doesn’t save and spend itself. You do it. And everything you do is influenced by your emotions and your personality. It’s not about changing who you are in order to stop spending money. It’s about understanding why you spend money and working with your personality to change your behaviour.
Try keeping a spending journal for a month. Whenever you spend money, make note of how you were feeling before and after spending that money. Keep track of where you were and what you were doing as well as what inspired that purchase.
You’ll soon see a pattern emerging on why you spend money. You might realise that you spend money after you’ve had a bad day at work. Or you spend money during your lunch break. Knowledge is always power. Knowing what triggers your spending will help you change your habits and stop spending money.
Try a no-spend challenge or a spending freeze
If you’d rather go cold turkey to stop spending money, then a spending freeze is perfect for you! No, you’re not embedding your credit card in a block of ice. A spending freeze is a certain amount of time where you challenge yourself not to spend money. The longer they are, the harder they are. But they’re a fantastic way to reset your spending super fast.
If you’re up for the challenge, check out this comprehensive guide to spending freezes and get started today!
Avoid the temptation to spend money
Let’s not sugar coat it. If you can't stop spending money, then don’t go shopping. Unsubscribe from promotional emails. Delete the Amazon app from your phone. Stop scrolling through social media buying what influencers get for free.
Remove the temptation to spend money. You’re not doing yourself any favours. When you're trying to stop spending money, don’t bombard yourself with things to buy. It's like repeatedly slapping yourself in the face.
Make it difficult to spend money
These days, it’s become way too easy to spend money. But when it isn't easy, we sometimes tend to give up. I know you’ve come across this before. You’ve carefully curated your cart and you’re going through the checkout process.
Suddenly they’re asking a million questions and making you enter in your address 3 times. It won't ship to your door, you’ll have to pick it up at the post office which is only open while you’re at work and on the other side of town.
You can't be bothered with all this hassle, the stuff in your cart isn't that great anyway. So you cancel the checkout and get on with your life.
We love convenience, and spending money is too convenient these days. If you make it too hard to spend money, you’ll give up on a few purchases. It's as simple as removing your credit card details saved in your shop accounts.
Or deactivating apple pay and turning off one-click purchases. If that’s not enough, then cancel all your cards and use only cash. You can’t shop online by throwing cash at the screen.
Work out what it costs in time
Here’s a great motivator to stop spending money. Work out how many hours you need to work to pay for your purchase. Start seeing cost not just in terms of money but in terms of hours you need to spend at your soul-sucking job.
For example, if your take-home pay is $30 per hour, those $90 suede ankle boots will cost you more than just $90. You’ll also pay 3 hours of your time sitting at your desk bored out of your mind being told what to do by a boss you don't like. Are those boots still worth it?
If you’re that rare breed that actually loves their job, then you’ll need to modify this a little bit. What else are you working towards in your life? Are you saving up for a month in Paris? Or a Caribbean cruise?
Every days’ worth of pay you spend on things you don’t really need is another day you have to put off doing what you really want.
One of my favourite ways to stop spending money is to sleep on it. I’m notorious for adding things to my cart, taking them out, adding them back in and taking them out again. I do this over a few days or sometimes over a few weeks.
It might sound like I have no idea what I want but it actually helps me control my spending. By giving myself time to think about what I'm spending my money on, I can shop around for better deals or decide that I don't want it anymore.
But sometimes I spend those few days thinking about how much I want those gold foiled stickers. Or that pink leather-bound notebook. It’s something I really want and I haven't forgotten about it. I can't stop thinking about it. So, I decide to buy it, feeling confident that I’m spending my money well.
When you give yourself permission to buy whatever you want as soon as you want it, you tend to leave your brain out of the picture. That’s why impulse shopping is so dangerous. The desire for that ballet pink dress goes straight from heart to wallet.
Give yourself time to think
In the age of online shopping, modern marketing techniques have evolved to try and get you to spend money as soon as possible. I know you’ve seen this in action. Timed discounts, low stock alerts, sale ends at midnight, flash sale and limited releases are all designed to create a sense of urgency.
