5 Strategies to Avoid Unnecessary Spending

Part of adopting a minimalist approach to life is living only with those things that are necessary and that bring you joy.  However, our tendency to shop recreationally counteracts that end, as we fill our homes with more and more things we don’t really need . . . or want.  As a beginner on this journey, I have found five strategies to help me stop impulse spending in its tracks.

 1. Flee Temptation.  Which store sucks you into its vortex until you wander out in a breathless daze, having spent $100 or more that you didn’t intend, budget for, or need to spend?  Is it Target, Crate & Barrel, IKEA, Banana Republic, Pier 1, Walmart, Goodwill, Marshall’s?  Avoid the stores that lure you in with their siren call LIKE THE PLAGUE!

One way to do this is to schedule your time so that you are only able to purchase necessities, make your donations, or complete returns with no extra time for browsing, which leads to buying. I know, for me, as I declutter and discard those items in my home that I no longer need or love, it means a trip to Goodwill.

clothes on rack

Since I’m there anyway, it’s so easy to just stop inside for a few minutes, under the guise of looking for a pair of shoes for one of my children or a particular kitchen gadget I think I need.  The next thing I know, I’ve spent $20 at Goodwill on mini-staplers, Star Wars figurines, another board game, file folders, stationary, etc.  There are no returns on this merchandise either, so I am left to suck it up and live with my impulse purchases, until they too end up in the discard pile a few weeks later.

Last week, when I had my van packed full of items to donate, I intentionally left myself only thirty minutes to complete my errands before picking up my boys from school.  I stopped at Goodwill and another local resale shop with my donations and ran into ShopKo (it’s similar to Target, without the groceries) to process a return, without buying one thing.  There was no time to shop, or I would have, trust me.  This plan proves both efficient and frugal.

2.  Look Around.  Before heading out, take a closer look at your home.  Do you like what you see?  Or, are you crazed at the sight of all the chaos around you?  The overflowing  laundry baskets, the dust-coated knick-knacks, the sink full of dishes, the pile of unread magazines, the double-stacked bookcase full of books you “intend” to read someday.  How about the overstuffed dresser drawers, junk drawers, utensil drawers, and linen closet?  Is there always something that needs to be picked up or put away?

books overload

Do you really need to buy something else to add to the clutter?  And if you are thinking, Yes, I just need to buy more containers to get organized, or another bookcase for those extra books, or another shirt because I have nothing to wear, think again.  Do not try to organize or containerize the excess- get rid of it!  As FlyLady says, “You cannot organize chaos.”

When we are finally able to part with those things that don’t truly add value to our lives or that fail to bring us joy, what remains becomes beautiful, necessary- enough.

3.  Examine the Why.  The more I release, the more I want to release.  And, I’m not just talking about “stuff.”  I’m talking about the why behind the why we buy and hold onto things: both the external and internal baggage that holds us captive to our things.  We experience guilt when we consider discarding a gift from a loved one.  We feel beholden to the deceased when we decide to part with their belongings; indebted to family when we are ready to part with that piece of furniture or item of clothing they passed on to us; frustrated with ourselves for having spent so much on that item we never wore or used.  We wish we could recoup the loss, and instead choose to keep it and live with the loss of regret every day we look at it.

4.  Give Thanks. It is okay to let “things” go.  You are not throwing away people or memories when you discard your things.  Marie Kondo in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, encourages people to express gratitude to the items we are discarding, thanking them for their service or the lessons they taught us.  In doing so, we experience a deeper level of release, in addition to that of simply releasing the item.

Another thing to be thankful for is what you already have.  Take one more look around you.  You have all you need to live.  We are so incredibly rich in resources here in America.  We have so very much to be thankful for.

We don’t have to spend the better part of our day fetching water for our families from miles away on foot.  We have clean, running water in at least two rooms of our home.

produce in basket

We don’t have to eat bug-infested, excrement-laden food from the landfill, where we make our home.  We have fresh produce, meat, and bakery items in our very own refrigerators.  We live in homes of brick and mortar that shield us from the elements.

We don’t have to sit on a dirt floor and cook our food over a fire (unless we’re camping for fun).  We have plush chairs and couches to lounge in before a crackling fire in the hearth.

Our teeth are not rotting out of our mouths from malnutrition or lack of dental care.  In the bathroom drawer, we have all we need to keep our teeth strong and healthy each day.

book by fire

We are so blessed!  And yet, we think we need more, more, more.  Where’s my special coffee drink, my cute new blouse, my age-defying makeup, my 100th pair of shoes?  We need to stop thinking of what we want all the time and choose to be happy with what we have.  Because it is a choice.  Whether you stay home and relax on the couch with a glass of water and one of the plethora of books on your bookshelf or whether you hop in your minivan and drive to the nearest Barnes & Noble for another new book and a Starbucks latte is up to you.

