How to Stop Spending Money You Don’t Have
If you want to know how to stop spending money that you don’t have, you have to address two pieces of your life: the mental/emotional side and the practical/budgeting side. Spending more than you earn is living beyond your means, and in short, means you’re going to end up in plenty of credit card debt.
The key to stopping spending money you don’t have is analyzing your latest purchases. Ask yourself why you bought them. Were you sad? Lonely? Frustrated?
Sometimes we overspend to feel included or try to find happiness. Maybe you hop online to shop when you’re bored or even angry at your spouse. (No judgment – I’ve done tons of rage shopping in my day!)
Many triggers cause us to overspend, each one a unique as the person it affects.
You need to figure out what your triggers are because they are unique. Maybe you like to use shopping as an easy way to connect with family or friends. Or perhaps you’re lonely, and it’s an effective way to fill your time when you’ve had a bad day.
No matter what the reasons, once you’ve pinpointed your overspending triggers, it’s time to move on to figuring out how to avoid them.
How to Stop Spending Money on Unnecessary Things
Another payday hits, and you’ve already got the itch to go shopping. Next thing you know, your paycheck is spent before the weekend is over.
Unfortunately, it’s another two-week stretch to keep yourself afloat until the next payday. You know you need to stop spending money you don’t have, but how?
If this sounds like a familiar struggle in your household, don’t fret – we’ve all been there. You might often buy things you don’t need or spend too much on food or clothes, or other unnecessary items.
Now that you know why you spend, you need to figure out the best ways to help you stop spending, especially on impulse purchases. There are many great tricks to help you adjust your behavior and learn how to stop spending money you don’t have.
Use cash envelopes or pre-paid cards.
Assuming you already have a budget in place, switch to cash-only or pre-paid cards. Create cash envelopes or cards for each budget category. Once the money is gone, it’s gone. There’s no way to overspend when you don’t have the cash on you! I would suggest skipping the debit card on this one – it’s too easy to fall into overspending and overdrafts.
Unsubscribe from store emails.
This is good idea as a first step. Just because something’s on sale doesn’t mean that it’s always a great deal, or that you actually need it. Remove yourself from any email lists that are just too tempting, and keep any that are only for necessities (like groceries). Without the temptation to indulge in online shopping in your inbox every day, you’ll avoid drooling over sales and spending what you don’t have.
Avoid your favorite stores.
If a particular store is your downfall (I’m side-eyeing you, Target!), then make it a goal to avoid that store. Try just setting a goal of not going for two months. Once you start to see how it positively affects your bank account, you’ll be able to more easily avoid it in the future or at least be able to cap your spending there.
Limit your social media use.
I know, I know. That’s like asking you not to breathe (or maybe that’s just me?). But it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the pictures and stories of other people’s great new purchases and vacations. And it’s even harder not to be jealous and to be spurned into buying something yourself because you think you deserve it. Stack on top of that, all the companies that advertise via social media? It’s a black hole of overspending. Try to limit your time, or at the very least make the conscious effort to be aware of the marketing going on around you.
Realize that a sale is not savings.
Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you have t buy it. I’m very guilty of spouting off how much I’ve saved on a purchase – but did I stop to think if I needed that item in the first place?
It’s a great practice to remind yourself that you’re still spending money, and secondly, they could have easily marked the original price up to make the deal seem every better. Remember, if something is on sale, that sale will come around again when you have the money set aside for that purchase.
Ok, so you just have to have those new shoes. That’s fine – but you have to wait. Create a rule that says any non-essential purchases must wait three days. Or a week, or a month – your choice. You’ll find that nine times out of ten, the thrill of buying those shoes has worn off, and you don’t need them as desperately as you thought.
Update your budget often.
When I suggest updating your budget often, I mean daily or every other day, at first. Why? Because you’re hyper-aware of where your money is going and how much you have left in each category. It’s hard to purposely overspend when you know you don’t have the budget for it and can see it in black and white on paper (or computer screen). Try an app like Mint or YNAB to keep you looped into your spending.
Budget in fun money.
Don’t forget to make sure that your budget is realistic. If your budget is overly restrictive, you’re going to burst one day from the pressure and overspend as you’ve never overspent before! It’s essential to make sure you have fun money (or pocket money) included so that you can have a little to spend.
Hey – if you’ve been killing it, make sure you toss in a reward here or there. Incentivizing your good behavior is a great way to continue that good behavior. Find an inexpensive way to celebrate and reward yourself.
Figure out your hourly wage.
