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5 Ways to Get Your Spending Under Control & Still Enjoy Life

Recalibrate your spending habits and never feel guilty about spending, again.

As the season of spontaneous summer spending comes to a crashing halt, we thought it might be a good refresher (for all of us!) to get back to basics. A little “Budgeting 101” to help us reset and refocus on the “why” and “how” of budgeting, prioritizing, saving, spending—all of it! There may even be a little homework. Class is in session, so grab your budgets and follow along!


There’s no point in stressing out about buying the things you need, like groceries and electricity. In fact, I’d argue that there’s little point to feeling guilty about any purchase, whether it’s a necessity or not.

To get ahead of the game—to live without financial stress—you simply need to make a plan and stick to it as best you can. If you struggle with the latter, then today’s post may help. Here are five ways to get your spending under control so that you can follow through on your budgeting decisions and show your money who’s boss.

1. Cut Most of the Fat

We talk a lot about how to save money in sprints so that you can break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle or drive down your debt rapidly. One suggestion is to cancel or freeze all of your subscriptions and services that aren’t absolutely essential. It can be a great help to offload those commitments for short-term wins, but cancelling everything probably isn’t sustainable for the long haul. Eventually, you’ll sign back up or unfreeze the account.

If you really want to reform your spending habits, how about taking a fresh look at your budget and asking yourself which categories are essential, which are nice to have and which you would happily cancel. You might realize that, while you love subscribing to Netflix, you really don’t use it that often. So, you cancel it, but keep Amazon Prime.

A streamlined budget means that you’ll have more paycheck left after you’ve budgeted for all of your obligations—and that means more money to crush your debt or fund your big dreams.

2. Make It Harder to Pay

Technology and wily marketers have teamed up, and paying for stuff is easy. Like, really easy. And easy isn’t always a good thing. Kick it old-school and unlink your credit card, debit card or Paypal account from your favorite websites. If you want to order food for carry-out or delivery, punch in every single digit of your card information, every time. Delete your fast food apps. Never, ever, EVER, use an Amazon Dash button. And, unless you truly use and desire a regular shipment of a product, don’t buy via a subscription!

Start a local slow payment movement, and watch your spending habits change for the better. Oh, and maybe try paying in cash.

… because if you have to stop and think about how to pay, you’ll have to stop and think.

3. Plant Your Wish Farm

If you’re prone to “Oohing” and “Aahing” over online ads, Kickstarter projects or commercials of any kind, then you should probably take up wish farming. A wish farm is an ingenious new method of agriculture whereby you plant and grow anything your heart desires.

Dave, a YNAB teacher and the original wish farmer, came up with the idea. In short, rather than buying, say, a new fanny pack, you simply plant a fanny pack seed in your farm. If it’s a hearty crop (meaning, you actually really want a fanny pack), then you’ll nurture it with dollars every time you get paid. Eventually, you’ll have saved enough dollars to pluck your wish from the farm, and invite it into your life. Or not. For more on how to grow wishes, read this.

By delaying your purchases, you can cut way down on impulse buys that you’ll later regret.

4. Borrow, Don’t Buy

So, about all of those books that you bought and haven’t read, yet—right? How about a library card, instead, Ace? (I’m probably talking to myself, here, but maybe you understand?)

The principle applies to non-book stuffs, too. For example, power tools. Ben, YNAB’s community manager, was in the market for a new chainsaw. After shopping around, he realized that they aren’t cheap, especially considering all of the gear that he’d need. Who knew chainsaw shin-guards were a thing? Putting both safety and his budget, first, Ben worked out a trade. He agreed to loan his leaf-blower to a friend, as needed, if the friend would lend him a chainsaw, as needed (plus, of course, shin guards).

Where might you be able to borrow, rather than buy? Formal dresses, tools, sports equipment, picnic gear … it all adds up!

5. Try Fasting

Finally, how about a good old-fashioned spending fast? The idea is to stop spending money on anything outside of your basic necessities in order to break the cycle of mindless spending. When you resume spending, as usual, it’ll be easy to spot your problem areas.

You can also tailor your fast—maybe you stop spending on something specific, like coffee on-the-go. After your fast, you can ease back into your old habit, slowly, and recalibrate your needs. Even if you buy one fewer cups per week, it’s more money in your budget moving forward.

Your Homework

If you’d like to tighten up your spending, get creative. As one YNABer, Daniel said, “It’s not about finding one place to save $100. You try to find a hundred places to save $1. If you can find a place to cut back, that’s a place where you can use that money to move yourself ahead in life.”

So, where will you find those places to save? Try implementing one of the tips above for the rest of September, and see how many dollars you can set aside. Make it an experiment, and have fun!

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5 Ways to Get Your Spending Under Control & Still Enjoy Life