Saving money can feel like a luxury you can’t afford. Between the ever-increasing cost of living across the country and the constant pressure to keep up with the virtual Joneses, it’s tough to break the spending habit.
But putting money aside for the future is essential for financial stability and building wealth—and it doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. Whether you’re saving for a rainy-day fund, a down payment on a house, or a dream vacation, there are plenty of creative ways to cut back on spending without feeling deprived.
1. Give your saving account a purpose.
Saving for saving’s sake is a noble goal, but it’s hard to stay motivated when your money feels like it’s just sitting there doing nothing. According to Raya Reaves, founder and finance coach of City Girl Savings, it’s easy to fritter away your hard-earned cash if you’re unclear about what you’re saving for.
“Saving money just to save can get boring fast—there’s no skin in the game to actually save; therefore, it’s much easier to spend,” Reaves says. “However, when you have a reason to save—like a new car or building an emergency fund—you’re much more likely to fight the desire to spend.”
So get specific about your saving goals. The clearer the picture of what you’re working towards, the easier it will be to get excited about it.
2. Budget for your favorite splurges.
Spending temptation is no joke. We’re constantly bombarded with ads, social media posts, and seemingly endless opportunities to swipe our cards. Reaves says that instead of white-knuckling the urge to spend (and feeling guilty every time you cave), she recommends budgeting for your indulgences.
“Review your budget to see what you can afford to spend on yourself. Maybe it means you cut back on a bill or two. Then you can spend without having to sacrifice your savings goals. Your budget can give you a lot of great information, so make sure you have one and use it to your advantage.”
3. Shift your money beliefs.
The way we view money has a significant impact on how we use it. Specific patterns and beliefs—like “money is the root of all evil,” or “I’m bad with money”—can sabotage even your most valiant saving efforts.
“When someone has a tendency to overspend, it’s often driven by a subconscious belief that they’re not worthy of having or holding onto money,” says Certified Money Coach (CMC)® and Owner of My Big Rich Life Claire Coleman. “So regardless of how much money the person makes, they never seem to have any and often find themselves in a cycle of debt accumulation.”
Uncovering and shifting your beliefs about money is essential to developing a healthier relationship with it and saving more in the long run. Coleman says that working with a money coach can help you “develop a belief system around money that’s sustainable, cuts self-sabotaging behaviors, sets you up for long-term success, and keeps you accountable.”
“If we don’t identify the root of the issue,” she says, “nothing will be resolved for the long term.”
4. Create a spending refocus plan.
Overspending is usually not an intentional act but rather a knee-jerk reaction to an emotionally triggering scenario. According to Coleman, getting crystal clear on your triggers is the first step in breaking the spending habit for good.
“Identify what your spending triggers are and options for what you can do when triggered instead of spending,” Coleman says. “Reflect on how you can prevent the trigger from happening at all. This allows us to be proactive about what makes us want to spend and have a plan in place for if and when triggers do come up.”
5. Use substitutions.
Humans are creatures of habit, and it’s easy for us to overspend because we’re used to buying specific products and services.
“A lot of times, people get locked in spending patterns and habits because they’re really accustomed to buying something they’ve always bought—anything from a type of bread to a brand of jeans,” says Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, CEO and Co-Founder of AskTheMoneyCoach.com. “Don’t be so brand loyal that you’re unwilling to consider another lower-priced alternative.”
Khalfani-Cox argues that finding substitutions for your favorite products and services can help you save big. Looking outside what you typically buy (and even the stores you usually shop in) can help you find more affordable options that still satisfy your needs.
6. Ask yourself this powerful question.
Living beyond your means is a complex cycle to break out of. If you find yourself continuously spending more money than you have, it might be time to get honest through some self-reflection. Khalfani-Cox recommends meditating on this question before you swipe that credit card: “Are you stealing from yourself?”
She says most people consider stealing a moral no-no and something they would never dream of doing. But when you buy things you can’t afford by using a credit card you can’t pay off or dipping into your savings, you’re essentially stealing from your future self.
“Every time you make a purchase you can’t afford, you’re robbing yourself of financial choices, financial freedom, and the ability to save,” Khalfani-Cox says.
By asking yourself this question before every purchase, you can train your brain to think more critically about your spending habits and make more mindful choices about where you’re directing your money.
Saving money can be difficult, especially if you love to spend it. But with a little bit of effort and planning, you can start saving and break the cycle of overspending for good.