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20 Hacks to Cut Back on Spending

Last updated May 9, 2024

Today, retailers have made shopping easier than ever – from online shopping, to strategic in-store merchandising, a variety of payment options at check-out and flexible return policies – it’s easy to forget your spending limits! Nearly 90% of Americans admit they engage in impulsive spending and over half reported making impulsive purchases on items that cost $100 or more.1

Keeping more money in your bank account starts with understanding wants versus needs, becoming mindful of your spending habits and finding ways to resist temptations that have tricked you into overspending before. Here are 20 hacks to help you cut back on spending and stay on track towards meeting your goals.

Change your shopping habits

Making a few small tweaks to your everyday shopping habits can make a big difference and help set you up for success in the long run.

1. Shop without a grocery cart: skipping the big cart in favor of a small basket can help restrict your purchases and prevent you from mindlessly piling extra items into the shopping cart.

2. Don’t follow the path: retailers have employees whose entire job is designing the store in a way that entices you to follow a path that leads to more spending. Go directly to the aisle that has the specific item you’re shopping for.

3. Delete your credit card information: while saving your credit card information on your favorite websites is convenient, it makes it easier to make impulse purchases. Forcing yourself to type in that 16-digit number each time could be the trick to rein in impulse buying.

4. Compare prices: make a habit out of researching the best deal. Always check whether online or in-store offers better pricing, if there’s a sale on certain brands, or if there’s a coupon that helps you achieve more savings.

5. Leave credit cards at home: credit cards are designed to be convenient and easy to use. The best way to resist the temptation to swipe is to leave it at home and only bring the cash you need.

Become more mindful

Drawing awareness to where your cash is going can shift your perspective to a new state of less wasteful spending.

1. Always make a list: making a shopping list before you leave the house will help you be more conscious of the purpose of your shopping trip and less likely to make unplanned purchases.

2. Make your goal front and center: keep your financial goals top of mind by writing them down in places that can help you hedge your impulse purchases, like on your credit card. Seeing your goal in big bold ink can help you remember why you should avoid swiping.

3. Don’t (always) set it and forget it: automating certain tasks, like paying monthly bills or depositing money into our saving accounts can be a huge help. But be careful about automating everything. Subscriptions to magazines you don’t read or cable channels you don’t watch can add up! Take an inventory and suspend subscriptions you’re not using.

4. Shop smart, not fast: consider holding off on buying something you want until you know it’s sale season. Can you wait until Black Friday to replace your blender? Probably.

5. Question everything: ask yourself a standard set of questions to determine if each purchase is impulsive or a thoughtful choice:

  • When will I use this? Can I use it more than once?
  • What if I wait? Will I still want this in 24 hours?
  • How will I pay for this? Does it fit in my budget?
  • Will I feel guilty or regret this purchase later?

Steer clear of your shopping triggers

Knowing how to stop spending money often starts with identifying the emotional and psychological triggers that cause us to spend. Before you walk out of the house, remember:

1. Resist the red sale signs: rewire your mind to think that red sale signs mean STOP. Don’t let the big red sign fool you into thinking that a great deal means you can blow your budget.

2. Unsubscribe from retail emails and deal sites: retailers have found a variety of ways to collect your email and bombard you with updates on new items, deals, and “exclusive” opportunities. Hit unsubscribe so these updates are out of sight and out of mind.

3. Be selective in who you shop with: do you have a friend who you partner up with for retail therapy? Leave them at home. Even the most well-intentioned friends can sometimes be a bad influence on us. You know your budget and bank account best, so don’t be influenced by others who don’t.

4. Delete retail apps from your phone: the average American adult (18+) spends 2 hours and 51 minutes on their smartphone every day. That’s about 86 hours a month!2 Removing apps from your phone can help stop you from walking through the digital front door of your favorite stores.

5. Practice tunnel vision at the check-out aisle: the checkout aisle is the prime spot for retailers to overwhelm your willpower. It’s not a coincidence that common (and cheap) vices like candy, chewing gum, breath mints, and snacks are conveniently located in or near the check-out.

Consider other alternatives

Sometimes the easiest way to find more savings is to change your daily habits or swap one thing out for another. Check and see if you should invest in buying something that can help you cut costs over time or if there’s something you can swap out to eliminate costs all together.

1. Gym membership vs. exercising outside: group fitness and going to the gym can provide the structure you need to work out, but exercising outside can offer other major benefits like fresh air, more energy, a daily dose of vitamin D from the sunshine, as well as more dollars in your pocket.

2. Coffee from the café vs. home brewed coffee: do the math. Buying a coffee or espresso maker may be a one-time investment of $75, but it could help you keep $1–$5 in your pocket every day. That adds up to $20–$100 a month, which means $240–$1,200 a year of savings!

3. Credit card vs. fixed rate personal loan: if you’re not paying your credit card off in full each month, you’re compounding your debt with a high interest rate. See if you can trade that high interest debt for a lower rate fixed term personal loan. Refinancing your debt could save you hundreds or thousands in the long run and you’ll be able to circle the date on your calendar when it will be paid off.

4. Dining out vs. home cooking: you can save around $16 per meal by cooking at home, netting out to $832 a year if you cook just one more time each week!3 In addition to saving money, you also get to become more aware and in control of the ingredients that you’re putting on the table for you and your family.

5. Bottled water vs. filtered tap water: bottled water is one of the most marked up items you could buy. Assuming that the cost of a bottle of water is $1, you are paying 2,279 times what it would cost if you filled that same bottle with tap water! 4,787 bottled waters could be filled with tap water for $2.10!4

Final Thought

Changing your spending habits doesn’t happen overnight, but you can start taking small steps now that can have a big impact over time. If you start by building a budget but later forget to leave the house without a shopping list, don’t beat yourself up. Remember other steps when you get to the store, like avoiding your spending triggers and remind yourself of the financial goals you’re looking to achieve.

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