Spend 15 minutes on social media and you’ll likely find yourself having to resist the urge to buy more stuff you don’t need.
For some, this is a bad habit that prevents them from reaching meaningful financial goals. For others, this is a full blown shopping addiction.
But buying stuff you don’t need can be seriously harmful to your wallet and your mindset.
Practicing not buying stuff is a skill in itself, that requires discipline and financial mindfulness.
This is a skill that I’m trying to cultivate in my own life. I think of it like a muscle— each time I resist the urge to make a purchase, I get stronger.
Along the way, there’s been a few tips and tricks that I’ve tried to support me in my journey to stop buying meaningless stuff.
Keep reading for the top 16 tricks that can help you stop spending on stuff your don’t need.
1. Identify what triggers you
Emotional spending is a real thing.
I remember when I was in college, if I was procrastinating on studying for an exam, I would go shopping as stress relief.
In order to spend more responsibly, it can be really helpful to identify the circumstances in which you are likely to make impulsive spending decisions.
This is a way of practicing mindful spending. While this differs for everyone, here’s a few common triggers for spending:
- Seeing a large balance in your account on payday– Many people overspend when payday comes.
- Insecurity. It’s common to overspend when feeling insecure. Often, ads and influencers trick us into thinking that the right product will help us overcome our insecurities. In reality, this has to come from within.
- Scrolling through TikTok/Instagram. This is an obvious one, but social media can trigger a sense of envy for what others have, and make us feel like we need to spend to be more like them.
- Stress & Procrastination. Stress about work, school, relationships or anything else can trigger irresponsible spending. This can be made worse if you’re procrastinating doing something you’re stressed about.
- Wanting to make a change/ dissatisfaction with your current life. Have you ever wanted to start a new gym routine and convinced yourself that to be “motivated” you should buy yourself a new workout wardrobe first? Or bought all the supplies for a hobby you never stuck to? This is a super common spending trigger that comes from fear that you won’t be able to make the changes in your life that you set out to.
In each of these scenarios, it’s much more important to confront the emotions that are causing the spending that actually spend money.
Once you recognize your triggers, you can work through the emotions themselves through things like journaling, meditation, or even therapy.
2. Reflect on a previous time when you wanted something and gave in
The fact is, how we feel after buying something new often does not line up with our expectations.
Genius marketing campaigns and curated influencer content trick us into thinking that buying something, whatever it may be, will make us feel a certain way.
You’re not buying those new Zara pants because you need new pants, you’re buying them because you believe they will make you feel fashion-toward, put-together… you get the point.
So, reflect on a recent purchase you made and ask yourself the following.
What, specifically, made you buy it? An ad, influencer, or something else?
What is the feeling you hoped buying this would bring you?
Did you feel how you expected to after purchasing?
If so, how long did that feeling last?
Sometimes, reflections on our past spending experiences can help make sure we don’t make the same mistake.
3. Try the “wait a week” approach
When you’re in that mood that says “I need to buy this thing right now because it is going to solve all my problems,” recognize how you are feeling and intervene.
Tell yourself that you will wait a week, and if you still want the thing so badly, you will buy it.
You’ll likely be surprised how quickly this feeling of necessity fades.
To take this a step further, set different time intervals based on how much the thing costs.
If it’s under $25, maybe a week is sufficient. If you’re considering a purchase that’s $250+, you might commit to waiting at least a month.
The actual timeframes you decide on will be dependent on your individual financial situation.
4. Turn off ad tracking and minimize personalized Instagram ads
Ads on Instagram have become such a huge part of the platform, it’s almost impossible to scroll for more than a few minutes without seeing one.
And Instagram ads actually work, with 72% of Instagram users saying Instagram content influences their purchases.
But let’s face it, some of my worst spending decisions have come from instagram ads.
While you can’t turn off ads all together, there’s a couple things you can do to limit them:
Turn off ad tracking on your iPhone
On your iPhone, go to Settings>Privacy>Tracking
Then, turn off tracking for instagram and Facebook. This will prevent them from using your activity on other apps and websites to recommend ads to you.
Hide ads on Instagram when you see them
When you see ads on your Instagram feed, tap the 3 dots icon in the top right corner and click “hide ad”.
This will prevent Instagram from showing you similar ads in the future, which could save you from a poor spending decision!
5. Try a no-spending challenge
If you want to take a cold turkey approach to control your spending, you could dive into a “no-spend” challenge.
Think of this sort of like a financial detox. You’ll do this in the short term, but hopefully it has lasting effects for your spending in the future as well.
There are several different no-spend challenges. It’s a good idea to choose one that focuses on an area which you tend to overspend.
A few ideas:
- No unnecessary purchases for 30 days
- No eating out for 30 days
- Only buy second-hand clothes and home decor for 3 months
- Only free, at home date nights for 3 months
6. Follow influencers that promote low spending and sustainability
Add more positive role models into your social-media network!
Many people associate frugality with a certain personality and style, assuming they’ll have to give up their personal style to save money, but that’s not the case! There are ways that everyone can be a bit more frugal.
When you’re on social media, pay attention to influencers that are constantly making you feel like you need to buy new things, vs ones that simply bring you a smile or a laugh.
Clean your feed of people who are promoting your consumerism, and replace them with others who make you feel better about having the things you currently have!
7. Try out budgeting for a high-spend category
In order to spend responsibly, many people suggest budgeting your money. But, if you’re anything like me, the thought of starting from scratch to tracking every cent via a budget is extremely intimidating.
