Wondering how to stop spending money? You’d think telling yourself you couldn’t spend anything (beyond groceries, gas, bills, and replacements for things you use all the time, like toiletry items and makeup) for a whole year so you could focus on “intentional spending” would feel like sending yourself to prison. It kind of did, at first. When I told myself that exact thing at the end of December last year, I went into total squirrel mode, buying and hoarding all the things I thought I’d “need” in preparation for my year-long “stuff-fast.”
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How to Stop Spending Money and Feel Free
You’d be surprised how different–freer and lighter–you can feel by taking back control of your spending and reducing distractions and temptation to spend too much.
Summary of Money-Saving Tips
Before I get started on what I learned from my year-long attempt at spending intentionally, here’s a quick summary of some of my tips:
- Prepare yourself. Do a quick inventory of things you “need” but don’t actually need. Go through that list one by one. Is any item worth buying before the year begins (hint: probably not, so try to cut through that frantic feeling and urge to hoard)?
- Make a plan. A meal plan. Cook ahead. Freeze things so you’ll always have something convenient on hand.
- If you buy a cup of coffee from a coffee shop several times per week, consider why. Is it because you want a frothy, sweet beverage, or are you underwhelmed by the coffee your machine at home produces? Should you upgrade your coffee-making equipment before the year starts? Need a milk frother?
- Decide–firmly–that you need to throw sales papers directly into the trash when they show up. If you live with someone else, ask them to do the same or at least keep them out of your sight. Go ahead and do a sweep of your inbox. How many sales emails do you get in a day? Unsubscribe. Try Unroll.me.
- Use what you have for entertainment. Do you have a Netflix, Hulu, or Prime subscription? Skip the theater and find something there when you’re itching to see a movie.
These seem like simple, no-brainer things to do when you’re wondering how to stop spending money, but sometimes in the busy-ness of life, we forget how much control–and things–we already have. Cutting out distractions and spending less, for me, reduced my anxiety and made me feel more creative and clear-headed.
Spending Temptations vs. Freedom
You know what? While I’m glad I bought the things I did because they were mostly fitness-related and will help me in those goals, I’m feeling freer than ever now that we’re about halfway into January. I am kind of sad about that Victoria’s Secret sale. I mean, buy a sports bra and get a pair of workout leggings free?!?!
I totally would’ve made an exception if my Secret Rewards card had come in the mail in time because I would’ve been getting a whole outfit I already knew I’d love (I live in VSX workout gear) for about $30.00, but the card didn’t get here. Right as temptation to do it anyway set in, I found out the sale had already ended. Whew, dodged a bullet there!
So, that freedom. I feel so much more settled. Much less frantic. I can do anything and being in the world feels less chaotic and anxiety-inducing. Not that I felt like I had to have things because other people had them (I’m usually oblivious and just want what I want), but I’ve removed distractions that things and random experiences provided.
While distractions can be good, too many can make you feel scattered, on high alert, on edge, and disconnected. You start to drift away from yourself and the people you’ve invited to be near you. You may even wonder what your purpose is, or if you have one. I wrestle with that, too.
Save Time by Prepping Meals
It feels good to say the words “no” and “can’t” (which really mean “don’t want to because I’m working on some goals” in this context). We make our food at home and make it in bulk instead of having to get dressed, pile into the car, figure out what we want to eat (sometimes there’s hanger involved and that just leads to an argument anyway), waste time driving there and back, eat too much because the servings are too big and right there, spend too much, and avoid quality family time because of other people (and their noise!) around. Because of the meal prepping it’s more convenient to grab something from the refrigerator than to go out.
Say No: Squashing FOMO and Being Creative
Sales emails and papers don’t catch my interest because I know the answer’s no. If I look at them, it’s from an entirely different place and I never feel that oh-so-familiar sense of urgency to go rush around to buy whatever it is that’s such a good deal that I can’t miss out. FOMO will screw you over that way. One of the biggest challenges, when you’re learning how to stop spending money, is learning to drop the FOMO.
Because I don’t feel that tugging to go to different stores, or to shop online but first read all the reviews possible and hunt down promo codes, I feel much more centered. It’s also fun to remind myself that I don’t need whatever it is because I can revisit my own collections for something similar (some people call it shopping your stash) or get creative with what I have to achieve the same outcome. I used to do that a lot as a kid, and I’ve found myself missing that way of using my brain.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been slip-ups. Just like diets with cheat meals or missed workouts on a specific eight-week (or whatever) program, we’ve bought things we didn’t “need.” We went to Starbucks once because we were exhausted and didn’t have the option to make coffee at home. That’s compared to going several times a week, though.
We went out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants we haven’t been to in months because we thought one of the entrees and an appetizer were free (the appetizer was, but it was too early in the month to honor the free birthday entree) so we accidentally spent money we didn’t intend to there. We’re going out again soon for my stepdad’s birthday. He and my mom are driving up and he wants to go to a restaurant he doesn’t have where they live.
This “no-buy” isn’t depriving us completely of any joy. Instead, it’s teaching us to use money to live rather than help speed life along in a blur of habitual spending that means nothing at all. In some ways, it’s even sparking creativity. It’s an exercise in gratitude and appreciation for what we already have and our ability to improvise or plan ahead. Who knew learning how to stop spending money would do just as much for my mind and heart as it did for the budget?
There are exceptions to the no spending rule, but what that no-buy rule does is slow us way, way, waaaay down and make us think about the purchases we make, how much we need them (even if that need is simply because we want to celebrate someone’s birthday), and see if we can divert time, energy, and money in a different, more meaningful direction. We just have to ask….”Is it necessary?”
Make Different, Similar Choices
Could we cook a meal as a family, make a Chemex (this 8-cup Chemex is the one we use; hubby dropped our 6-cup and we decided to upgrade to a bigger size), and play a game instead of going to a restaurant and then a coffee shop? Could we pop our own popcorn, flavor it how we want to, and watch a movie on Netflix or Amazon Prime (already paid for) instead of going to a theater? Yes. The answer is usually yes.
While we’re learning how to stop spending money, we have to train ourselves to reroute our impulses for a richer (not just financially), better life. In doing so, I’m getting back to the core of who I am (I missed myself and felt so lost for so long, but didn’t know why or how to fix it) and enjoying my family much more because we’re not racing around, chasing things we don’t even need or looking for external entertainment. We just stay home and do our own thing.
Simpler Life, Wherever You Are
I had been desperately craving a simpler life and blamed living in the Atlanta area for not having one, mad and resentful all over again that we had to move from a small, comfortable town years ago to this congested area where nothing seems simple. Why did it take me so long to realize how much control I still have?
Learning how to stop spending money on a whim helps you slow down and feel grateful for what you have and what you can do without bringing more “stuff” into the house. It usually helps you stay healthier, too, because you’re thinking more about that fast food and fancy coffee.
You don’t have to stop spending money completely if that’s too intense, but removing the temptation to spend by making home-cooked meals more convenient, choosing to use what you already have, and getting rid of mail that’s trying to sell you things you wouldn’t have purchased if they weren’t such “good deals” will keep you on track with your budget.