The Habit of Not Spending

I know I really baffle some people with the fact that between my wife and I we save over half our take home pay.  Upon hearing that number I usually get a response of “Oh you meant to say 5%“, a confused stare or the classic “Pardon?!? How?!?”

I have tried to explain to people over the years how to do it, but it always seems to be that people just don’t get the fact the whole system of saving is really just a series of habits and cost optimizations.  For example, we have the habit of not renting movies we instead borrow them from the library or we have optimized our house insurance costs by keeping our deductible as high as they will let me go.  Take that and repeat over every area of your life.

Yet more recently I have developed a rather new habit that significant keeps my costs down: the habit of not spending. It’s an interesting fact when you do something long enough just about anything can become a habit.  Case in point I’ve been literally so busy over the last few months that I’ve sort of fell into a new habit: I don’t spend much of anything without being fully aware of doing it.

I used to spend some money on little whims that would crop up periodically like a coffee or an afternoon snack (I would suspect most people do this).  Typically this spending would be basically pure impulse.  I didn’t need it and often afterward I would find myself wondering why I bothered since it didn’t always end up being that satisfying.  Yet after being insanely busy for the last few months I did manage to stop some of that impulse spending.

Now when a whim comes up I tend to think a bit about it before I spend the money.  Do I really want something to eat? Or am I just bored or thirsty instead?  Do I really want a coffee?  Or do I just need a break from what I’m working on?  I’ve basically taught myself to second guess my impulses to spend.  So when I do end up buying that snack or a coffee I know that I really do want it and what would best fill that want. By mastering those little things I’ve found keeping the larger spending items in check easier to do.

The other interesting side benefit of being busy is I’m generally happy with it.  I’m never bored and flip through channels on the TV in the evening.   My biggest issues some evening is choosing what book to read next or perhaps which writing project to work on.

So perhaps that is the key to really not spending much…stay busy working on what you love.  That way you stay out of the mall unless you need to be there.  So how about you?  What tricks have you used to keep your spending down?

18 thoughts on “The Habit of Not Spending”

  1. It is really all about the habit isn’t it – well, not exactly THE habit of not spending, but rather, a bunch of small habits in order to reach the goal. Things like:

    – Bringing a lunch to work
    – Making your coffee at home and bringing it with you
    – Walking/biking to work
    – Leaving the credit/debit cards at home
    – Tracking ALL your expenses
    – Creating (and sticking to) a budget

    It’s really just the little things that build up into the one big habit. It’s tough out there, so make it work for you!

  2. I’m a solo parent with a seven year old and a self-employed writer and storyteller. When my daughter was born I decided to work from home and not use any childcare services so that I could be a full-time mom. The only way I could do that was decrease my expenses by living a very simple “needs-only” lifestyle. Other moms would ask me how I did it and I would say…”It’s easy. I make five times less than you and your husband so I spend five time less. In the end we come out even.”

    Now, seven years later, I am debt-free and have savings in the bank even though my income has been very modest.

  3. I think you nailed it when you said that your productive work makes you happy. You won’t even want to search out paid “entertainment” to escape from what you’re doing.

  4. I look at it very similarly. My twist is that I focus towards the free things, as opposed to lamenting on what I’m missing out. I align myself to the reading books from the library, running, cooking, bike commuting, volunteering, and home maintenance.

  5. I hate shopping and can barely tolerate food shopping, so that keeps me out of the stores.

    I rarely use the plastic to buy stuff, using cash for nearly all of my purchases. I have used my credit card only once this year, for car maintenance. Last year, I used my CC maybe 10 times and received a bill only 6 times (and only 4 times in 2009). I use my debit card maybe once a year, as a safety net if I accidentally don’t happen to have enough cash with me at the time.

    I find it a lot easier to spend money when I use the plastic. When you spend cash, you notice it a lot more (so you don’t so it as much).

    I agree with many of the other ideas presented here. I use the library to read many books although I buy some (often with bookstore gift cards I receive). Having local and inexpensive hobbies are helpful, too.

  6. I have a trick- whenever I want to buy something I ask my husband and since we usually have very different tastes, most of the time we end up buying nothing simply because we can’t agree on it 🙂 I know this sounds odd, but it really works!

  7. I used to golf 2 to 3 days per week. After reading about personal finance, on great blogs like this, I took up tennis.