Rather than trying to budget for every single category— why not just start with one category at first?
For example, if you know you have a tendency to overspend on clothing and accessories, set a limit for your clothing/accessory spending for the month.
If you’re not sure where to start, try taking a look at what you spent in that category the previous month. Then, decrease the amount to a number that is challenging but achievable.
Take baby steps towards budgeting by just tracking spending in this one category. That way, you’ll start seeing the rewards of budgeting with the least amount of effort.
8. Find healthier ways to get a boost of dopamine
Yes, shopping gives you a boost of dopamine. That’s why it can truly be an addiction.
But this is not a sustainable or healthy way to manage your mental health. Take a moment to reflect on some other ways you can give yourself a boost of serotonin and dopamine.
When you’re in the mood to shop, challenge yourself to do one of these dopamine-boosting activities instead:
- Find a funny video or show to make you laugh
- Make a healthy meal
- Get out in the sun
- Try yoga
- Go for a quick run
9. Find an accountability partner
If you feel like your spending has gotten out of control, make a commitment to a friend or significant other that you will tell them about every non-essential purchase you make first.
I do this with my partner, and they’re often able to talk me out of buying things I don’t actually need. Whenever I’m about to buy something, I simply text or tell them what I’m about to buy, and why.
My accountability buddy helps me break out of irrational thinking patterns that cause me to spend more money.
For example, I showed my partner a dress I was about to buy on Amazon the other day, and they helped me by reminding me that I already have a similar dress in my closet that I never wear!
10. Remove Apple Pay from your phone
Remember the days when you actually had to have cash or a card on hand to buy something? And when you had to type in your full credit card info just to check out?
It’s gotten so much easier to buy things, which may have a negative effect on your spending habits.
By removing Apple Pay from your phone, you can add a little bit of friction when you’re shopping. This may help you think twice before buying something you really don’t need.
For example, you might pass on buying that dress you’ve been eyeing if it means you have to get up and walk across the room to find your credit card.
11. Make a spending check in
Each time you want to make a purchase, commit to going through a spending check-in first.
You can make your own, but this is a good starting point:
- Do I really need this?
- If I make this purchase, will I still be able to make my savings goals for the month?
- Have I properly researched this product/services reviews and competitors first?
- Do I need this right now, or can I wait and think about it?
Often with impulsive spending, simply slowing down and re-evaluating can really help.
12. Set bigger financial goals
If you’re earning money, but you don’t know what you want to do with it, it can be really hard to prevent impulsive spending.
Many people don’t actually know what their money can do for them over time, but this is where the real reward of not giving into unnecessary spending comes into play.
Setting a bigger financial goal like paying off your debt, saving for a down payment on a house, or buying a car in full can help you take your mind off the short term.
When you’re able to meet a larger goal like this, you’ll likely be proud of your accomplishment and recognize that the discipline it took was worth it.
Contrast this with the feeling of emptiness and disappointment after draining your bank account on something you don’t need.
Setting financial goals helps shift your mindset away from working for your money, and toward making your money work for you.
If you’ve never set a financial goal before, start with something small that you can achieve in a month or so. This will give you a taste of the satisfaction of saving rather than spending.
Then, set larger goals that you can achieve over the course of months or even years.
13. Take a values based approach to spending
Take a look at the top categories you spend money on each month. That’s often a reflection of your personal values.
Or at least, it should be.
Defining and knowing your personal values can help you make so many decisions in your life, even including financial decisions.
By taking a values based approach to spending, you’ll simply vet every purchase you make against your personal values.
You’ll ask yourself: does this purchase line up with my values.
Here’s an example:
My top 3 values are continuous learning, service, and adventure.
With each purchase I make, I’ll ask myself if it lines up with these values. If it doesn’t, it makes it easier to say no to the purchase.
14. Try these money spending journal prompts
In the midst of all these things you can do to curb your spending, the most important is to get to the root of the problem.
Often, spending is a coping mechanism for certain emotions.
To get to the bottom of this, try some journal prompts that can help you learn a bit more about your own personal financial habits.
A few to get started:
- How do you care for and respect the money you earn?
- How do you feel about the role of money in your life overall?
- How would your spending change if you had unlimited money?
- How does the act of spending money make you feel?
15. Start a spending log
Yes, there are apps that can track your purchases and help you set a budget. But there’s something even more powerful about taking the time to actually write out every purchase you make in a given month.
To see it all as a list on paper, it can be mind blowing how much stuff you actually buy!
Using a spending log each month and putting it somewhere you can see it will keep you accountable for the actual amount of purchases you’ve making and money your spending.
A topic that most over-spenders like to avoid by never looking at their bank balance or credit card statement.
16. Work with a therapist
In case it’s not clear by now— spending has a lot to do with your emotions! And your financial decisions are absolutely something you can bring to therapy.
Many people are embarrassed about or ashamed of their unnecessary spending. Others don’t see it as a serious enough issue to get help with, because in the grand scheme of things it can feel pretty harmless.
But a therapist can help you get to the emotions behind your spending, and work with you on a plan for improving your habits in the future.
I hope these tips help you in your journey to spend less! This is something that truly so many people struggle with. Even the most frugal people you know have made unnecessary purchases at some point. Like I said, it’s a muscle you need to build. In time, it will get much easier to say no when a random purchase is calling your name.