As discussed in this overspending blog post, knowing your hourly wage creates a checkpoint when spending. If you know you make $20 an hour, and that purse costs $400, the idea of working 20 hours to pay for it should make you cringe. Your time is the same as money – and looking at it that way can put some perspective on your unnecessary purchases!
Put reminders in your wallet.
I like to take my hourly wage, write it on a post-it note, and stick it in my wallet. That way, it’s there, staring me in the face as a reminder of how much more work I have to put in if I buy this $300 leg lamp.
Substitute another free or cheap activity for shopping.
Shopping can be a great way to pass the time or alleviate boredom. I get it, and I do it too. But is it worth going into more debt? Why not spend that time going for a walk, cleaning out your garage, or making extra money instead?
Just say no.
It’s so easy to give in to peer pressure when shopping (that’ll look great on you!). Strengthen your “saying no” muscles and build them up. If you are still struggling to say no, then…
Find other ways to spend time with friends or family.
Why not find another way to have fun together that isn’t as costly? Even a special occasion doesn’t have to be expensive. Maybe it’s a $5 coffee and a walk, playing board games or binge-watching the latest season of The Great British Baking Show (I like to fancy myself a non-practicing amateur baker). What’s important is spending time with them, not buying stuff. Talk to them and be honest about your struggle and why you want to change. Chances are, your family member would love to support you and could probably use a break from spending money as well!
Stick to a list.
Make sure that before you go shopping, you create a list of what you need. Make it a point to only purchase what’s on that list, and anything else can wait.
Parents, you have my full support in leaving the kiddos at home with your spouse or a babysitter to shop in peace. Er, I mean…to avoid overspending. Kids are notorious for wearing you down till they get what they want, so do yourself a favor and avoid the situation at all costs! Your wallet will thank you, and grocery shopping will feel a bit like a vacation. Win-win!
Or, online grocery shop to avoid temptation.
Even better – avoid the grocery store all together to stick to your grocery budget and cut down on extra items making it into your card. Try Walmart Grocery Pickup and get $10 off your first order!
Cut down decision fatigue.
It’s a known phenomenon that as the day wears on, and we’ve made a million and one tiny decision throughout the day, we get tired. By the end of the day, we start to get sloppy, and it’s easier to fool our brains into saying yes because it’s less work.
Ensure that you have things like dinner pre-planned so you don’t find yourself hurrying through the drive-thru to grab something because you’re just too tired to figure out what to cook.
Leave your cards at home.
Avoid temptation altogether by leaving your credit cards at home. If you don’t have them, it’s easier to avoid spending money you don’t have (since that is essentially what they’re for!). Even better – if need be, freeze them, lock them in a safe, or – if you’re feeling fearless – cut them up!
Don’t forget to remove your credit card information from your favorite shopping sites so that it’s harder to purchase online as well.
Think about the long term.
Set your financial goals for the next six months, year, two years, five years – whatever keeps you motivated. If you don’t have a plan or a purpose in mind, you’ll continue to toss that cash right out the window on every pretty little thing you see and think you need. Setting money goals is key to building your financial future.
Focus on being content with what you have.
Being content is one we all struggle with. Thanks to all the marketing that surrounds us daily, we think we always need more and more. However, if you stop and learn to be grateful for what you already have, you’ll find you’re spending less – and learning contentment.
Sort and clean through what you’ve already got.
Nothing – and I mean nothing – kills the buzz of shopping like having to dig through and organize past purchases. Doing a purge to donate to your local Goodwill is the easiest way to remind yourself of what you already have (and make you never want to shop again because you’re tired of going through it!).
Kick it all off with a spending freeze or savings challenge.
A no-spend challenge is the best way to get started with stopping spending as much money on impulse buys. They can be a fun way to pause your current bad spending habits and work on incorporating a new habit. I have a list of 37 creative and fun challenges here to help you get started!
Budget Items to Reduce or Cut to Stop Overspending
Now that we know how to stop spending money by reviewing triggers and behaviors, let’s look at ways to cut your budget. We’re so busy all the time that we’ve started to pay for convenience – which turns into overspending. Here are some simple tips to help you rein your household spending back in.
How to Stop Spending Money on Food
- Eat at home. The easiest solution (and yet somehow the hardest!) is to eat at home. Stop going out to eat, or limit it to once a week.
- Pack your breakfast or lunch for work. Packing your breakfast and lunch the night before keeps you feeling unstressed and likely to spend less money.
- Meal plan and shop weekly. It seems weird to suggest spending money on food to stop overspending, but if you go weekly, you’re more aware of what food is in your house and what your family has been eating. By having a decently stocked pantry and freezer, you’re much less likely to hit the drive-thru.
