If you’re trying to develop any sort of habit–whether it’s running a few times a week, making your bed in the morning, or bringing your lunch to work–it’s helpful to make it as easy as possible on yourself. Many people think that building good habits is all about learning how to have self-control, or willpower. But actually, many experts say that the opposite is true: It’s about designing systems that set you up to not have to rely on willpower. Because the truth is, if it’s inconvenient or difficult to stick to something, you probably won’t stick to it long-term.
Learning how to control overspending is no different: Sure, we can all work on our self-discipline–but you can also set yourself up for success by creating systems to make saving money easy–and spending it harder.
Here are some tips to help you rely less on self-control, and more on smart systems, to avoid overspending and stay on track with your financial goals!
Create points of friction when shopping
When it comes to curbing your impulses while shopping, the odds are against you. Retailers dump a lot of research and money into understanding consumer behavior to get you to put items in your shopping cart and push the “purchase” button. They work hard to remove points of friction, or things that might get in the way of you buying something. This keeps shopping easy and pleasant so you willingly dole out those dollars.
Understanding the psychology behind all of this–at least enough to know when it’s happening to you–can help curb unnecessary spending. Keonyoung Oh, an associate professor at State University of New York Buffalo, specialises in neuromarketing, an emerging field that tracks consumer behaviour through neuroscience.
“Most of our decisions to buy something are made instantly,” Oh shares. “We don’t employ the usual process of weighing the outcome like we would in the workplace, because these types of emotional decisions are often made subconsciously due to the human brain structure,” she adds.
“The instant we decide to buy, we feel an instant rush of positive emotion. But afterwards, intense feelings of guilt after indulging can make it difficult to rebound,” says Kit Yarrow, San Francisco-based consumer psychologist and author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind.
If you’re trying to control your spending, try to create more points of friction–speed bumps to help you ‘wake up’ if you’re making purchasing decisions a bit too easily.
Disable autofill of payment info
If you want to learn how to control overspending online, this tip is for you: Delete any autofill settings that store your debit card or credit card information, so it takes just a little more effort to spend money. In having to get up, find your card, and manually fill in the information, you might also discover that you actually don’t care about that thing as much as you thought.
Abandon your cart
While shopping online, leave things in your shopping cart and come back in a day. If you put it in your cart at 11pm, make sure you’re still happy with your decision at 10am the next day. As we mentioned above, we get a big kick of dopamine when ‘hunting’ for items online. But we don’t seem to experience the same purely-positive feelings after purchasing: Which means that you might be able to satisfy whatever happy feelings you’re craving simply by adding things to your cart, and then (digitally) walking away.
This also works in a physical store. If you see something you’re interested in, put it on hold and wait a day. Is it worth it to trek back to the store to make that purchase? If not, see it as a sign that you’re not 100% feeling that thing as much as you thought.
Focus on your financial goals
Do you want to move into a bigger place, go on a trip, pay for a graduate degree, or adopt a shelter dog? Use these financial goals as motivation next time you’re thinking about making a less-than-necessary purchase.
It can be helpful to literally ask yourself, Would I rather have (this thing in my cart), or (this Goal I’m saving for)?
One Simple customer shared that kicking her online shopping habit became much easier once she had her sights set on buying a home: “Whenever I would start mindlessly adding things to my cart, I would think, Do I want another pair of black leggings, or the house from my Pinterest board? Just having one big goal in mind helped put other, smaller purchases into perspective and made them a lot less appealing.”
Find other forms of therapy (besides retail)
As we get tired or stressed, our impulse control (the thing that keeps us from making irresponsible decisions) gets quickly depleted–which is why we often make our worst financial, health, and life decisions when we’re physically worn out.
Impulse shopping when you’re tired or cranky can lead to poor decisions or overspending. If you’re using shopping as a form of retail therapy, you most likely will buy things you don’t need.
To avoid suffering from regret, keep yourself in check by coming up with a list of free or inexpensive things you can do to boost your mood when you’re feeling low:
- Go for a walk in nature
- Call a friend or family member
- Hang out with your dog
- Stretch or exercise
- Take a shower or bath
- Invite a friend over
- Clean up
- Make your bed
- Read a book or magazine
It also helps to know what times during the day you are most alert and cogent – and limiting your “shopping hours” to these times when you’re more likely to make good decisions. Maybe you’re like a windup toy in the morning and your senses are acute in the day, but your brain turns to slush as the day wears on. If that’s the case, try doing your shopping (in person and online) earlier in the day.
Or didn’t get enough sleep last night? Suffering from a hangover? If your brain feels like muck, you’re apt to have poor judgment and have trouble regulating your impulses, which can make it harder to control your spending. If you can, hold off on any purchases until you’ve had some time to recover.
Try batch spending
To curb impulse buys, try batch spending, where you create a 30-day list of items you have your eye on. On your list you can put helpful notes such as the estimated price and just how badly you want it.
Wait 30 days if you can, and after that wait period, see how you feel. Then, go through your list and if you still feel strongly about something, get it. If you have an account with us, you can set up a Goal to save up for a mini shopping spree. That way, you’ll purchase things that have a purpose and with a focused intent.
Adopt a ‘one in, one out’ rule
You’ve probably heard of ‘shopping your closet’–revisiting items you already have before buying something new. This is because when you have a lot of stuff, it’s hard to keep track of what you have. And if you’re prone to overbuying, you might even forget what you have and buy multiple similar items that could all fulfill the same purpose.
Combat this by implementing a ‘one in, one out’ rule: For example, if you want to buy a new grey sweater, create a rule that you first have to donate or sell another article of clothing before you can buy the sweater. The same rule can apply in virtually any category: Clothing, kitchen gear, tech gadgets, etc.
Unsubscribe and unfollow
Just like it’s hard to resist sugary treats if you watch baking shows nonstop, it’s hard to avoid spending when you’re constantly being reminded of everything that there is to buy. Make it easier on yourself by removing them from your feed or inbox. Unsubscribe from retailer emails and unfollow them on social media to help you avoid unnecessary purchasing!
Go forth and save!
Being responsible with your money isn’t about feeling deprived all the time, or whiteknuckling your way to financial freedom. It’s about figuring out what’s important to you, and then creating systems around you that make it easier to stay focused on those goals.
At Simple, our mission is to help people feel more confident with their money, by creating tools that make it easier to budget and save. We hope these tips have inspired you to try some more sustainable ways to control your spending, so you can stay focused on putting your money towards things that matter to you! And of course–if you’re not already banking and budgeting with Simple, we encourage you to start now!
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Disclaimer: Hey! Welcome to our disclaimer. Here’s what you need to know to safely consume this blog post: Any outbound links in this post will take you away from Simple.com, to external sites in the wilds of the internet; neither Simple nor our partner bank, BBVA Compass, endorse any linked-to websites; and we didn’t pay/barter with/bribe anyone to appear in this post. And as much as we wish we could control the cost of things, any prices in this article are just estimates. Actual prices are up to retailers, manufacturers, and other people who’ve been granted magical powers over digits and dollar signs.