Which will you choose, gratitude or greed?

5.  Repeat.  This is a process, not a one-time deal.  Learning to live with less and love it doesn’t happen overnight.  We have to train our bodies not to run out the door every time we see a sale ad in the paper.  We have to train our eyes to see the excess in our own homes and do the hard but necessary work to get rid of it.  We have to train our hearts to love those who truly are in need and look for ways to meet that need.  We need to train our minds to be thankful each day for what we have, and not wish for more.

Can you do it?  Can I?  What is one way that you can stop the crazy cycle of compulsive shopping?

“Whom have I in heaven but You?
         And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
         But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:25-26

84 thoughts on “5 Strategies to Avoid Unnecessary Spending

    1. Thank you, Michelle! I know what you mean; I’ve been there, too. I think it’s called retail therapy;)

  1. One way we use to help keep spending in line is to remind ourselves of exactly how much something cost.

    For example, I have to work X hours to buy that shirt. Is it worth it?

    And usually when we put things into that perspective it’s easy to not buy or feel the need to buy something because you can decide if it’s worth that many hours of your time.

    1. Yes, it is amazing how something we feel we simply must have loses its charm after a good night’s sleep:)

    1. I, too, have cut way back on how often I frequent the stores, and when I do go, I have specific items in mind.

  2. These are some great tips! I’m not usually tempted to buy things I don’t need, but somehow clutter always seems to be an issue. For me, it’s usually past school papers and textbooks.

    1. Oh, paper is the kicker for me, too! Whether it’s my children’s schoolwork or the random assortment of my own sheaves, it is the one thing I can’t seem to tame. I have been getting better, though; maybe I’ll write a blog post on that sometime!

    1. When we have an objective that looks outside of our own desires to the needs of others, it makes some of those frivolous purchases seem so . . . frivolous;) Way to go, Stephanie!

  3. Great reminder! From my experience, I usually list down the things I want to but and where to buy it then I will directly go to that store to prevent from jumping one store to another which will increase the temptation of things you don’t really need.

  4. I love the tip about looking at your home before leaving! I am actually not much of an impulse shopper (many years of frugal discipline have helped me get there) but I have never thought about just looking around at all of the crap I have to pick up to prevent me from buying more. That’s absolutely brilliant!

  5. This is an area I really struggle in. When I’m trying to cut the unnecessary spending, I usually have to stay home unless I absolutely have to go out. If I’m out running errands, it’s far to easy for me to just make a quick stop at a store.

    I loved your tip to look around at your home before you leave the house. There certainly are days that my house is a mess and I would be crazy to buy more to add to the chaos.I’ll try to remember that from now on!

  6. #1 is one of the biggest ways I compulsive shopping. I also find shopping online helps because it takes more time for me to browse online than it does in the store. I’m more likely to just buy what I came for.

    1. I do a lot of window shopping online, putting as much as I want in my cart, and then leaving it there. It takes a lot more thought to pull out that credit card and enter all of my information than it does to just by something at a register. I really only buy online if I need something very specific, like you said.

  7. I think #4 is HUGE!! I have been trying to teach my kids the difference between NEED and WANT….but I have to be willing to show a life of gratitude as well, or my kids won’t pick up on it. Thanks for a great list!

  8. These are some great tips! I’ve gotten pretty good at not spending on “stuff” although to look at our house, you wouldn’t know it. (Thank you MIL who spends lots of time in the local salvage stores & brings us treasures – some of which are fabulous. Others not so much) I find that if I put something in my basket & wander around with it, occasionally picking it back up & asking myself if I really need it or not, it usually goes back on the shelf before I leave the store.

    1. I do that too! I just read Stuffocation the other night, and as I walked through the house, I was appalled at how much we still have! There are people who only live with 100 personal possessions; we have a few hundred just on our bookshelves! I have to remind myself that it is a process and also why I am paring down our possessions. It’s not a competition to be the most minimalist person I know, but to free up my life for what truly matters.

  9. Be thankful and examine the why are two areas that resonate with me. I think it’s really important to remember these two. Thanks for sharing this information. It’s really important.

    1. I agree. I just went through my daughters’ clothes and removed about 70% of them, just to make life easier with regard to doing laundry and keeping their room picked up. I’m thinking about half of that will go permanently, and the other half will get stored for rotation as they wear out the clothes they have left or need seasonal changes in attire. Already, it is so much more manageable!

  10. This is huge… I needed this RIGH NOW! I love that you mentioned “FlyLady” in this post. I followed her tips years ago- before marriage and kids! It was amazing. I need to get back to a “Fly House” with my hubby and kids now! I love all your tips!

