I was raised in a lower class family, and we never really had money for anything we wanted. Now, years later, I have a job and I feel like I can't stop spending. I see myself buying useless things and eating out a lot because I never had a chance to do these kinds of things growing up and I'm absolutely in love with this new lifestyle.

I'm not spending money I don't have, but I don't like going into my online banking statement and seeing recent (and sometimes expensive) purchases that I sort of regret.

Are there any tips to help me start saving instead of spending and breaking this cycle?


4 Answers 4


One things about psychology - people spend more money when its an abstract concept instead of having cold, hard cash. What does this mean? People spend more money when they use credit cards for day to day purchases.

While I still use a credit card for day to day purchases, there's a big difference between bringing $200 to costco to pay for groceries and laying out 10 $20 bills vs swiping a card when you see a number flash on the screen. If you're truly looking to reduce expenses, keep this in mind.

  • 1
    Very true. I use my debit card for everything, and it's so tempting... just one swipe and anything you want is yours. If I was buying the exact same things with cash, I'd be like "oh God, that's a fortune!"
    – Corey
    Oct 25, 2010 at 18:49
  • 2
    When I was a poverty-stricken grad student, I had a problem with a credit card, before debit cards were common. (Actually, this was pre-Internet, in the early 80s.) So I put it on a shelf in my closet. It was there in case of emergency, but because I didn't carry it with me, I couldn't use it for impulse buys. If you decide to try the Envelope system (which I also used back then), or some other almost-all-cash system, try that with your debit card.
    – Bob Murphy
    Oct 26, 2010 at 6:30
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    To add to this, people tend to spend smaller denominations of cash faster. Picture this: You have 100 $1 bills, how likely are you to buy a $1 item? Now on the flip side, you have 1 $100 bill, are you going to buy that same $1 item?
    – Yousend
    Jul 18, 2016 at 18:43
  • OTOH, money burns a hole straight through other people's pockets.
    – RonJohn
    May 10, 2017 at 1:18

Try the Envelope Budgeting System. It is a pretty good system for managing your discretionary outflows.

Also, be sure to pay yourself first. That means treat savings like an expense (mortgage, utilities, etc.) not an account you put money in when you have some left over. The problem is you NEVER seem to have anything leftover because most people's lifestyle adjusts to fit their income. The best way to do this is have the money automatically drafted each month without any action required on your part. An employer sponsored 401K is a great way to do this.

  • +1 for automatic draft. put in away for retirement as automatically as you can, and pretty soon you will forget you ever had it in the first place.
    – MrChrister
    Oct 25, 2010 at 18:51
  • I haven't gotten to the point where I'm leaving myself vulnerable in terms of rent or transportation money -- I'm making sure I don't ever go below a certain threshold -- it's just that my bank account is not where I'd like it to be, and seeing on my statement how much of an impact some impulse purchases have had just hurts. It's not so much overspending as it is wasting money. These are good tips.
    – Corey
    Oct 25, 2010 at 18:55
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    I wouldn't put your money in your main checking account. Some kind of investment account or at least a separate interest bearing savings account you consider a "Rainy day fund" is a much better idea. The trick is to make it less accessible so you have to go out of your way to spend it and thus think on it longer.
    – JohnFx
    Oct 25, 2010 at 19:08

Try having money automatically deducted from your paycheck and put into a retirement account or savings account. As long as you don't have a problem with spending more than you have, the easiest way to stop spending money is to have it automatically put somewhere that you can't (or are unlikely to) touch it.

  • 2
    Why the either/or on retirement and savings. Make it both.
    – justkt
    Oct 25, 2010 at 19:26
  • @justkt - yup, good point. Oct 25, 2010 at 20:10
  • "Put [money] somewhere that you can't (or are unlikely to) touch it" - I keep an emergency fund in a money market savings account at a different bank from my normal one. If I want to get money out, I actually have to go to this bank I never go to otherwise, and go to a teller and get cash. It really makes me think twice about doing it.
    – Bob Murphy
    Oct 26, 2010 at 6:36

There are many tactics you can use. If your biggest problem is regretting your larger purchases, I'd suggest giving yourself rules before making any purchases over a certain minimum dollar amount that you set for yourself. For example, if that amount is $50 for an item, then any item starting at an average price of $51 would be subject to these rules.

  1. Give yourself a cooling off period between when you first desire the item and when you actually buy it. Unless it is some sort of needed item, try a month. If you need it in the short term (ex: replacement work shoes when your sole is wearing through), try 3 days. Spend time living without the item. At the end of the period, you should have a better idea of whether the item itself will truly enhance your life, or whether it was just an impulse buy.
  2. If at the end of this period the item is something that will enhance your life in a meaningful way (not just gain the respect of peers who are only impressed by the latest toys and a lifestyle that looks expensive), budget for it. Set aside a certain amount of your discretionary income. Obviously with needed expensive items this isn't always possible, but for that you may want to consider something like a "life happens" fund that is always in your monthly budget, deducted from your paycheck and put into its own savings account.
  3. While saving for your item, shop around for it. Try to combine a sale and a coupon and the longest lasting model before buying. This will take time and effort, making it harder to buy expensive items with a snap.

One of your long-term goals ought to be to become the kind of person who finds joy in saving money rather than spending it. Make friends with frugal people - look for those who prefer games nights and potlucks to nights out at the club buying expensive drinks and dinners at the newest steak joint in town. Learn the thrill of a deal, but even more learn the thrill of your savings growing. You don't want to enjoy money in the bank for the purposes of becoming a miser. Instead you want to realize that money in the bank helps you achieve your goals — buying the house you want, donating a significant amount of money to a cause you ardently support, allowing you to take a dream vacation, letting you buy with cash the car you always wanted, the possibilities are endless. As Dave Ramsey says, "Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else."

  • This doesn't work for me, because I do look for deals. A lot of my impulse buys are, for example, on sites like eBay where I see a rare item I like for cheap and buy it. I feel like I may never see <item> in that condition for that price ever again. Likewise, I give myself a cooling period on some things that I regret later (like recently, I saw a great deal on some 12-packs of soda for cheap, but I figured I'd wait...and the sale was over and I regret it because that amount of soda would have lasted me weeks and saved a lot of money in that department.)
    – Corey
    Oct 25, 2010 at 19:00
  • In the long run, I'm betting you will be better off missing out on some must-act-now deals than spending so much on impulse purchases. The psychology of economics and marginal utility also implies that buying bulk often forces you to buy more of something than you would if you bought it incrementally as the need arises.
    – JohnFx
    Oct 25, 2010 at 19:10
  • Isn't buying in bulk cheaper in general? I mean, if I bought 20 cases of soda that was 70% off for a weekend, then a month later, I'd still be enjoying cheap soda and it would have paid for itself several times over in what I saved from buying incrementally. Not to mention it saves on time and effort.
    – Corey
    Oct 25, 2010 at 19:20
  • @Corey - that's partially why I suggested the cooling off period be only for things that individually cost over a certain threshold. If you have to carefully weigh each grocery store purchase, the system is going to become too intense for you to use. If you regularly buy soda, and would buy that much soda anyways, next time the deal comes around - take it! Now you know. Those deals happen often; they are not once-a-year chances.
    – justkt
    Oct 25, 2010 at 19:24
  • @Corey - @JohnFX has a point. Most people who buy in bulk buy more than they would and end up creating waste. This is why the bulk discounters tend to turn profits. When buying in bulk you have to be extra careful that you are buying something that is of value to you and not just buying it only because it is a good deal (abstractly).
    – justkt
    Oct 25, 2010 at 19:25

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