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?

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Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, of course, writing. She is currently the editor-in-chief of


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. 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!

    1. 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.

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