How I Reduced My Spontaneous Spending

Here are some of the things I do to better save money, without drastically changing my hobbies and lifestyle.

I didn’t pay much attention to how much I spent on small, spontaneous purchases until early last year. Last January, I was prepping to sell my house, planning our wedding, and planning a big move to Washington, DC. Not only did I have a lot more expenses during that time, those expenses were unpredictable. That month I decided to sit down and review where my money was going and cut unnecessary spending. Fast-forward over a year later, I have drastically decreased my credit card bill, and honestly my life feels so much better.

I tried a lot of things to reduce my random credit cards swipes, but the most important thing to note here is that I was in the right stage of my life to focus on this. I had a reason to change this habit. I don’t think this would have worked as well if I didn’t have some goals. I wanted to save more and I wanted to be financially prepared for the big changes that happened last year. My awareness of my spending hasn’t gone away, even though my life is calm and predictable again. It was one of those big habit changes that made perfect sense for me, and I don’t see this mindset going away soon.

So here are four habits I used to help me get my credit card bill in check:

Habit 1: Only shop your wish list. Record all non-consumable items you want to purchase in the Notes section of your phone. These items are clothes and accessories, beauty items (particularly more expensive items or items you already have several of), technology, stuff for hobbies, home goods, etc. Build a wish list. Start with 5-10 items. Ok good, now don’t buy anything on your list for at least a month. In your free time, research the items. If you have a brand or design in mind, write that in your notes with the price. Then look for alternatives. Ask yourself, do you really need this item? Will you give up a similar item you already own for it? Are you sure you’ll use this item long enough to justify its purchase? Depending on the item, some products will need more or less thought. But the idea is you only shop off your wish list. If it’s not on your wish list, you don’t buy it. You can add new items to your wish list and take them off as needed. But you’re waiting one month (or whatever amount of time you decide) to actually buy that item. Main reason is it reduces the impulse buys, but two it gives you time to research alternatives. In the same way you may take the time to research a new laptop, taking time to compare alternatives for other items will better ensure you’re completely satisfied with your purchase. Even if it’s something as simple as a new sweater, comparing a few sweaters before you purchase will make sure you’re getting something that you love.

This has made shopping for me so much more enjoyable. I don’t walk out of a store with a bag full of stuff I didn’t know I needed and feel guilty about how much money I spent. Now when I buy something, I leave the store feeling accomplished. I finally found the perfect [insert item] and I know it was worth the money.

Here are some items on my wish list right now. Many of these items have been on here for months, either because I have no urgency to buy it or I haven’t found what I am looking for: black leather ankle boots, high-waisted jeans (I found a pair from Everlane but haven’t pulled the plug), a cask iron pot (because every apartment needs one of those), and a thick black shirt that would look good under a blazer.

The biggest surprise for me was how many times I wrote down something I wanted, then eventually deleted that item from my list. Anytime I saw something I liked, I would write it down to remember it. But many times, after the excitement wore off, I realized I didn’t actually need the product. Examples of these items are: foldable hangers for travel, Chacos, and a St. Patrick’s Day beer shirt with my name on the back.

Habit 2: The Budget Week. Pick a week out of the month that you purchase zero non-essentials. Unless you can’t function without this item, don’t buy it. I call this my Budget Week, and I’ve actually practiced this habit on and off for over eight years. It always helps me realign my budget and corrects any bad spending habits. The discipline I have during this week usually carries over. I don’t swing by a coffee shop this week, or dine out (unless I’m invited by a friend). I don’t buy clothes or shop on Amazon. No random snacks and no going by my favorite wine shop to pick up a bottle for dinner. You get the picture. I do this for non-essentials, but I also do this for groceries and other consumables. I shop my pantry first before I make a grocery list. This is the week that I eat the half full box of pasta or some of the meat in my freezer. It’s also the week that when I run out of shampoo, I pull out the different shampoo from my cabinet that I didn’t love, but I apparently didn’t dislike enough to throw away. The goals are to reduce the inventory in my house, limit my spending, but also be creative and have fun “shopping” my own home.

