How to Stop Unnecessary Spending Once and for All
With the new year here, I hear lots of talk in real life and the blogosphere about goals and resolutions. The new year is a great time to start. You recognize what you need to do and have the motivation to start.
Is one of your goals to spend less and save more this year? That’s definitely one of my goals. Did you know that even just a few years ago, one of the hardest things for me to do was cut back on my spending? I mean unnecessary spending of any sort. You know, shopping as a hobby, a pastime, a salve, a stress reliever, a fun get-together, a pick-me-up, an emotional crutch, or an impulsive behavior.
Now looking back, when I see some of the purchases I made or think about how much time I spent shopping, I say to myself “what was I thinking!?!” If you’re prone to emotional impulsive shopping or even occasional unjustifiable spending, I know how it feels. Who doesn’t like nice, new stuff? But it comes at a price.
As a former serious shopper and someone who still likes to shop, here are some tips to cut back on unnecessary spending this year.
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Avoid going out shopping
This one is pretty simple. Avoid going out shopping as much as possible. Consider visiting the mall or any other shop equivalent to visiting the dentist or any other unpleasant place. When friends ask you to go shopping with them, suggest a different activity instead. Cut out your after-work or weekend excursions to the stores. Once you cut back on your shopping, you’ll be surprised at how much more free time you have.
In Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes, the authors reported that people spend more money when using a credit card than when paying with cash. So if you have to go to a store, carry only the cash that you need and keep your credit cards at home.
Avoid window shopping in real life and online
Once you avoid going out shopping, it’s easy to fill your time browsing and buying from online shops. I’ve heard of people spending hours filling up their online carts to later dump items or buy them. The best way to avoid this is to skip the shopping sites altogether.
Delete shopping apps and bookmarked websites. When you get on your computer or phone, know what site you’re going to and why. You may have to install a program that will block certain sites or internet surfing if that will help.
Unsubscribe from email lists that promote shopping
Save yourself time and declutter your inbox by unsubscribing from email lists that promote shopping. Most of the stuff that’s being promoted is stuff you’d probably admit that you don’t need anyway. When it comes to favorite stores, I used to not want to miss a single sale in case I needed or wanted something. I’ll admit that I like a good sale and my guess is you probably do too.
If you fear missing out on a sale or if you do need something later in the year, reassure yourself that those sales will come around again. Most stores I know hold sales every holiday of the year.
Find other things to do with your time
One of the best ways to stop shopping is to substitute other activities in its place. When you want to shop, do anything else to get your mind off of it. Try working out, working on a side project, or my favorite, starting a side hustle.
I used to fill my lunch hour and after work hours with shopping. Once I realized how much I was spending, I quickly cut that out by working on graduate school applications and catching up on my reading list. Both of my substitute activities were more productive and fulfilling. You can do more productive, fulfilling things when you cut out real-life and online browsing and shopping. You’ll have so much more free time too.
Look elsewhere for the things you really need
Another way to cut back on unnecessary spending is to cut back on shopping trips and buy things you need from alternative sources. Decide to limit the number of trips you take to the grocery store. Instead of going several times a week for each need that comes up, try shopping only twice a week and making do with what you have. Or look beyond the grocery store and try shopping for what’s fresh and in season at a farmers’ market. Some farmers’ markets are very economical.
You can also try making use of what’s in your pantry and freezer. I mentioned in a previous post on tracking your kitchen inventory, there was a lot hidden in the back of my freezer and pantry.
Since keeping track of what’s in them, I’ve been better at eating up foods and decreasing the amount of food waste I produce, not to mention that I also save money by eating what I have rather than going to the store or a restaurant to eat.
When it comes to clothes, I’ve found thrift stores and second-hand stores to be great places to find nice, inexpensive items. You’re likely not to over-spend at these stores and you’ll get more for your money because prices are lower.
If you have friends and family members who wear your same size, they may be open to swapping clothes every so often. This is a great way to get to change up your wardrobe or style without having to purchase lots of new items.
Shop with a list and the right mindset
Make a list of the things you need, whether it be clothing, household items, or food. Then stick to it while you shop. It also helps to shop with the right mindset. If you visit the grocery store when you’re really hungry, you’re going to find that everything looks appetizing and end up with a lot more in your cart that you planned.
The same is true for other kinds of shopping. If you go shopping with the mindset to treat yourself, you’re likely to give yourself more leeway to buy what you want, whether it’s necessary or not.
Buy things that will make you money
Instead of fighting the urge to shop altogether, go ahead and shop, but buy things that will make you money. I’ve found that thrift shopping for resale is a good way to satisfy my desire to shop. When I want to shop, I visit a thrift store and find things that I can sell for more online. I do this frequently enough that I actually don’t enjoy shopping for myself anymore.
If you don’t want to visit a thrift store, garage sales and consignment shops are other places to find underpriced items that you can sell for more. You’ll have started your own side hustle and find money coming to you rather than going out.
Place items on hold or think about them for 24 hours
Say goodbye to impulse purchases by implementing a short waiting period. Most shops allow you to place items on hold for at least the day if not longer, which is enough time to consider if you really want an item or not.
If you’re still thinking about it and want it after 24 hours, then it’s probably reasonable to purchase it. If you go home and realize that you don’t need it, then you were smart not to purchase it. You may find that you forget about the item completely and that you’re getting by fine without it.
Clean the house
I can’t say that cleaning the house is fun, but it’s a good way to see how much stuff you already have. How many times have you purchased a duplicate of something because you didn’t realize you already had the item somewhere in your house?
Try cleaning the house and see what you can use up and what you can use in a new way. Right now might be the perfect time to try out that shirt that’s been sitting in the back of the closet. Whenever I clean the house, I find a lot of stuff I forgot I had. I try to use those things up before I shop for anything similar.
Track how much you spent last month
Credit card statements and receipts don’t lie. Except for the rare billing error, credit card statements and receipts are a good way to track your spending. Take a look at yours from last month. What percentage of your total spending was necessary and how much of it wasn’t?
For some people, this may be an eye-opening task. I think most people underestimate how much their credit card bill will be each month until they open the mail or their statement online. If this is the case for you, see what you can return. You probably didn’t really need the item anyway if you haven’t used it after 30 days.
A spin-off of this exercise is to track how much you saved by not buying what you wanted. Let’s say you got through the money without much unnecessary spending at all. Try adding up the cost of all the things you did want but didn’t buy. There’s $15 here and $20 there and an extra $5 here. Add it all up and congratulate yourself because that money is yours.
To wrap things up..
I’ve heard from several readers that one of their biggest struggles is curbing unnecessary spending so that they can save money, meet their financial goals, and spend on the things that really matter to them. As someone who has greatly improved her control of shopping over the past several years, I know it’s not easy. I’ve been told so and I’ve experienced it myself.
For myself, the best thing I’ve done is to remove myself from situations in which I would shop. I left my job located in a prime shopping area and now spend my lunchtime eating or working. My social time with family and friends involves eating together or maybe going to an event together, never shopping.
Even thrift shopping for resale has made me tired of shopping for myself. I still enjoy shopping from time to time when I need something, but my time is mostly filled with my side hustles, cooking, exercising, and quality time with others. And to tell you the truth, my life is much more satisfying without all the unnecessary shopping.
If your goal is to cut out unnecessary spending this year, try a few of the above tips to get started. In a month or two, you’ll see that piggy bank grow as you’re on the way to meeting your goals.
What tips do you have to cut unnecessary spending? What do you do or would you do with your newfound time and money?