They’re trying to get you to buy something because you’re afraid of missing out instead of taking a few days to think it over. We’ve all fallen victim to this before. We get caught up in the frenzy and like a flock of seagulls on a lone chip at the beach, we buy, buy, buy.
But when you stop for a few days and think it over, you’re making a more logical and well-informed decision. You’re allowing your brain to speak. Your actions aren’t at the whim of your emotions.
Try spending with cash only
The cash envelope system is a really popular method people use to cut their expenses and control their spending. You can see where the appeal is. You have a certain amount of cash you’re allowed to spend, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. When you have no control over your spending, this is a great way to get it back.
But I don’t recommend it as a long term solution, because it’s a bandaid over a larger problem, but cutting yourself off will temporarily help you stop spending money once it's all gone.
The key here is to have enough discipline not to withdraw more cash than you need and not to withdraw more once you’ve spent everything you have.
I could never be a cash-only spender. I like paying with plastic. It's just too convenient for me. I have no patience to count cash or make regular visits to the bank and I certainly don't want to walk around town with a large amount of cash in my wallet. You're not learning how to control yourself and stop spending money. You’re learning to deprive yourself because you can't trust yourself.
Check your bank balance
Checking your bank balance before you buy anything can be a great deterrent. Not only does it keep you informed as to how much you can safely spend, but it also gives you that ‘oh crap, I better not’ moment when you see that you don't have as much to spend as you thought you did.
Keep your mobile banking apps on your phone for easy access while you’re out and about or shopping online. It only takes a few seconds to log in and see if you’re able to spend without ruining your budget or if you're about to make a mistake.
How to stop spending money on food & groceries
Meal planning is something I've been trying to perfect for our family of two over the past year or so. Planning out your meals helps you figure out what to buy and use what you have already sitting in your pantry.
It also gives you a chance to plan for leftovers and for days you know you’ll be too busy to cook. Food is the second biggest expense in your budget after your rent or mortgage. We eat so much of our money. Having a plan will help you see if you’re overspending and avoid eating out all the time.
Something I hear too often is that meal planning is only for busy mums with kids to feed. There’s some confusion as to whether meal planning is right for you. To help you out, I’ve made a simple infographic flowchart to help you decide whether meal planning is right for you.
Make a grocery list
Your grocery isn't a magic spell. Just because you make a list, doesn't mean you won't spend money on things you don't need. The trick is to actually stick to your list!
Set yourself a time limit for shopping so that you’re in and out and don't have time to wander around looking for things to buy. And whatever you do, don't shop when you’re bored or hungry. Otherwise, your brain stops working and your stomach starts making all the decisions.
Bring your lunch from home
Buying your lunch every day is going to add up super fast. Keep costs low by packing your lunch and bringing it from home. It doesn’t mean you need to cook more. Just fill your meal plan with meals that create leftovers. All you have to do is pack it up and remember to take it with you when you head out the door.
Order groceries online
Grocery pickup is free for many stores. Buying groceries online is a lot less fun than buying stationery or clothes or skincare. It’s more of a ‘just put it in the cart and be done with it’ type deal. That's good news. It makes it easier to stick to your list and you're less likely to add random things to your cart.
Picking it up from the store is also quick and easy. You won’t get lost in all the aisles, buying things you don’t need and calling out Jumanji to end the game and go home.
Say no to eating out
Everyone knows that eating out is expensive. It makes up a huge chunk of your monthly budget. Eating out once in a while is fine but if you’re trying to stop spending money you’re going to have to start saying no.
Good friends will support your efforts to save money and cut your spending. Try hosting a games night or pot luck dinner instead.
Quick & simple go-to recipes
We’re all guilty of ordering a pizza when we’re too busy, tired or lazy to cook. Once in awhile is no big deal but it’s easy for this behaviour to turn into a pattern that snowballs. Before you know it, you'll have spent a small fortune on ordering in or eating out.
Spend a Sunday afternoon on Pinterest looking for some quick and easy recipes, instead. These are great for when you have no time, no energy and no patience. You can also stock your freezer with some freezer meals. Just heat it and eat it!
