Overspending is a big problem for many Americans. Sometimes, this happens intentionally when you splurge on an item you really want even though you can't quite afford it. But in many other situations, overspending happens when we make a bunch of purchases over the course of a month without really thinking about them.
Living on a budget can help to reduce this spending for some -- but budgets typically only set broad limits on spending within certain categories and don't always stop those mindless purchases that add little value to our lives.
There are some tricks to stop random buys and make sure you're spending your cash more purposefully on things you genuinely want. Try these five ways to stop idle spending and ensure you're buying only what's worth the cash.
1. Remove stored credit cards from online accounts
Most online stores encourage you to save your credit card information because doing so makes it faster and easier to buy. If you have your credit card info and shipping address stored, it's often possible to make a purchase with just a few clicks. Unfortunately, this makes impulse buying really easy.
If you don't want to end up with packages at your door that you barely even remember buying on a late-night shopping binge, remove all your credit card info from online stores. That way, if you want to buy anything, you at least need to make the effort to get out your wallet, find your credit card, and type all the details. Often, having to do all those steps is enough to dissuade you from making the purchase because you decide it really isn't worth the effort.
2. Institute a 24-hour rule for big purchases
Have you ever bought something, only to regret it later? Purchase regret is common, as you find the item doesn't live up to your expectations or mourn the loss of the money you spent on it. But it can be avoided by doing your thinking about the purchase before you make it, rather than after.
To make sure you aren't buying items that you won't really want in the long term, institute a rule that you'll consider each purchase over a certain dollar threshold for at least 24 hours. In fact, you can require a day of thinking for each $50 or each $100 that an item costs. If you have a 24-hour waiting period per $100 spend, you'd consider a $500 purchase for at least five days before biting the bullet and finally buying.
Taking the time to consider the purchase gives you a chance to really assess whether it is worth it or whether there's a cheaper option. You can also research the purchase during the waiting period to find the best prices and read reviews that help you decide if the item is actually worth buying.
3. Always look for a free solution before buying anything
Far too often, the first impulse is to buy something when you have a problem that needs to be solved. If you need a new outfit to attend a special function or require a tool to accomplish a task around your house, heading to the store may be second nature. But to break your mindless spending habit, establish the practice of looking around for a free solution first.
This may mean repurposing something you already own, getting an item from Freecycle or the free section of Craigslist, or borrowing from a friend. If you can retrain your brain to try making do before buying, you'll end up owning a lot less stuff that you don't really need and that you often use just once.
4. Shop from a list
Lists aren't just for groceries. Any items you plan to buy should go on a list. That way, when you hit the mall or home improvement store, you'll know exactly what items you need and can be purposeful in how you shop.
Maintaining running shopping lists for every purchase you don't need immediately can help you score items at a better deal because you can wait to purchase until something is on sale or you find it free. And you'll be less tempted by impulse items if you make a commitment to stick to items that were worth putting on your list.
5. Never shop when you're hungry
You probably already know not to go to the grocery store when hungry, but studies have actually shown any type of shopping while hungry is bad news.
Hunger puts you in a mindset to acquire, and you may end up buying more of whatever is available if you shop when you're hungry -- even if you can't eat it. Grab a full meal before heading to any store (or a snack before shopping online) so you're sated enough that you won't be tempted to fill your shopping cart with unnecessary items just to satisfy your appetite.
You work hard for your money, so spending it wisely is worth it
Your money can help you to accomplish big financial goals and buy the things that will actually enhance your life. You just need to make a point to spend it wisely. By cutting out mindless spending and only purchasing items you've determined are worth it, your money will stretch further.