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There is too much drama and strife over spending money. Obviously, we need to spend to pay our bills and pay for necessities, but many in the finance world will make you believe that you shouldn’t spend any money outside of that.
Is that really true? Is spending money really all that bad? And are there reasons why you should spend money?
Why is Spending Money Bad?
It’s time to retire this myth. Spending money is not a bad thing. People mess up by spending too much money on useless crap, but spending money on legitimate things that you bring you joy is not bad.
Spending Money on What you Love
Did you catch the keywords in that paragraph? I said, “things that bring you joy.”
Bring you Joy.
It’s okay to spend money on things that you love. Life isn’t only about struggling and saving, self-sacrifice and deprivation. It’s also about experiencing and learning; joyful moments, and contentment. And you know what? Spending money on those things that enhance your life is okay.
What Really Enhances Your Life?
People often confuse things that bring temporary contentment and things that bring a certain image with things that will enhance their lives. Admittedly, this isn’t easy to determine. Will having a certain image enhance your life? Is that temporary contentment worthwhile? These are questions that only you can answer, but we can help you brainstorm ideas.
First, let’s talk about experiences over things. Studies have shown that people who spend their money on experiences tend to be happier than people that spend money on things. I don’t buy any new clothes unless I really need them, I don’t buy a lot of decorative stuff for the house, and I avoid spending on housewares unless it’s a necessity. Instead, I hoard my money and splurge on travel, games, or art supplies.
Games you say? Is that an experience or a thing? The game itself is a thing, but I feel that the money is spent on the experience of playing the game. Some games are co-op, which gives you social interactions. You can stream games that aren’t for a similar experience.
But even without the social aspects, gaming offers the experiences of learning, growing, exploring, and just playing. It’s often frowned upon as a child’s pastime and not worthwhile, but where else can you spend less than a hundred dollars to get hours upon hours of entertainment?
What Brings You Joy?
And that’s the trick. Getting enjoyment and entertainment out of your life. Finding something that you love that brings value to your life. I don’t care if it’s games, books, art supplies, crafting materials, travel, fine dining, or anything else. If it’s an experience that brings joy to your life, it’s what you should be spending money on.
Image vs. Joy
We need to talk about the trap that sucks people in. The image of what society thinks you are supposed to want. The image that the media sells you of what will improve your life and bring you joy.
If only you had that fancy car, that big house, that designer coat, that whatever it is that someone is trying to sell you, then you would be happy. Why though? Before you jump in and buy that thing, think about whether it would really make you happy or not, and why.
Do you want a fancy car because marketers tell you it will make your life better, or do you want it because you’ve always dreamed of racing on the open roads? Do you want that huge house because we’ve been sold the idea since childhood that it was the American dream, or do you want it because you want to have a huge family and want the room to grow? You can ask the same types of questions for all the random junk that’s being shoved down our throats by marketing companies.
Is this something I truly want that will make my life better, or is someone trying to convince me that I want it?
The one aspect of this that many people forget is moderation. You probably shouldn’t spend all of your extra money on things that bring you happiness. It’s important to save in an emergency fund and a retirement fund so that you have financial security and peace of mind. It’s also important to pay off any debt that you might have, so you can dig out of that trap.
However, moderation swings both ways. Every extra penny doesn’t need to be saved, just like every extra penny doesn’t need to be spent. Give yourself permission to enjoy some of your hard-earned income on the things that you love. The key is to avoid spending money on stuff you don’t need.
How Can I Avoid Spending Money?
There are plenty of tricks available to help you avoid spending money on things that don’t bring value to your life. This is probably going to sound a whole lot like most of those “how to save money” posts because, in reality, the concepts are the same.
Track Your Spending and Your Priorities
The first thing you need to do is write down your priorities. Get a journal and write out all your goals, dreams, and desires. Jot down what you want your dream life to be, what your top priorities are, your financial goals, and even the things you love doing each month.
Next, you need to spend a month tracking your spending. Keep track of every cent, from that gas station gum to the rent payment. After that month, bring your journal back out and write down every single item you’ve spent money on.
