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Fighting the Urge to Spend Money

DonutsI think getting out of debt and going on a diet are very similar. Neither will work over the long term if you aren’t willing to change the behaviors that got you in trouble in the first place. Just like cutting calories while on a diet, cutting spending while getting out of debt is essential. What happens, though, when you reach your goal? It’s OK to start spending again on things you need or value, but just like craving a powdered donut, sometimes that urge to spend comes back when you least expect it. How do you fight the urge to spend money?

I’ve had a couple of situations recently that have really tested my resolve. I have vowed to spend no money on clothes or shoes for myself  in 2013. That isn’t usually hard in  a small town with few stores, but while traveling recently, I found myself surrounded by many stores I’ve always enjoyed.

I’ve also vowed to drive my 2008 Nissan for at least another 5 years, but when the car broke down recently, I admit I wondered what the trade in value was. It doesn’t help that my Mom and Dad get a brand new car every four years no matter what. My mom is almost incredulous that my car has over 100K miles, and I am still driving it.  What can a reformed spender do?

Make a New Goal

Remember how good it felt to pay off your debt, and make a new goal. It might be maxing out your retirement plan this year, paying off you mortgage, or saving up for a down payment on a rental property. If that goal seems overwhelming break it up. Instead of thinking about coming up with $100,000 to pay off your house, think about saving up $1000 instead. If you have nothing planned, you are much more likely to spend money on things you don’t need.

Remind Yourself About Needs vs Wants

 I might think I want a brand new car, but then I think about all the reasons to love my used car, and realize a new one is not something I need or something that will help me reach my goals.

Avoid Impulse Buys

If you haven’t been planning on buying it, don’t. Just because you saw a pair of Manolo Blahniks (I really have never seen these in real life, but think the name sounds cool!) for half off doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. It’s only a good deal if you have a need or have decided you want something that adds value to your life. Impulse buys typically are neither of those.

Fight Peer Pressure

No, you don’t have to be in high school to feel pressure to do something you don’t want to do. I don’t have to buy a new car because my Mom thinks I should.

Make a Diversion

If you are really having a hard time as you sit on a bench while all of your friends are shopping, find something else to occupy your mind. Jim wanted to spend some time at the North Face Store in Seattle. I went in for a second, but decided to go get frozen yogurt instead. It seriously was a “step away from the mall” moment. He actually left the store pretty soon after me. If I’d stayed, we both might have ended up finding “something we just couldn’t live without.”

One thing I know for sure is that if I’d bought a new wardrobe or even just a few items, I would have been really sad that I gave up on my challenge. I would certainly have buyers remorse if I bought a new car, and Jake from I Heart Budgets might hunt me down and put me in remedial budget class. It isn’t that we can’t afford new things, we are choosing to use our money for purposes that better suit our needs.

If you are spending too much, find out why, and get back on track. Even the best powdered donut isn’t worth the mess or loss of buttonability of your pants. Things usually don’t make you happy, so resist the urge to spend money on stuff you don’t need.

Have you bought any donuts lately? How do you resist the urge to spend?


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I do my best to remember why I am saving in the first place. If it’s for retirement or debt, it is easy to lose track because the goal is either so far into the future that it’s hard to imagine or if there is so much debt, it’s easy to think you’ll never get out of it. I make smaller goals so that I stay motivated. For example, if I were trying to pay off $15,000 worth of debt, I would make a mini-goal of $10,000 then $7,500, etc. That helps keep my focus.

  2. I have not bought doughnuts lately but they sound amazing! Haha, anyway, you have some really good words in this post. I love “practicing” resisting impulse buys. When I’m at Target I always see MANY things that I want to throw in the cart. I’m really good at either not putting them in the cart or taking them out before we check out. Keeping your spending priorities in mind is always key and a big help when it comes to long-term savings.

    • I’ve done the whole taking items out of the cart. Sometimes I just stick them back on any shelf and almost run out of the store. The spell usually is broken if you can get out of the store.

  3. We have gotten really bad with our spending over the last few months, but we are having a pretty good time and we can afford what we are spending, so I guess it all evens out.