So basically, I’m super frugal for seven days, then just financially responsible for the rest of the month. Try doing this just one Monday through Thursday of the month, one weekend a month, or every Monday. Whatever days you pick, I promise this skill will carry over into your non-budget weeks and will help with your overall budgeting.

Habit 3: Reduce your swipes. Ignoring bills and other recurring expenses, try to reduce the amount of times you use your card. Say you usually use your card 15 times a week, try to reduce it to 12 in general or 7 during a particular week (as you ease into the idea of a Budget Week). It’s easy to track, and you don’t have to completely focus on the dollar amount. If you’re giving yourself 2 swipes a day, but you really want a coffee, lunch at your favorite place, AND your nails done, you’ll have to prioritize. The whole point is just *thinking* about your purchases. In the beginning, I recommend thinking about what you need/want in the morning, make a list, then decide what’s worth your swipe. I just looked at my credit card app on my phone, I average about 5-7 swipes a week when I’m home. But that number is way more when I’m on vacation and that’s okay.

Habit 4: Set quotas. I got really good at the above steps. I would shop my house on Budget Week. I kept track of all the clothes and kitchen stuff I wanted. And during the week, I only use my card a few times. BUT where I still struggled was food and drinks, mostly restaurants and cafes. Boy can I blow some money on a weekend on food and drinks. I need an appetizer, a drink with my appetizer, dinner, and a drink with my dinner. I’m pretty good at skipping dessert, but that’s my only redeeming quality. I didn’t want to stop going out to eat, but I wanted to save money. So here some things I do to make my meals and coffee runs cheaper:

  • I set a three coffee max per week. I can make however much coffee I want at home, but for someone else to make it for me, just three. When I was at my old office, I would get a coffee and breakfast at Starbucks every morning, then one-two cups during the week just because. My breakfast was costing $70 a week ($10 for a coffee and a breakfast sandwich), fairly embarrassing.. Now, I do one every Monday as a ‘yeah, yeah Mondays suck, but here’s a flat white to make it better’ and one-two during the week or weekend as I’m feeling it. I usually will post up at a coffee shop once a week to do a couple hours of work and reward myself with a coffee. I also put an emphasis on going to a locally-owned coffee shop now.
  • Don’t drink booze and eat. I don’t always do this. Sometimes I like a nice wine and food pairing. But I especially do this with spicy food. I don’t try to relieve the burn of my Indian dish with a $13 cocktail. I save my drinks for before or after my meal, save a few bucks, and some calories.
  • Casual date night: share an app and an entree, or just get two entrees. If my husband and I go out during the week, we stick to this concept. If we are really feeling an appetizer, we get it but then split dinner. Otherwise, we will just order like normal, get our own meals, but not order an app. This habit easily drops the bill by $10-$15 and again really helps with portion control. You could also think about this with drinks. If you want an appetizer during a week night meal, fine no beer, no vise versa.
  • Set a quota for how often you dine out. This was my game-changer and where I really save my money. I pay for someone else to make my food about four times a week. This is a huge difference than what I used to do. Old Taryn could easily dine out 14 times a week. Now, I usually break it down to: one lunch during the week, dinner on a Friday, brunch on Saturday, and dinner on Sunday. I don’t turn down meals with friends because of this habit, but I am aware of what I’m spending if I do add an extra meal out. I rotate my lunch out with either one of my friends, my husband, or solo. I really like my solo lunches out because I get to pick adventurous spots that no one else may be into. I pick my meals more carefully, which makes me enjoy those experiences more. Also, I’m not eating at the same place over and over again, so I have better memories of the places I go. When I was eating out for almost every meal, those meals weren’t great. (It was mostly chicken tenders or whatever Asian place I could find on Postmates). I was consuming too many calories, sodium, and sugar and wasn’t feeling great. So not only do I physically feel a lot better now, I save about $150 a week by doing this.

Other things I did were stop going to Target for fun. I know, it’s sad, but it’s saves me so much money. I don’t own a bunch of Target dresses anymore that I didn’t try on and that don’t fit me well (I’m tall and Target dresses aren’t made for me). I also started doing a much better job at making a grocery list and sticking to it (that will be a post on its own). I hope my advice inspires you to think about simple ways to help your budget. I’m working on a post for the future that goes over some of things I save for now (hint: it’s mostly about travel).

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