    Tennis courts are next to my home. They are free and even lighted till 9PM.

    Golf costs me an average of $40 for a round, $15 for gas, and wear and tear on my car.

    I played golf for the first time today in almost 3 months. While playing, though I had a nice time, I realize I’d be happier playing tennis. Plus of course, I’m not spending all that money.

  8. I agree that keeping busy with work/projects makes it much easier not to spend.

    I found that I end up spending much less when I’m involved in community theatre — even though my gas costs go up — because it keeps me busy most nights and often on the weekend. It’s free to participate (other than commuting and any extra makeup/shoes, etc I need to buy for the show) and keeps me out of the mall or from going out to expensive dinners.

    What’s hard is refraining from spending when you are bored and feel like there is nothing else to do.

    I also found that being fat makes it easier not to spend (not recommended) because I usually buy clothes and everything looks bad on me now, so I hate shopping. 🙂

  9. I rarely buy branded stuffs but spend more money in investing and traveling. Hopefully I can achieve financial freedom by age 45.

  10. My husband retired at 52 and I am retiring this year. Those not spending habits helped facilitate our plan. The first year we were married we started IRA accounts (we live in the US) and bought a house the second year which we paid off in 10 years by paying extra principal each month (think of the interest $ we saved!!). We added TDSP accounts and invested in stock in the company my husband worked for at a 15% discount (a real deal). We basically took advantage of every investment opportunity we could – either company or government-based.

    We toted lunches every day to work, made our coffee at home, paid cash for all purchases which meant saving up for large items or accepted used furniture from older family members in those early years. I ironed hubby’s business shirts instead of using the local laundry, cooked at home most nights, used the library, did our own home repairs, drove our cars at least 7-8 years before trading, etc. We now have the money to travel and enjoy a great life and looking back, we never felt deprived. It was a joy working toward our goal of early retirement.

  11. I do the same.

    I found it really easy after I paid off my house. I simply took the money I was paying every month to that point and starting putting that same amount away in investments every month. I was used to living without that money already anyway. So I never missed it. People could do the same on a smaller scale lIke on a car that was just paid off or something else. Trick yourself.

  12. I used to have bad spending habits, but started avoiding the malls, making lists of things I wanted and making myself wait 30 days before allowing myself to buy, and generally looking for small ways to save a few dollars here and there, and gradually I just stopped wanting to spend. I focused more on saving and planning for my early retirement, and that motivated me more than having the next shiny thing. It was a habit that built up over time and now I don’t even want to spend any more hardly at all.

  13. I’ve never been much of a spender to begin with. Even growing up some of my friends would comment about how I often would just bring a water or wait until I had dinner at home instead of buying whatever snack or meal on the go. In the end I would usually have the extra money to go on the road trip I wanted later or to buy that new CD coming out, some of them though, not so much.

    Anyway, after some optimization and just getting plain into the habit of not spending, it’s remarkably easy. I can easily go weeks and weeks without any extra spending on my ledger. Just the usual monthly bills. If there is any, it’s usually my planned grocery spending so I don’t really count that.

    I haven’t found the need for any tricks either. Just the satisfaction of reaching more important savings goals (to me) and watching my increasing networth are motivation enough.

  14. You said it best. I stay busy working either at my job or on my blogs, both of which brings me pleasure 🙂

    Saved 60 something percent of last year’s income but if you take out taxes, it’s closer to 83%….

  15. Don’t go shopping! When I decide I need something, I put it on the list. I tell myself I’ll batch trips together and do it all at once. By the time there are enough things on the list for one store (months), it seems like too much money to spend all at once. So I don’t get around to it…ever. And nothing bad happens! Truly, laziness for the win. Currently single and saving 40%…could I make it to 50%? I don’t know, but I’d like to try!

  16. What a great post! The comments were very helpful too. Can people with children comment on keeping expenses under control while raising kids? I find that what you are talking about and the blogs which discuss getting rid of clutter/reducing possessions to be very in line with each other. I am struggling with both but very motivated to figure this out!

  17. I economize on food. Three days a week i only eat vegetable for supper. This is new in my life. I not only save on electricity, i mean stove wise, i lost weight and i save at least 40 dollars a month on that diet. I therefore will probably extand my life doing so. Above all I sleep better on that new diet.

Comments are closed.