How To Stop Overspending On Stuff You Don't Need

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credit card overspending
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The rational side of you knows you should probably skip Starbucks on your commute every morning. The rational side of you realizes that budgeting means avoiding that oh-so-stressful end-of-month panic when you aren’t sure you can pay all your bills. And rational you definitely knows that you’ll never save up for that family vacation you’ve been dreaming of if you don’t stop spending money. The problem? Most of us have a decidedly less rational half to our duality that’s a raging shopaholic.

But, c’mon, there’s temptation at every turn! We live in an era where we’re constantly bombarded with information, including targeted ads for lit-er-a-lly everything under the sun. Plus, it’s easier than ever to spend. We have debit cards, ATM cards, credit cards, even stupid easy in-app purchasing with a simple swipe. Your inner shopaholic has no shortage of excuses for burning through your hard-earned cash.

Ultimately, though, we’re all adults here. Now that we’re parents, we can probably all agree that we need to get our overspending under control (if for no other reason than to set a better example for our kiddos). Besides, the whole empty-bank-account-becomes-buyer’s-remorse pattern is getting old, yeah? If you think you’re the only one looking to stop spending money, you’re not. In fact, according to the latest search data available, the term is searched for nearly 4,400 times per month. Here’s what you can do to curb your overspending — and why you might be doing it in the first place.


1. Track your spending habits to curb overspending

One of the most eye-opening experiences one can have is actually tracking where their money goes each month. You know all those little things you justify purchasing because they’re less than 20 bucks? Well, they add up. There are even free budget apps that will keep track of your expenses for you, so there’s really no reason not to do this (being afraid to see how much you’ve spent on magnetic eyelashes doesn’t count).

Here are some of the most popular budget apps that can work for couples and families. You just have to find the one that fits your lifestyle.

Mint: The Mint app is user-friendly and works great for individuals as well as a combined family budget. Mint can organize and categorize all the transactions from linked credit and debit cards and compare and track against your established budget.

PocketGuard: PocketGuard is like having a personal accountant and financial advisor in the palm of your hand. The app tracks remaining budget for your day, week, or month, and accounts for all your monthly bills. It’s also free to download and use. See, it’s already working for your budget.

Clarity Money: The Clarity Money app is similar to other budgeting apps, in that it links to your credit and debit cards, your investments and loans, and all your monthly bills and set expenses. But what sets it apart from other apps is that it identifies recurring expenses like Hulu, Netflix, Spotify, the gym, etc. and lets you cancel them easily.

You Need a Budget: If you to account for every single dollar in your monthly income, then You Need a Budget (or YNAB as it’s mostly known) might be your best bet. Instead of creating categories such as essentials, entertainment, etc., YNAB makes you assign a destination for exact dollar amounts of your income — from living expenses, to food, to transportation, to savings. Called a zero-based budgeting app because it accounts for an expense for every income dollar, YNAB minimizes the temptation to spend your money on splurge items. According to The Balance: “The app is great for individuals or couples working together on their budget. It offers both desktop and mobile interfaces, options to sync your bank accounts automatically or enter expenses manually, and includes debt payoff and goal tracking features to help motivate you to reach your money goals.”

When you become aware of every dollar you’re spending, it makes it easy to identify some of your overspending patterns. And once you identify them, you can work on eliminating them. Yes, this means you might have to evaluate your relationship with Amazon Prime. Thoughts and prayers.

2. Establish a tight budget

Sorry to be a buzzkill but it’s time to tighten up the ol’ bank account. That means creating a household budget that works for you and sticking with it. The last part is key, because we all know how that little overspending devil on our left shoulder likes to whisper, “Buy all the things.” You’re going to have to get good at ignoring that little rascal, though, because a budget will help you understand how much money you really have to spend on non-essentials — and maybe even get you on track to have money to put into savings.

If you’re the type who needs a jolt to your system to make a change stick, a no-spend month might be the trick. Wondering how you can stop spending money for 30 days? Or, more to the point, why? In short, a “financial fast” can expedite your transition to a lower monthly spending budget and kickstart your savings. Don’t worry; you won’t actually be spending no money. A no-spend month is where you choose to eliminate your budget for a certain area or areas (think eating out or going to Target).

