Since turning my financial life around, I’ve discovered that frivolous spending really is a psychologically addictive habit. That little rush of buying something enjoyable for yourself or someone else becomes a part of your life, and when you begin to turn things around, it is a very hard habit to break.
Over time, though, I’ve found that there are a number of tricks to stopping (or at least slowing) that craving. In many ways, these tricks aren’t all that different than the tricks a smoker might use when going cold turkey – essentially, the tricks are just little things you can do to keep your focus.
The best trick is to have a savings (or investment) account for which you can view the accrued interest. For me, this means peeking at my ING savings account, which I do several times a day. The account information displays the interest you’ve earned for the month and it updates each day, so I’ve been successful at replacing the “rush” I would get from buying something silly with the “rush” of seeing how much interest I’ve earned this month. It’s a quick reminder that saving money is really making a difference.
Another trick is to calculate the money you save at the store. Go to the store and note every item that you would buy frivolously, but don’t buy it. Also note every single coupon that you use. Another idea: if you carefully evaluate a product and save money by choosing a certain size, note that, too. If you write these all down in a notebook, then total them up after your trip, the rush of realizing you just saved $20 takes the edge off the desire to buy something silly.
One thing I do that works well for me is visually reminding myself of my new attitude towards saving. If I really want to, say, stop after work at the bookstore and buy a book after work and I am able to use willpower to prevent myself from doing it, I take the amount of cash that I would have spent and put it in a jar on my dresser. Then, each time I look at my dresser, I get a visual reminder of how I’ve saved. Of course, I make sure to empty the jar regularly, lest I be tempted to spend that “extra” cash I have sitting there, but the emptying of the jar and depositing of the money is another rush in itself.
A final idea is to make a visual representation of your debt and mark your progress on it. I constructed a paper bar with one end indicating my total amount of debt and the other end indicating zero debt. I made ruler marks all through it indicating various milestones. I colored the whole thing green. Now, whenever I pay off some debt, I use some whiteout to cover up a slice of the green to indicate the new level of my debt. The item is posted in a place where I look several times a day and it serves as a regular reminder that I really am making progress.
The real key is to find ways to replace the joy of buying with the joy of saving. If you can do that (and the ideas above are ones that work well for me), you’re already well on your way to a more financially stable lifestyle.