    1. Flylady is great. I, too, followed her more a few years ago, but I keep her magnet on my refrigerator as a reminder of what I’ve learned:) Thanks for your positive feedback!

  11. Thank you for the tips. I am a shopper, not a huge spender but I do like to shop and bargains is my thing. Thank you for making me stop and think about the why?

    1. I just went into Target yesterday- I was scared to do it- to buy journals from the $1 section for my Sunday School girls. Of course, the accessories department is just across the aisle, and I made the impulse purchase of a cute scarf on clearance for $4.48. Only, when I tried to wear it today, I realized it just wasn’t me, and I immediately returned it (I also needed more journals than I expected, so the cost balanced out in the end). Argh, Target! 😉

    1. Oh, I know, it is hard with kids, isn’t it? I have one son who wants to keep the tags from new purchases:/ Everything is precious, but I am seeing progress in little areas, where things they once adamantly refused to part with they are now ready to release (like the too small, holey tie-dye t-shirt my other son made this summer). Lead by example, they say.

      1. OH my, my oldest used to do the exact same thing! He also that everything discarded thing he found on the ground was a special object just for him. He was a complete pack rat. There is hope though. now he keeps his room immaculate! 🙂 Now if I could just get my other two to stop using their toy bins as a trash can!

  12. Creating a shopping list helps me. If it’s not on my monthly shopping list then I’m most likely not going to get it. Unnecessary spending really isn’t an issue for me. I’m one of those people who like to window shop, save up for what I want and then make sure I get rid of something I’m not using to make space for it.

  13. I agree with looking around your house before heading out. Impulse buying can be such a problem for people. You end up with more than what you need. Even if you can afford it, you must decide if you want to have the clutter.

    1. So true, that was my problem with rummage sales and Goodwill shopping, for sure. I definitely don’t want the clutter anymore.

  14. I am definitely not a minimalist by any stretch of the imagination, lol, but I do try to limit my spending and am trying to save money for some projects. These are great tips and I know personally which stores will get me every time! Target’s dollar spot….I wish I only spent a dollar in there, lol!

  15. I can visualize myself getting sucked into the vortex that is Target. I love browsing but I’m pretty good about talking myself out of purchases. Clutter drives me wacky. I absolutely hate it when I can’t find stuff, so I buy stuff to replace the stuff I couldn’t find because it was hiding behind more stuff. It’s a double-whammy of disorganization and wasted money. So everything you said here spoke volumes to me. I especially love the point you made when you said, “gratitude or greed.” Focus on blessings.

    1. Thanks, Angela! I worried a bit about the gratitude or greed part; I didn’t want to come on too strong, so I’m glad it spoke to you in the right way:) Yes, I am prone to misplacing things in the crazy that is my home with five kids. It is always disappointing to have to spend money on something you know you have. . .somewhere! Right now, it’s two overdue library books.

  16. I used to have a bad shopping problem, but then I sat down and thought about what I actually wanted from life and made financial goals, and it was easier to say ‘no’ to buying useless things. Now whenever I get the impulse to buy, I ask myself, do I really want this or would I rather put this money towards traveling? (Something I really love.)

    1. I love this, Estrella! Yes, when we identify what we truly want to spend our money on and how we want our lives to look, it is so much easier to say no to those impulse buys. I’m so happy for you that you could make that mental shift and create the life you want for yourself.

  17. I love this post! We have way too much stuff. In our society we always want more more more. I keep trying to downsize my husband does not agree. We will get on the same page one of these days 🙂

    1. In our home, I’m the one who struggles to let go of things; it all has some kind of personal meaning to me. But I am making progress, and the more I release, the easier it becomes. It is important to start with your personal items, and perhaps, as he sees the difference, he will be more inclined to join in. Good luck!

    1. I know, I am kind of sucked in right now. I don’t know if I will ever achieve minimalist status, but I certainly want to streamline our lives to avoid spending all of our extra time cleaning and picking up “stuff.”

  18. Staying away from temptation is a biggie for success. It takes a lot of willpower, but I stay away from the mall as much as possible, and I’ve cancelled subscriptions to retail sites as well. If I don’t see it, I don’t want it.

    1. Yes, that push to buy and want more comes at us from all directions. Any ways that we can find to distance ourselves from it makes contentment a little easier.

  19. I really loved your approach to getting rid of the excess…my big take away was to look around the house before leaving, and think DO I REALLY NEED MORE??? And the answer is, NO. Thank you for your insightful post, I am now following your blog. 🙂

    1. I so very much want to create a capsule wardrobe! What I have now is a severely pared-down wardrobe, but the pieces I have left don’t exactly work together. I just hate the idea of having to spend money to create one!

