Tapping your card. Swiping your phone. A few quick clicks.
The way we pay today is so fast and hassle-free we can easily spend without giving it a second thought. And that can cause problems.
Spending money isn’t a bad thing in itself, but if you regularly drain your bank account or blow your budget, you’re probably not hitting your financial goals. Long term, it all adds up to missed milestones and poorer financial health.
That’s why we’ve put together these 13 tips for tackling overspending. But before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at how to tell if you’re an overspender.
How to tell if you’re overspending
You might get the feeling you’re spending more money than you should, but how do you know for sure when you’re going overboard? There are a couple of signs you should watch out for.
Your budget doesn’t add up
Setting a budget is one thing, but sticking to it is often easier said than done. Ask most people and they’ll tell you they struggle with the discipline it takes. But if you’ve gone to the trouble of planning out your spending and see that the numbers just don’t add up, that’s a pretty strong signal that you could be spending too much.
You’ve hit your limit on your credit card
There are plenty of reasons why you might need to use your full credit limit. Unexpected expenses do come up: boilers die, laptops drop, cars break down. So far, so normal. But let’s put all of that to one side for a moment.
Say you hit your limit on your credit card and suspect that most of the transactions fall under wants rather than needs. Well, then it might be time to take a step back and think about whether you’re being a little too free and easy with your spending.
You’re only making your credit card’s minimum payment
Let’s say you’ve got a big balance on your credit card. If your budget is stretched so tight you can only make your monthly minimum payment, that could be another tell-tale sign you’ve gone overboard.
It’s worth remembering that Big Credit – the banks and providers that make up the bulk of the credit card market – designed the minimum payment to draw out the repayment process. So if it's taking you a while to chip away at your balance, it may not always be down to spending too much. It's still one to keep an eye on though.
You can’t keep track of your ‘Buy now, pay later’ habit
There are plenty of benefits to ‘Buy now, pay later’ services. They’re flexible and easy to use, for a start. But where they fall down in a big way is visibility: you don’t get an all-in-one-place view of what you’ve spent. It’s all spread across the web or buried in your inbox.
This mightn’t seem like a big deal, but if you’re a keen online shopper and find it a bit too easy to click the ‘buy now’ button, you could quickly end up burning through your budget without realising. The golden rule should always be know what you owe, and it’s a shame BNPL services don’t make it easier.
It just means you’ve got to be extra vigilant. And if you can’t recall exactly what you’ve bought, you should think seriously about putting the brakes on your BNPL habit.
You put fun over fixed expenses
Nobody really enjoys paying their household bills. But some people take painfully going through the motions one step further and stick it right at the bottom of their to-do list. Out of sight, out of mind.
And as due dates creep closer, they’re busy spending. If you regularly find your account running dry before you get to your bills and fixed expenses, you’re probably an excessive spender.
13 ways to stop overspending
See yourself in our checklist? No need to worry. We’ve got 13 fool-proof ways you can keep your spending in check and beat the urge to splurge.
1. Get to grips with your outgoings
You’ll need better visibility and control of your finances to really cut down on overspending. So step one should always be to get a clear idea of where exactly all your money is going.
The good news is tech is making it easier than ever before. There are open banking tools that can pull all your account data together in one place and make it easier to understand. Or maybe your bank already labels and categorises all your purchases for you.
Make sure to tap into these tools and features. You might be surprised to see how much you’re spending in some areas.
2. Track your spending with a budgeting app
It may seem like a bit of a chore to enter every purchase you make into a budgeting app, but once you get into the habit you’ll wonder why you’d never done it before. Having a handy, go-to breakdown of all your recent spending can really help you stay on track and fight the urge to shop on impulse.
You could even go one step further and keep a spending diary, taking note of every time you shop online and in store and recording what you bought, when and your mood before and after. Not only does this make budgeting easier, it also helps get a clearer picture of what’s driving your spending behaviour.
3. Understand your spending triggers
There’s a reason why they say you shouldn’t order food when you’re hungry: hunger pangs kick in and you end up overdoing it. This simple advice goes to show we’re not always as ‘in control’ as we might think. There could be factors driving our behaviour that we’re not so good at keeping in check.
And it’s the same story with spending in general. We all have triggers – things that nudge us towards whipping out our wallets without giving it much thought.
Your spending triggers could be things like
- Your mood: maybe you shop when you feel stressed or anxious, or when you’re excited. Whatever the emotion, it could lead to you parting with more money than you can afford.
- Your friends or family: is there someone in your life who you seem to spend a lot of money around? It might be peer pressure, or it might be because you’re having a good time, but sometimes the people closest to us encourage us to blow our budgets.
- Your love for bargains: are you drawn to promotional stands? Can’t resist a quick look at the sales? Everyone loves a bargain, but the idea of getting something at a good price is sometimes just too tempting, even when you know you shouldn’t.
Here’s where keeping a spending diary can be really useful. If you think a lot of your overspending could be reacting to certain triggers, your diary will help you get a clearer picture. And when you know what your triggers are, you can get to work on managing them.