    • I think as long as you don’t throw all good sense to the wind forever, it’s probably OK. I can’t even remember all the stuff we spent money on the first year of our daughter’s life.

  4. I haven’t bought donuts for a long time!! I occasionally get that urge to spend. But, I’ve just created new goals for myself and I am determined to meet them. The next six months will be a challenge for me.

  5. I can totally agree that budgeting is a lot like diet and exercise. I can’t believe you are going a whole year without buying any clothes. My wife would explode. There are a lot of times I go through mini “no buy” phases. My problem is that when I see something that is a good deal I buy it no matter what. I’m trying to cut back and only buy what I actually need.

    • I have been very tempted on a few occasions. If I stay away from stores, it’s OK, but inevitably I see something perfect for me that’s on sale. I’m very committed to see this through to the end of the year. I used to buy clothes without very much though, but I’m really going to evaluate everything from here on out. It’s amazing how little you really need.

  6. I sure want some donuts but I know I now have a goals to get into better shape and they don’t help with achieving that goal. I agree that sometimes after you accomplish one goal you might just need to find a new one. The one thing the wifey has helped me with a lot is celebrating your achievements. Nothing crazy but if you just saved 10k why not treat yourself to a nice dinner or short vacation. Especially if you are frugal like me and are forcing it on the entire family treat them for the great work so that they will want to work harder to achieve the next goal.

    • I think it’s very important to celebrate the milestones, like paying off a big debt. Otherwise, it’s very easy to burn out and get far off track.

  7. Last night I ate two Pop-tarts before bed and I still hate myself at this very moment. Disgusting! We had a very spending summer and I also gained 1-2 pounds. I believe there is a correlation!

    • I’ve seen Suze Orman on the Biggest Loser, and I guess there is a huge correlation between being in debt and being overweight. I think it’s the whole out of control issue.

  8. I totally think the two are related. For me, I have to divert my mind to something else so I just stop thinking about whatever it is and then try and come up with a new goal. That usually works and if that doesn’t I just have to stop and ask if I really want the item and the expected cost that comes with it.

    • Actually making my brain think can turn off my need to spend most of the time. If I go on autopilot, that’s when trouble happens.

  9. I’m like you where a big part is just staying out of stores. If I don’t see it, I don’t want it. =)

    • It is hard to buy things from the comfort of my own home unless I spend too much time on Ebay…..
      I like the new Gravatar!

  10. I love the idea of setting new goals after getting out of debt. I love setting goals and being goal orientated and I didn’t know what I would do once I was out of debt.

  11. I have bought a lot of doughnuts lately and I need to get back on track. It’s such a slipper slope isn’t it…this spending thing. For me this month my weakness has been spending more time with friends, which somehow always seemed to involve going out somewhere and spending money on drinks. I also invested a lot in future blogs. Time for my reality check because my proverbial pants are getting too tight.

    • We also had lots of expenses this summer, and need to get some room back in the waistband. I think we spend more in the summer. I’d probably be really broke if I lived somewhere that’s warm all the time.

  12. Great post! Dieting and saving money are very similar. I think the best way is to make a lifestyle choice and change your financial mindset. Rather than dieting temporary to hit a weight goal or saving money to hit a debt or savings debt. This is one reason why almost all diets fail. Once you’ve reached the desired weight, if you go back to your prior lifestyle, you’ll gain back the weight and have to diet once again. Not so with a lifestyle change. If you change your lifestyle to one where you eat healthy and exercise, you will very likely be able to maintain that desired weight without ever dieting. You have to change your whole mindset where you realize that spending a lot of money doesn’t equate happiness.

    • Spending does not buy happiness. It’s a vicious cycle of having to buy more and more just to feel the desired effect for 5 minutes before you look at the bill. I’ve been there and don’t want to go back.

  13. I agree – saving and dieting are very similar!! In part because I believe those urges to spend or eat are generally an emotional response. For me, it’s my goals that save me. The thought of telling Lauren and Taylor that we can’t do the fun things we planned this month because Mom spent all the family fun money keeps me from heading to the mall when I’ve had a bad day. I don’t think there is anything wrong with adding in mindful AND budgeted things, like vacations, after you’ve gotten out of debt.