  20. Great post. I love to purge. It helps me feel free and organized, while helping me realize how much I already have. As long as I don’t play the comparison game, I feel lucky. When I compare my life to those in worse situations like you did, I also realize how blessed I really am. Thanks for the reminder to be thankful!

    1. Thanks, Tara. Be sure to grab your free printable; it’s a Thankfulness List where you can write down what you are thankful for each day (or week, month, whatever). We live in a pretty affluent area, but we are not, by any means, affluent ourselves. It is hard not to compare our lack with everyone else’s excess. But, I am learning that, in letting go of even what we do have, I don’t want as much anymore. Less is becoming more to me, at last.

  21. I had never considered myself a compulsive shopper…a compulsive thrifter…yes! However, after having my closets shelves fall down more than once and hubby not wanting to reinstall them, I have stopped.

    1. Oh my! It is so easy to get sucked into the good deals, isn’t it? I have had to give up garage sales for the same reason: I just ended up cluttering up my home! Sure, I did find some things at a great price that we needed, but I spent far more on unnecessary items I might be able to use, but never did.

  22. This was a terrific piece. My husband and I did this about 4 years ago when we were moving from KY to SC. We sold everything from our home to our books and started over with next to nothing after losing everything in the economy collapse. It taught us a valuable lesson on what is important to have and what is not. Once we cut out the extra stuff we found that we not only have more money, but better stuff and a more organized life. I really enjoyed this and on another note I think your site is absolutely beautiful I love the colors that you chose!

    1. Oh, thank you Rena! It is a work in progress:) Wow, I am sorry that you lost everything; it is much less traumatic to choose to let things go than to be forced to. But, I am happy to here that the experience made you stronger and able to create a life you really love, with money to spare!

  23. The dollar store is definitely a place of excess shopping for me! There are so many cool things, and all for under $3 each! But I try to stick to a list of necessities when I go in. I also don’t go shopping for fun any more. Instead I find other things to do, whether it’s free or cost money, because I’m learning experiences are worth more than material possessions 🙂

  24. Thanks for this post, some really practical and helpful tips. You are right, we do have so much to be thankful for. Sometimes we have too much and that gets in the ways of being able to see what we do have.

  25. I read an article in our local newspaper that said, when trying to eliminate the excess from your house, ask yourself at each article- Does this make me happy? If the answer is no, get rid of it! I, too, have been eliminating excess ‘stuff’ slow-but-surely. One of the neat things about donating the items to Goodwill, Deseret Industries, or many other faith-based thrift stores, is that their mission of helping others is supported by the sale of the stuff we give. So, not only am I cleaning out the house, I am helping someone in need. Win-win!!

    Beautiful post!

    1. Ah yes, that is from Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It is really good, you should read it. “Does this item spark joy?” is her central question. And, yes, donating does give others a chance to work and receive things they might not otherwise afford. Good point!

  26. Ha! if only I had the means to overspend at times!!! Seriously a good article that would be worth knowing about for anyone. I get annoyed about excessive marketing that gets people tempted into spending more than they can afford. The responsibility to not overspend also extends to a responsibility on retailers to not encourage overspending

    1. Yes, I wish they saw it that way, too. But, that is the capitalist way, and we have to be thankful that we live in a free market society, where the entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged. We can’t thrive if we don’t produce and buy, right? Well, we could always go back to bartering, which is really in line with the minimalist spirit (and entrepreneurial too).

  27. Wow! Thanks for your tips! Well, I know one lady who needs to read this post and I will forward it to her. Hint: the lady is right next to me but I can not tell her myself. It will start a war. I bet you know who that is. Thanks for the awesome tips

    1. Ha! Well, if she has any problems, send her my way. I only speak from experience, and it’s not an easy thing to admit or change about ourselves:) Good luck!

  28. I’ve been spending less in the last three years, and I love the way it makes me feel! It’s an incredibly freeing feeling to not worry about finances (as much) and still have a home filled with beautiful things that I love. Thank you for the post! It’s a great reminder of why I live this way and what else I can do to not end up with all the clutter and junk that I used to have!

    1. I’m still in process, but I am looking forward to being where you are in three years (hopefully sooner than that, actually). Thanks, Heather!

  29. This is a wonderful post! I have such a problem with Target and Home Goods, I can never seem to buy just the things off of my list. I wrote these done for future shopping trips!

  30. Financial freedom require discipline which often comes at the hands of personal experience. I like the idea of Just don’t go to those stores and you won’t be tempted! Sometimes folks don’t realize that when they make charges for clearance and sale items, they are not getting a good deal because of the high interest those charges cost in the long run!
    We have to learn to separate the difference between our wants and our needs.

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