How to Develop a Healthy Aversion to Spending


What’s the difference between a frugal person and a spendthrift? Aside from how naturally uptight one is, perhaps the biggest factor is a person’s attitude toward spending. Some people love to spend. For them shopping, whether in store or online, thrift store or high-end, is recreation or even therapy. Others dread spending. They’re the type that counted the contents of their piggy banks with Scrooge-like glee. But whether you emerged from the womb a saver or spender, you can still apply some mindless austerity to your finances by developing a healthy aversion to spending. Here’s how:

1. Shop less often. Generally the less you go into stores or visit retail web sites, the less you’ll buy. Try making a grocery list that will get you through one or two weeks, including household items you’re able to purchase at your discount grocery store. If you need a run for fresh items in between just be sure to stick to your list.

Streamline shopping by working online options to your advantage. Use subscription programs that offer a discount and free shipping to get products you buy regularly delivered to your door. As long as you’re not spending much more for the convenience you’ll save time and mileage costs while avoiding all the tempting “extras” on the way to the milk & diapers. I’ll share the details of how to harness online shopping for savings in my next post.

2. Plan ahead. We already shared how planning ahead helps avoid fast food spending in particular. The principles applies to many budget categories: you plan ahead to buy items at a discount, in bulk, with online subscription discounts, etc. to streamline shopping and avoid over-spending. If you’re anticipating a one-time need, especially for a bigger-ticket item, set up a search on Craiglist or Slickdeals before you’re down to the wire. When planning a trip you can check Groupon in advance for sight-seeing discounts. Waiting till the last minute to make a purchase almost always means you’ll spend more.

Another way to plan ahead is to ask for gifts of items you need. For example, we asked for a car-top carrier for Christmas before our first camping trip with kids. Funnel relatives’ holiday generosity to meeting needs rather than building a useless Stuff collection.

3. Explore other options. Sometimes a little creativity or research can save a lot. For example, Neil’s long been admiring devices that simplify Internet-TV playing, such as the Chromecast or Fire TV Stick. Since we pay nothing for TV, using the good old bunny ears as well internet streaming, the price of $35 for one of these doodads seemed reasonable. But having developed a healthy aversion to spending, he decided to explore other options first. He figured out that the device did the same thing our laptop and an HDMI cable already could. If he didn’t have an aversion to spending he would’ve just bought it when he wanted it. See his chart below summarizing the features and price of the various internet TV streaming devices available. The plain old HDMI cable is the clear winner in most of the important categories.

Google Chromecast Roku Streaming Stick Amazon Fire TV Stick Regular Ol’ HDMI Cable
Price $35 $49 $39 $5
Physical remote control No Yes Yes Probably not
Phone/tablet app remote control “Cast” apps only iOS/Android Android (iOS “coming soon”) Maybe
Gaming support Yes Limited Yes (optional $40 controller) Yes, all you can handle
Voice search Via select “cast” apps Via remote app Via remote app, optional physical remote ($30) Sometimes
Screen mirroring via Chrome browser or Android via Android, Windows 8.1 via Kindle or Android (coming soon) Yes, full HD, full screen rate
Wi-Fi antenna Single-band Dual-band/Dual antenna (MIMO) Dual-band/Dual antenna (MIMO) Yes
Works with “captive portal” Wi-Fi sign-in* No No “Coming Soon” Yep!
App support Some Some Some All

See Free and Broken  for other options to consider, include using something you already have, replacing disposable products with reusable ones (like diapers or napkins), or buying used items.

4. Have kids. Shopping with kids is a great way to develop an aversion to stores, since you first have to load the kids into these parental-torture devices called “car seats.” Then you have to extract them and place them in another device or drag them by hand through the store, while the little buggers snatch merchandise, hide in racks, run away, open the dressing room door, and laugh at you when you try on colored denim. While starting a family might not be the most efficient or economical way to make recreational shopping a distant memory, it may be the fastest. More on how kids don’t cost as much you think in a future post.

5. Value your time. Name your shopping weakness and there’s a whole market devoted to prying open your wallet. But when you realize the time involved in making money, shopping around, purchasing, maintaining, storing, fixing, moving, etc. many items just don’t seem worth the hassle. For example, I like Starbucks coffee. But I am too darn lazy (or value my time too much) to get in the car, drive 5-10 minutes, wait in a drive-thru line, and pay too much for a cup of brew when I’ve got two pounds of coffee sitting in my cupboard and could make it in 2 minutes for a fraction of the price. You could also think of valuing your time as learning the value of a dollar, or an hour. But my biggest motivator is what I’ll do with the time I save.

6. Get a new hobby. Instead of consuming more, why not create more? Replace shopping and Stuff-owning with some of those thrifty ideas you once didn’t make time for. Try a homemade copycat restaurant recipe, DIY a project, bake your own bread, hand-make a gift, grow a garden, or learn a handy skill like sewing, canning, or car-fixing.

If recreational shopping has become a pastime, replace it with a more frugal and fulfilling hobby. Get into jogging, biking, or hiking; dance with your kids; chop some wood. Throw a dinner party. Volunteer. Read more books, paint, learn an instrument, study a language.

People tend to think of “austerity measures” on the personal level as very time-consuming, but once you integrate these steps into your thinking and shopping, your savings are pretty much on autopilot, and if anything you’ll have more free time. Start thinking of spending money and amassing Stuff as an obstacle to more worthy endeavors. Doing what you really want with your life is much of what financial flexibility is all about.

What are your ideas for implementing mindless austerity in your finances? What would you do with a little more free time?

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18 Responses to “How to Develop a Healthy Aversion to Spending”

  1. jere says :

    Lots of good ideas, and good examples. I was just looking at that chrome device a few days ago. Its neat technology but I decided against it for some of the same reasons above… I am going to have to spend x hours of my life working to pay for it. Spend x hours messing with it to get it to work and figuring out how to separate the audio stream. Then all it is going to do is suck away time with mi familia… I will stick to streaming radio over an out of service cell phone and speakers from the curb

  2. Wise Uncle Bob says :

    Blogging can also be a useful hobby to keep you away from the shopping malls. 🙂

  3. Mrs SSC says :

    “Have kids” that is hilarious – and soooo true! Shopping used to be fun, kind of relaxing.. I even practiced shopping-therapy in the past. But now days it is a stressful horror – an obstacle course that I pack and prepare for to complete in the quickest amount of time, all while avoiding any aisles or storefronts that have anything that looks like a toy in them!

    • Kalie says :

      I used to like shopping, too. Even before having kids I started thinking differently about it but children really sealed the deal!

  4. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says :

    #4. Amazing.

    I hate shopping with the Little Miss!

  5. Mrs. Maroon says :

    My favorite way to save money at the grocery store is to leave the children at home – both the little and grown ones! Mini Maroon #1 has just gotten old enough to point things out and ask for them. I should just record me saying “no” and run it on repeat for the entire trip.

    But I do like your idea for adopting new hobbies to replace recreational shopping. Bonus points for activities that can bring you joy while also entertaining the minis… I find anything that you can watch in the oven generally fits that bill. Plus I might even get to enjoy a cookie out of the deal!

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