How to stop spending money on clothes
Extend your wardrobe
If you’re buying new clothes, only buy things that will extend your current wardrobe and match with everything else you have. If that lavender wool coat does not match with anything else you own, then don't buy it. Otherwise, you’ll either never wear it (wasting money) or need to buy a whole new outfit to go along with it (spending more money).
Buy only what you need
We all like buying and wearing nice clothes but when you’re trying to stop spending money don't buy what you don't need. Draw the line between clothed and naked, not clothed and stylish.
Buy what you need so that you’re not running around town with your bum hanging out. That’s essential clothing. But that cashmere cardigan you’re lusting after isn't.
Borrow or swap
If you and your girlfriends are the same size, then this is perfect for you! Share your closet and borrow clothes from each other. Or organise a swap with a few of your friends. You can make a night of it. Open a bottle of wine, try on each other's clothes and find a few new favourite pieces.
Invest in quality clothing
Clothes that are well made with quality fabrics will cost you more but they’ll last longer than the $6 tee you picked up at Kmart. While lesser quality clothes are cheaper, you’ll be making more repeat purchases because they won't last as long.
Depending on your budget, invest in more quality pieces for your wardrobe. Just be careful not to pay a pretty penny for brand names. Just because it’s a brand name, doesn’t mean it’s a quality product.
Take care of your clothes
If you’re going to spend money on new clothes, you want to spend it on that stunning slate grey pencil skirt you saw in the window last week. It’s more fun than replacing your boring black cardigan with holes under the arms.
Taking care of your clothes will not only help them last longer, but will also allow you to spend your money on building your wardrobe instead of replacing it.
Opt for higher quality washing detergents and stain removers. I'm too lazy to get anything dry cleaned so I try not to buy anything I wouldn't feel comfortable throwing in the washing machine.
Check the settings on your dryer and washing machine. Use the delicate cycle for your delicates, and wool cycle for wool blends.
Create a capsule wardrobe
I’m dying to start a capsule wardrobe. At the moment, I'm still trying to lose weight, so the capsule wardrobe is on hold until I start buying new clothes at (hopefully) a smaller size. I have the beginnings of one for my work clothes but not for anything else.
A capsule wardrobe is a few curated pieces that can easily be mixed and matched to create a collection of outfits. Everything matches and coordinates together so it helps you stop spending money on more and more clothing.
Here are a few great resources for creating a capsule wardrobe:
Revamp old outfits with accessories
Cinderella is proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life. Your new shoes don't have to be that amazing, but pairing them with old outfits will add something new to your look. You don't have to spend hundreds on a brand new wardrobe with all new clothes. A few carefully selected accessories such as scarves and statement necklaces can transform any outfit.
How to stop spending money on household items
Reuse, recycle, repurpose
When it comes to spending money on household items, the best way to stop is to try to reuse, recycle, repurpose and upcycle everything you can. Switch to reusable containers and jars that can easily be washed and used over and over again. Try rechargeable batteries and washable towels instead of disposable paper ones.
Buy in bulk
Buying household items in bulk is a lot easier than buying food in bulk because it won’t go off. Don't buy a ridiculous amount, but buying in bulk means you’re paying less per unit. Just make sure you check your prices before purchasing the extra-large pack.
I’ve stopped spending money. Now what?
Now that you’ve learned how to stop spending money you’ll be able to watch your savings grow like a beanstalk! Build up your emergency fund and evaluate your financial priorities.
You can use all your extra savings to save up for big things like travelling or new furniture. Or use it to make extra debt payments to become debt-free faster.
If you’re debt-free and have a fully-funded emergency fund, consider investing your extra savings to grow your wealth. Investing doesn't always mean property and stock markets.
Investing in your personal development is still investing. Learn a new skill that can help you increase your earning potential. Join a gym and invest in your long term health and wellbeing.
Spending money can feel like an addiction. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. But it’s a dangerous pattern of behaviour that can lead you into debt. Knowing why you overspend is crucial to being able to stop spending so much money. It’ll take a little bit of work, but the rewards will be worth it.