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5 Easy Changes That'll Make a Big Difference in Your Spending

By Catherine Brock – Updated Mar 25, 2021 at 11:36AM

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Not ready for full-scale budgeting? Here are ways to help you spend less.

Sitting down after hours on your feet is easy. So is indulging in an ice cream cone on a warm summer day. But can we say -- with a straight face -- that it's also easy to cut back on your spending?

Well, sort of. It is true that a few simple habit changes can make a big difference in how much you spend every month. But it's also true that habits are notoriously hard to change. Psychology Today says you need to reinforce your new habit consistently for weeks before it becomes automatic. In those weeks, you'll give yourself a thousand reasons and excuses to revert to your old way of doing things.

Woman shopping in grocery store.

Image source: Getty Images.

There is good news, though. If you power through and stay committed to the new habits in those first weeks, you're far more likely to be successful over the long term. And when the habits you're changing are financial ones, you have so much to gain -- possibly a fat retirement account, the freedom to travel, or the ability to send your kids to the best schools.

Set yourself up for success by starting small. Walk toward your financially independent future now with these easy changes that'll make a big difference in your spending.

1. Buy online and pick up in store

Rather than wandering the grocery aisles, make a shopping list and then place your order online with Walmart (WMT 0.21%) or Sam's Club. When your order is ready, you drive up, they load the groceries in your car, and you are on your way -- without the extra sodas, candy bars, or pricey packaged snacks you didn't need.

Instacart also offers pickup and delivery from local grocery stores in select areas. Proceed with caution, though. Some stores mark up prices on Instacart orders. This is disclosed on each retailer's pricing policy, which you can view on the Instacart website or app. Weigh the pricing policy against your own history at the grocery store -- you might accept slightly higher prices and a delivery fee if it keeps you from buying $100 of unnecessary stuff.

2. Review your credit card statement monthly

A monthly review of your credit card statement forces you to pay attention to your spending, and that can be eye-opening. Read through each line item on your statement and look for patterns and opportunities. You'll see all the charges you racked up for lunches, clothes, drinks, and other non-essentials. You might also see recurring subscription fees for services you're not using. Or maybe you'll realize you spend tons of dough on gas and it's time to trade in your SUV for a more fuel-efficient vehicle.

3. Impose a waiting period

Candy bars aren't the only thing we buy on impulse. I once bought a car impulsively while on vacation; I had to cancel my return flight to drive it home. If I'd imposed a waiting period of 30 days, I might have a made a different choice.

The impulse to buy a shiny new something comes on strong. And if that something is on sale or a unique find, it's easy to rationalize a quick buying decision. If you commit to a waiting period before any major purchase, yes, you might miss out on a sale price. Or you might find that your urge to have that shiny new something fades pretty fast. Either way, your buying decisions will be more thoughtful and more disciplined.

4. Fill up your calendar

Don't let boredom drive your spending. Take a look at your social calendar. An empty calendar is bad for your wallet, as is a calendar filled with happy hour meetups. It's time to pick up some new, low-cost hobbies like running, hiking, drawing, gardening, or volunteering.

You could also look into hobbies that'll earn you a few bucks. Try cleaning out your closet and selling clothes on Poshmark or Thredup. Or start walking dogs for Rover. You could also make jewelry or other crafts and sell them on Etsy.

5. Use cash-back apps

Cash-back apps like Rakuten, Ibotta, and GetUpside pay you rebates on your purchases. Earn from Rakuten by clicking through to your favorite retailers from the Rakuten app. Or use the Rakuten browser extension, which notifies you when you're shopping a website that offers cash back. Ibotta is a receipt-scanning app that pays cash back on specific items. You can also use Pay with Ibotta at certain brick-and-mortar retailers to earn 1% back on your entire purchase. And GetUpside gives you money back on money spent at gas stations and restaurants.

You won't get rich using cash-back apps, but you will earn some fun money with minimal effort. There's another upside, too. If you like free money -- and who doesn't -- you'll naturally want to increase your cash-back earnings. To do that, you'll have to be more strategic about where you shop and what you buy. That takes your shopping off autopilot, which always works in your favor.

Commit to better spending habits

If you already feel overwhelmed, pick just one of these strategies and commit to it for one month. You can then reward yourself with an ice cream cone and choose a second habit to tackle. Rinse and repeat, and you're well on your way to that financially independent future.

Catherine Brock has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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