    • Good point. Emotions are so tricky. I think a good walk can cure most temptations, that or reading your favorite PF blogger!

  14. I have to keep myself straight from time to time. There are days where the urge is strong and that tends to be because it was a rough day.

  15. I was so proud of myself today… I went into the grocery store and ONLY bought what I came in for (frozen spinach or kale, whatever was cheaper). As a food-on-sale hoarder, it’s hard for me to resist the urge to buy stuff when it’s on sale. But as I’ve gotten better at recognizing when a sale is truly a sale, I can control myself when I go into the grocery store. 🙂

    • Food on sale hoarder! That sounds like a fun reality show. I am guilty of that myself. I have to make myself put on the blinders and quit looking at the clearance bin.

  16. My biggest challenge is wanting to spend money on experiences. My boyfriend tends to be of the mindset that you only live once. Trying to balance my saving and debt paydown ways with a desire to really enjoy my weekends with friends or experience a new thing is hard.

    • You do only live once, and I am all for the experiences. I would, however, cut back on something else to be able to take a great trip or go out for a great meal. I think the key is making sure you appreciate all the experiences and aren’t just going along for the ride.

  17. All I have to do is remind myself that a dollar saved today is $10 tomorrow. Warren Buffett once said “I’m not sure I want to spend $500,000 on that haircut”. That’s the power of compounding.

  18. Great post Kim! I have to resist the urge by continuing to think of the long term benefits. Too much spending is done spur of the moment and doesn’t meet a need or offer long term value.

    • No, it doesn’t. I get buyers remorse if it wasn’t a well thought out purchase. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that much anymore.

  19. It helps that I do not carry cash! Just likea diet, I find a compelling reason to stick with a diet or budget.

  20. Love this, Kim. It’s SO easy to want to spend, isn’t it? We’ve been fighting the urge to spend by finding substitutes. For instance, I often want to go out to dinner – I love eating out! But instead of eating out, we’ll go to the grocery store and buy mozzarella sticks or some yummy restaurant type of food that we don’t usually have at home. That way, we feel spoiled a bit, but yet we don’t spend $30 at a restaurant. It’s worked well for us so far.

    • That is a really good idea. Even a deli chicken for $5 could be a treat instead of a $40 dinner out, and we’d have leftovers!

  21. Thanks, Kim. Your post triggered a few thoughts for me:

    1) Charles Duhigg has done some interesting research in which he posits that habits cannot be broken; instead they must be replaced. http://charlesduhigg.com/ Fascinating stuff. Much of traditional “habit setting” is being rethought.

    2) I think savings is often less motivating for people because it is regularly positioned as the end in-and-of-itself. Saving money should be a means to an end, and that “end” is totally up to the person (a vacation, an iPad, etc.). That’s why I like your point about setting goals…it seems like goal setting has a bad wrap though…

    3) It’s very difficult to stop “impulsive” behavior because the impulse triggers so much chemical pleasure (dopamine) in our brains that it’s rare to find a way to offset that lack of chemical reaction when we forgo that action. I think that’s why Duhigg remarks that you have to replace a habit, not just remove it. This is one of the core reasons we built Earmark, to give people a way to interrupt their normal flow of habit, replace it with a better one, and still get some kind of dopamine kick that will keep them on track.

    Really enjoyed your post. Thanks!

    • Thanks Josh,

      I am trying out Earmark right now and will do a review soon. I think it is a helpful too for those who need that feeling with the impulse buy. If you can see how much you saved, that itself creates the same rush, so does replace the habit.

  22. You are correct. There may be times when we all have to resist the urge to spend especially if the purchase is not at all important. Impulse buying is something that we need to control.This can help us generate more personal savings.

  23. People occasionally bring in donuts to work, but I haven’t had the powdered ones in years. So messy and so good.

    I find keeping myself busy with work, classes, housework and blogging gets rid of my urge to spend. Majority of the time I feel I don’t have time to take a trip into the nearest big city to go shopping at the big mall.

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