- Make a shopping list. And stick to it! Here are some cheap grocery list items to get you started.
- Have go-to recipes. Keep a couple of dirt cheap meal recipes to make when things are hectic, and you don’t want to cook. Don’t forget to keep those ingredients handy for when tempted to order out.
- Shop at Aldi’s, Walmart, or whichever local grocer is cheapest. Research and see which store near you consistently offers the lowest price. Bonus points if they provide online ordering and pick up!
- Use reusable water bottles. Stop buying individual water bottles – they’re bad for the environment and bad for your wallet.
- Eat leftovers. It’s a little shocking how weirded out my husband was about eating leftovers when we first got married. Since then, he’s bucked up and jumped on the bandwagon. If you can’t get them eaten in time, try freezing them for another week.
How to Stop Spending Money on Clothes
Clothing is another budget category where it’s insanely easy to overspend. Fight the urge to shop ’til you drop by using these tips:
- Stop buying clothes you don’t wear. I used to buy clothes that didn’t come in my size in the hopes that I’d lose weight and wear them. Usually, they were out of style when I got anywhere near that size (if I even did!). It’s a waste, so stop buying things on a whim.
- Ditch the fabric softener. Fabric softener isn’t necessary and is an added expense. If you still want that mountain stream fresh scent, find DIY ideas on Pinterest.
- No more dryer sheets. Go old school and use wool dryer balls or balls of aluminum foil to kill the static (no kidding!). Plus, you can get them with essential oils!
- Make your laundry detergent. It’s surprisingly easy and doesn’t take any crazy ingredients. Plus, it’s all-natural – check out this recipe.
Other ways to stop spending money
- Borrow from neighbors. Rather than buying a ladder or a tool, you’ll need once, ask your neighbors, family, or friends if they have one you can borrow.
- Try your hand at trading or bartering. If you make products or have services that you can provide, try bartering in exchange for what you need from someone else. There are plenty of sites dedicated to the bartering lifestyle to give you tips and tricks on getting started.
- Use reusable products. From water bottles to dish rags, there are reusable products to help avoid waste and save money. Some of my favorites include:Beeswax wraps instead of saran wrap
- Reusable sandwich bags
- Reusable bamboo towels instead of paper towels
- Cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers
- Use old clothes as rags. Any clothes you can’t sell or donate, cut up into squares for cleaning or use in the garage.
- Learn to repair what you have. Youtube is a great way to learn how to fix things. We fixed a leaky gasket on our 13-year-old mower to keep it alive for several more seasons!
- Cut the cord. Chances are, you’re already paying for other streaming services anyway, like Netflix and Disney+.
- Get rid of unused subscriptions. Use services like Trim or Truebill to help you track down subscriptions you’ve forgotten about and are still paying towards.
- Learn how to make stuff around the house. Whether it’s taco seasoning or your homemade cleaning supplies, making DIY items can cost pennies to what they cost from the store.
- Drop the gym membership. Workout cheaper at home with YouTube and cheap weights picked up off Facebook Marketplace.
How to Stop Spending Money as a Teenager
Teenagers who are new to the workforce and their paycheck can find the freedom of money daunting – and easily overspent. Try these hacks to cut down:
- Cut out the junk food. It’s incredible how quickly your earnings can get eaten up – literally. Stop the Starbucks, Burger King, whatever, and eat the free food at home from your parents while you can!
- Don’t buy new clothes – especially if they’re name brand. Find consignment stores like Plato’s closet to find name-brand items at discount prices.
- Don’t go to the salon. Check out the local cosmetology school for cheap haircuts, waxing, and nail services.
How to Get Someone to Stop Spending Money
What if the big spender isn’t you but your spouse/parent/child? The short answer is, you can’t. Ultimately, while you might think you have their best interest at heart, it’s up to them to figure out why they’re spending and make adjustments. You can send them an article like this about talking finances with your spouse but don’t expect significant changes if they’re not on the same page. If you keep pushing, they’ll shut down and block you out.
The most significant steps you can take to stop spending money you don’t have is to look at your behavior. Figure out why you’re doing it and what triggers it. Once you pinpoint that, remove yourself from those situations as much as possible. Changing your money mindset will go a long way to changing your financial situation.
Just remember that if you mess up and overspend, it’s not an excuse to chuck it all and go nuts. Stop, take a breath, and get back on track as quickly as possible. We all stumble. It’s just how quickly we can recover that matters!
A forty-ish web designer/developer by day, a budget & financial fanatic by night. I’m a mom, wife, avid reader, and DIY enthusiast who’s tracking our journey to debt freedom. Read More