Compare your list of spending to your list of priorities. Do they match up? Are you wasting money on things you don’t really prioritize? Are there places where you can shift spending to better match what you want? Use your journal to record your thoughts, and move on to the next step.
Make a Budget
“Don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
It is time to align your budget with your values. First, write down all your monthly reoccurring expenses. These are the things you need to live: rent, mortgages, insurance, utilities, etc. Although there are ways to save money on these living expenses, they are generally not-negotiable, and you need to pay them. Make sure you include anything that you might pay quarterly or annually as well – like taxes, insurance, etc.
Most people will have some money left over after the necessities are paid, and it’s time for you to take control of it.
The first thing you can do to take control of your spending is to cut back on non-essentials. Do you spend too much money eating out? Limit your time out and make a conscious effort to eat at home more. Are you spending too much at the grocery store? Look for ways to save money on groceries and choose cheaper options, or ways to be frugal in your everyday life.
You may also have realized, after monitoring your spending for a month, that your daily Starbucks trip doesn’t actually bring you joy. That you’d rather save that five (going on ten!) bucks a day and have a dinner out every other week. Or maybe you’ve realized the opposite, that you could afford a daily Starbucks trip if you didn’t waste money on fast food or something else.
I’m not here to judge what you spend money on or what you value. Everyone is different, and everyone values different things. The point is to stop wasting money on things that you don’t value.
Now that you’ve made a budget, it’s time to do the work of sticking with it. There are some tricks to sticking to the budget that I like to use, and hopefully, these will help you as well.
First, set up allotments with your paycheck so that money goes directly to a dedicated savings account. This could be for retirement or one of your big picture dream life goals, like a cruise, buying a home, paying for school, or anything else you wrote in your journal that you truly want out of life. When that money isn’t in your main checking account, it’s easier to avoid spending it on junk you don’t really need.
Next, avoid your triggers. If you know that you always buy junk food when you go into the gas station – don’t go in. Pay at the pump and avoid the temptation. Don’t go to places if you know you can’t help but spend money while you are there. Sometimes it’s easier not to go than to go and not spend money.
When you are at the store, before getting into that checkout line, look at all of your purchases and really think about whether they will enhance your life. Look at each item and think about whether you need it or not and whether it aligns with your values. If it doesn’t, put it back. If it does, go ahead and get it.
Another trick with this is to wait a day. If you see something you think you absolutely must have – give yourself a day before buying it. Put it back, go home, and if you are still thinking about it after a good night’s sleep, then you probably really need it or value it. This will prevent you from making impulse purchases on things you don’t actually need.
Sometimes, we do need new things. We need to buy new clothes, or housewares, or just basic stuff that we need to live. Spending money can be unavoidable. But the trick is to spend wisely on things that you need but don’t necessarily value.
You can start by buying things used. Check out your local thrift store for the things you need – you can find amazing clothing in great condition and a plethora of gently used housewares at Goodwill and Salvation Army Stores. Next, look for resellers online, like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. You can find anything from baby items to furniture on these platforms.
If you can’t buy what you need used, the next step is to check bargain stores and clearance racks. There are numerous stores dedicated to selling quality merchandise for lower prices, like Ross, Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and more. Shop at these instead of at the name brand retailers to get the items you need for reduced prices.
Living a more frugal lifestyle, especially regarding things that aren’t your priorities, will help you save more money for the things you actually want to do.
Negotiate and Cancel
A final thing you can do to stop spending money needlessly is to cancel or negotiate subscriptions and services. For example, there are tons of cable alternatives that you can use that are cheaper than your normal cable bill, and you can work out at home rather than keep that gym membership that you hardly ever use anyway.
You can also use an app like trim to save money on subscriptions and services. This app uses AI to go through your subscriptions and find ways to save you money. You only have to pay a percentage of the savings, so you don’t pay at all if it can’t find a way to save you money.
Start Spending Money on What You Love!
If you use these tips, you will be able to spend money on things you really value. This will improve your overall quality of life and make you happier in general. So what are you waiting for? Start tracking that spending, and start being more intentional with your money today!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.