3. Stick to cash

There’s a reason financial whiz Dave Ramsey‘s beloved “envelope system” relies on a cash-only budget — it works. When you have a finite amount of money that you can actually see, you’re far less likely to burn through it. We probably don’t have to tell you how easy it is racking up debt with a credit card or make your paycheck disappear using your debit card.

So, pulling out cash and allocating it (and only it) for spending money is a great way to avoid credit card overspending and overspending in general.

4. Become a Jedi list master

Does having that much cash on hand make you nervous? You must have little ones and/or pets running around. In which case it’s a very real possibility that your cash stash could be eaten (yep, dogs and kids do that) or otherwise compromised (*moment of silence for that time your kid cut a $100 bill in half for their “art” project*). If you’re going to stick to plastic, though, you need to learn to love you the heck out of list-making.

Be honest: How many times have you run into Target for one thing only to roll your shopping cart out to the car overflowing with… stuff? We’re all guilty of this sometimes. However, if you’re trying to stop spending money on unnecessary things, focus is your friend. Every time you go shopping, do so with intent. Decide on your goal beforehand, make a list that covers only what you need to accomplish your goal, and don’t deviate. You’ll be amazed at how much you can cut back on impulse buying with a little list-centric willpower.

Use Shopping Services

Are you a sucker for the Dollar Spot at Target or the freshly fancy cheese kiosk at the grocery store? Perhaps the best way to eliminate spending in those areas and sticking to your list is to not even go into the store. Welcome to the wonderful world of shopping services. Many stores offer their own “curbside pick-up” options (Even Michaels!). Plus, services like Shipt can help hit other stores. Make your list. Go to the app or website. Shop off your list. If you can’t see the fresh baguettes or flamingo thumbtacks, you won’t want them.

Make a list of “rules”

Are you a hoarder of books? How about, “No books with dark spines.” Do you work from home but keep buying dresses? Try “No more dress clothes.” They may not curb all spending, but you’d be surprised by how a few arbitrary rules can make a big difference in your spending. Plus, your bookshelf will be so much more bright and fun.

To be clear, this will help you stop overspending on clothes and at restaurants. It won’t be an easy change to make, but it’ll be worth it when you see your bank account reflecting a positive (and increasingly higher) balance every month.

5. Steer clear of sales

This sounds counterintuitive; we know. If you’re going shopping, don’t you want to spend less money on things? Here’s the thing — sales can trick you into spending more. Let’s say you’re working off of a shopping list that doesn’t include buying a new pair of boots. But when you stroll through the clothing department at your favorite local department store, you notice boots have been marked down 35 percent. What a steal!

Only, not really. You know why? You’ll be spending 65 percent more than you originally set out to spend on boots. Damn, right? Adulting is savage.

6. How to curb overspending

Believe it or not, there are actual steps you can take to make it harder on yourself to overspend. First things first, don’t store your credit card information with your favorite retailers. This may make it more annoying every time you want to buy something, which may cut down your purchases.

Second, unsubscribe from sale mailing lists. Now this may be harder to do than you think since it often feels like you’re being bombarded by every website you’ve ever frequented ever, but hit that unsubscribe and you’ll see your mailbox empty out soon enough. Finally, and we can’t stress this enough, one-click purchasing is not your friend! Not on Amazon, not on Gap, not anywhere. Turn that feature off.

7. Understand your triggers for overspending

Alas, your hard work isn’t done yet, you aspiring spendthrift. Doing the work when it comes to overspending also means learning to recognize the psychological reasons for overspending. This requires a fair amount of both introspection and self-awareness.

Does scanning social media and seeing product recommendations from friends make you hit “Buy Now”? Social media peer pressure is definitely a thing. Do you shop to cheer yourself up? They don’t call it retail therapy for nothing. Are you more likely to splurge on special occasions, like your birthday or during holidays? Try to pinpoint what prompts your overspending and make less costly swaps (i.e. instead of buying more for a birthday, think about experiences you can enjoy).

It may also be true that you feel compelled to overspend. Can you be addicted to spending money? Yes. Compulsive spending — also called compulsive buying disorder or oniomania — occurs when a person finds spending irresistible. “Compulsive buyers continue to spend money even when doing so causes them emotional or personal distress, even when they have little money to spend, and even when the things they buy give them no joy or go unused,” explains Dr. Joel Young for Psychology Today.

Because compulsive spending is a way of coping with negative emotions, cognitive-behavioral therapy may prove to be the most effective treatment if you feel your overspending habit has crossed over into an addiction.

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