How to Get Out of Control Spending Under Control
Updated: Aug 20
What I Changed to Spend Less Without Feeling Like I'm Missing Out
Do you ever look around you and wonder how you ended up with so much stuff and wonder what happened? And why? I did.
And the answer changed me.
I used to love to shop. And when I did shop, I spent a lot of money. On stuff I didn’t need.
But I wanted it, so I bought it.
I replaced stuff because I was bored with it, or something new came along, or I just didn’t want my old stuff anymore.
And I did that over and over. I call it my "see it, want it, buy it" period of life. No matter how much I shopped or how much I owned, it was never enough.
My thoughts about owning stuff were warped, and my spending habits were broken.
I was unhappy. All the stuff didn't change that.
My unhappiness eventually led me to learn more about minimalism and simple living. Both helped inspire me to get my out of control spending under control.
Spending to Fill the Gaps in Life
I spent money for a lot of reasons that had nothing to do with needing what I bought.
A lot of times I bought things on impulse. Or to take my mind off other things. Or because I had nothing better to do.
I didn’t buy because I needed those things; I bought to fill an emotional gap.
But the gap never went away. All the stuff crammed in closets and drawers and cabinets didn't make any difference over the long run. I had more stuff but felt the same.
Eventually, I realized I was spending to fill a gap in life. A hole that stuff would fill. The only problem was, spending never filled that gap. And, it wasn't sustainable, so I decided to change.
We Are Not the Stuff We Own
I am an emotional spender. I buy for reasons that have nothing to do with what I need.
I also realized that what I own doesn’t make me the person I am. I'm an introvert who loves sweets and gardening. Owning a new car or an expensive purse doesn't change that.
These realizations changed my thoughts about how and why I spent money.
It was during this time that I watched the film Minimalism: A Documentary. It challenged my thinking and mostly, it appealed to my desire to change.
Now, I’m content to own less stuff, I don’t miss what I don’t have, and what I do own means more to me.
Spending Starts with Emotion
I reacted emotionally when I saw something I wanted to buy. I think most of us do.
We see something, we feel something, then we buy that something.
An emotion-based buying process looks like this:
1. You’re clicking around online or walking through a store.
2. You see a product that catches your eye, so you stop. You look at it more closely.
You pick it up and read the packaging or you scan the online description for more information and scroll to read the reviews.
3. You connect what you’re learning about the item with your own life.
You begin to think about how life will be better if you buy it. Maybe it will make you feel more attractive.
Or make your life easier or less stressful.
Or make it easier to entertain family and friends.
4. You conclude that your life will be better if you buy the item. This thought makes you feel good.
It helps justify spending the money.
5. Your brain is now primed and ready to enjoy that “feel good” moment that comes from buying.
You've already justified spending the money, so there's no reason not to buy.
You swipe your credit card or press "Purchase" and, within seconds, the purchase is complete.
Related... How to be a Minimalist: Do It Your Way
Emotions Trigger Spending
The emotions I felt when I bought something were strong. I made many buying decisions because buying elicited a strong emotion, not because the decision to buy was rational.
The thing about emotions that make them hard to deal with is this:
They happen without our consent. We don't decide to feel this or that. We experience something, and we react emotionally to that experience.
Here's a good example:
Imagine you're in a restaurant and it's cold and rainy and dreary outside. You see a picture of a steaming hot bowl of chili on the menu.
Just seeing the bowl of chili warms you up. It looks so comforting... and so delicious.
You order the chili because of how the picture makes you feel. Your decision is based on emotional triggers, not a logical analysis of the situation.
Strong emotional responses like these are hard to overcome because they make you feel good.
To control out-of-control emotional spending, find a way to overcome these emotional triggers.
6 Questions to Control Out of Control Spending
Today, I’m much better at controlling my spending because I think differently about what I’m willing to buy and why I’m buying it. I recognize there’s an emotional aspect to much of my spending, so I stop and think before I buy something.
As a minimalist, I also question the value the item would bring into my life.
Here are six questions I ask myself to keep me from buying something impulsively or buying something I don’t need or value:
1. Can I afford this without going into debt?
2. Do I already have one of these? If I do, why do I need another one?
3. Will buying this add value to my life or improve it in some way?
4. If it wears out, breaks, or gets lost, would I replace it with the same thing?
5. Will I use it enough to justify the cost of buying and maintaining it?
6. Can I borrow one from someone else instead of buying one?
Answering these questions helps break my “see it, want it, buy it” impulsive spending pattern.
If I answer “No” to at least one of these questions, then I think about what’s motivating me to buy:
Am I buying for emotional reasons?
What real benefit does owning this item offer?
Even if I answer “No” to one of the questions, I may decide to buy anyway, but at least I’ve thought through the purchase.
I’m aware of how the purchase will affect me financially and the value it will add to my life.
Buy Intentionally, Not Emotionally
Being a minimalist and someone who values a simpler lifestyle, my shopping and spending habits have changed.
I shop differently now. I have also changed how I live, how I spend money, and how I value the stuff around me.
Buying with intention, not emotion, helps me save money.
I also have a greater appreciation for what I do buy.
Today, I shop with the intention to buy things that add value to my life. Items that mean something to me, not just stuff that becomes clutter a few months from now.
Consistent with my minimalist philosophy, I want a life filled with experiences, not a life filled with stuff.
Based on my own experience, I know it's possible to get out of control spending under control.
You don't have to be a minimalist or want a simpler life, like me.
What's important is that you're willing to make changes in how you spend. A good first step is to think about what triggers your spending. Do you spend out of habit, or boredom, or for some other reason?
Before you buy, think through the purchase. Ask yourself the six questions above.
Those questions help me identify emotional spending and encourage me to spend in ways that make me happier and more fulfilled.
I hope they will help you too.