10 New Habits to Get Your Spending Under Control

Written by Rachel Ellen  |  on


We’ve all been there. A few too many treat yo’selfs and we wake up with a spending headache—for the fifth day in a row. Sure, it’s easier to brush these constant spending hangovers under a rug, but maybe today is the day where you’re finally fed up and ready to get your spending under control.

Everyone deals with this excessive spending a little differently: some of us opt for an intense all-out sprint approach to financial health while others plod on with slow, steady consistency like hitting a daily step goal. Whatever your intensity level, we’ve got ten ideas to get your spending under control.

For those that opt for the all-out sprint:

1. Enact a spending freeze. 

Pick a length of time: a week, a month, six months—where you don’t buy anything you don’t absolutely need. This spending freeze helps you save faster. Then give this spending sacrifice a “why” (maybe you want to have enough money for Christmas flights home or to pay off your credit card balance). Now your “why” makes it easier to pause on those pesky spending impulses. It’s palatable too: there’s a finish line in sight (mark it in your calendar). This will help it feel more doable to defer all those one-off purchases to get closer to your goal.

2. Add zero spend days to your month.

On a zero spend day, you spend zero dollars. It’s like intermittent fasting for your financial life. You can do this a number of ways: maybe you pick every Tuesday to be a zero spend day. Or maybe you make it a game with your partner and the first one to log five zero-spend days in a month gets $20 in extra fun money (because guaranteed you’re going to save more than $20 if you do five zero-spend days apiece). 

3. Cut up the credit card.

Wait, did we really just say that? What website is this?

But really, if you’re someone who just keeps constantly spending what you don’t have…it might be time. Pull out those scissors. Start using cash to get closer to feeling the value of every dollar that leaves your hand. 

Guys, stop trying to make “fetch” happen. It’s not happening. Credit cards are too convenient and you can’t buy things online in cash.

Fair point! The idea behind cutting up your credit card is to make it harder to use and less of a temptation. If you need to make online purchases, make it really inconvenient. Remove the spending temptation by taking your credit card out of your wallet and removing it from autofill forms. It’s not quite the same as using cash, but it sure is annoying. Make it annoying.

For those that opt for the daily step goal approach:

4. Unsubscribe from tempting marketing emails.

You know the one—every time an email hits your inbox, you want to buy something (Hello #LiketoKnowIt roundups!). Take ten minutes and go through your emails and unsubscribe. Out of sight, out of mind. 

5. While you’re at it, unfollow the Joneses.

Maybe they’re on Facebook or more likely, Instagram (those filters make everything look dreamy). Maybe you know them, maybe you don’t. But that little seed of jealousy crops up every time they post. Here’s a solution that’s totally in your control: just unfollow. Boop! Fixed. This has a similar effect as getting out of those marketing emails—you’re simply removing that temptation. 

6. Marinate your cart.

When you’re at the grocery store, take a bottle of Italian dressing, give it a shake, and dump it all over your groceries. We’re kidding. This concept applies largely to online shopping and your virtual cart or shopping bag. Build in time between adding items to your cart and checking out so your purchase decisions can “marinate.” It might be a 24-hour process for your Amazon purchases, or an overnight soak for your new work wardrobe from Asos. This gets your spending under control by protecting from impulse buys.

7. Try grocery pickup.

If you’re a perpetual grocery store grabber-of-random-items-that-look-tasty, grocery pickup might be the thing for you. You order your groceries online, someone from the store shops for you, and then you pick them up all bagged and ready to go at the store. The fees for curbside pickup are usually $5 to $10  but you get a triple whammy of upward progress: 

  • You’re forced to plan ahead on food.
  • A steep dropoff in impulse buys (hello cheaper grocery bill). 
  • You often save time by ordering online (and time is money, kaching!). 

8. Swap an expensive habit for a cheaper one.

Do you have a lunchtime habit of eating out? Try packing a lunch! Do you order a grande iced chai from Starbucks with embarrassing frequency (no—just me)? Buy the concentrate from the grocery store or make your own. Find your own swaparooski and give it go. You still get to enjoy the things you love, it just costs you less.

9. Keep a visual of your big goal handy. 

Maybe you want to take a vacation to Tahiti, or pay off your student loans. Remind yourself what you want. Put a visual representation of your goal somewhere you can see. Put a picture in your wallet. Change your phone background or lock screen to an over-the-ocean villa, or maybe a radiant sunrise to capture that feeling when you pay off your credit card. Every purchase gets measured against this overarching goal. Suddenly, the six-pack of new footie socks seems a lot less important right now.  

For everyone who wants to get their spending under control:

10. Use a budget.

Yep, we said it. You need a budget. You might think a budget is restrictive, but it can actually give you financial freedom. A budget isn’t about not spending, it’s more about making sure you have the money to spend on the things that matter most.

Picture this: your favorite pair of jeans is on sale (ok, you already have three pairs, but it’s on sale!). Non-budgeting you is SO tempted to spend $50 on the jeans. You on a budget is not. That’s because you know you’re only $300 away from being fully funded for that roadtrip with your best friend, and you’d rather spend your money toward that. Easy peasy—thanks budget! 

No matter if you opt for a take-no prisoners approach, a gradual shift, or a combination of the two, you can change your money story and get your spending under control for good.

Want some help in wrangling your spending? We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of people gain total control of their money. Try YNAB free for 34 days.


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Your Next Step

Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?