4. Rethink your wants and needs
How much of your spending is on stuff you want rather than things you need? If you answer honestly, odds are it’s time for a rethink about what you can and can’t do without.
Some needs – the indispensable stuff like having a place to live and clothes to wear - aren’t going anywhere, but the point of the exercise is to challenge your own ideas about what you think you need.
Sitting down to list your high-priority and low-priority needs is a good place to start. Repeating the process with your wants and ranking every item on each list will help you focus your thinking and provide a strong foundation for creating or improving your budget.
5. Set a budget (or improve the one you have)
The thought of ‘budgeting’ doesn’t exactly fill most people with excitement. You might even think of it as a spreadsheet-heavy, energy-sapping chore, but your budget can be your best friend if you let it. It’s just a matter of perspective.
The trick is to try not to think of your budget as a strict set of rules but as a set of spending goals. Less a list of what you can’t do, more a plan for what you want to do. Connecting your budget with your wider financial goals helps you stay motivated and on the right track.
There are plenty of budgeting styles out there, but a particularly easy-to-use one is the 50-30-20 rule. You take your monthly income (after tax) and split it up into three chunks: 50% goes to needs, there’s 30% for your wants and the remaining 20% is for saving or paying off debt. It’s super simple and beginner budgeters swear by it.
Using such a straightforward formula is also good for monitoring your spending. A quick glance over your budgeting app or spending diary and you can immediately see if you’re straying from your plan.
It’s important to remember that creating and sticking to a budget is a learning process. Expect slip-ups from time to time. You’re not aiming for total perfection from day one. Getting into a good habit is more important.
6. Make a shopping list
You might call this a very basic suggestion. We prefer ‘timeless classic’.
It’s surprising how few people take a list when they go shopping, but it really does stop you from falling for all the clever tricks retailers have up their sleeves. Everyone has gotten home from the supermarket at some stage to find they’ve stocked up on things they already had.
But lists aren’t just for food shopping. You might be buying gifts or clothes, or furnishing your house, and a list will still come in handy. Shopping lists are all about having a plan and sticking to it, which are the foundations of good budgeting too. It’s all connected.
7. Approach sales with caution
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hype around sales. Black Friday is the perfect example. It’s only been around in the UK for about 10 years, but it dominates November with wall-to-wall coverage. Without thinking, you can get sucked in and start paying out for things you’d never planned on buying.
That said, if something is already on your high-priority wants list, your budget is on track and you have the space to spend, there’s no reason why you can’t make the most of a good deal. But buying something just for the sake of is what you have to watch out for.
8. Think before you buy
Stopping to think before you go through with a purchase is one way to avoid impulse buying your way to overspender status. Some suggest setting a 48-hour rule for any big ticket items because waiting two days before you part with the cash gives you plenty of time to think it all over.
But you may not even have to wait that long: you could simply weigh up what you’re about to buy against any fixed expense or household bill. Is it the same amount as a month’s rent or a yearly insurance premium, and is it worth that? Or maybe you could figure out how long you’d have to work to buy it.
This kind of thinking could completely change how you view your spending and give you a new understanding of the value of your money.
9. Don’t store your card details online
Storing your credit or debit card details online shaves a few seconds off in the checkout, but it can also make clicking ‘buy’ all too easy.
When you have to go through the steps of typing in your card details, you’re forced to slow down a bit. This could be just the break in the shopping experience you need to think it over. You might catch yourself buying something you really don’t need.
10. Use your credit card wisely
If you have a traditional credit card, this one is particularly important. What we’re talking about here is a card with a ‘revolving balance’, or a card that doesn’t give you a plan of fixed payments to clear what you owe. Your balance revolves each month, with new charges and interest being applied.
These cards are really difficult to control. You can’t see the cost of borrowing up front and you don’t get a plan to pay back your what you owe. So they should be used wisely: you should pay the balance off in full every month. If you only pay the minimum amount, you risk getting trapped on the revolving balance as the charges pile up.
Alternatively, look into credit cards that let you plan your repayments in instalments from day one. Some even offer purchase simulators that allow you to see how buying something will affect your upcoming bills.
11. Take a break from spending
This idea is simple but really effective. Going on a spending diet or fast, as they’re sometimes called, means deciding not to spend anything beyond your basic living expenses for a set time.
So why not challenge yourself to a week or month of no extra spending? This is another way your needs and wants list can be a big help. Just focus on the basics and cut down on the rest. Your spending break could be a real eye-opener, showing you where you could be making savings and channelling that leftover cash.
12. Set short-term goals
Sometimes, only thinking of the big picture can get in the way of progress. Most good habits are formed step by step rather than through big leaps forward. Setting short-term financial goals can help you stop overspending by giving you something more immediate to work towards.
You could try cutting your weekly spending by 25% for a month, or putting away an extra 10% of your income into your savings account for 3 months. It could be something as simple as skipping coffees out and putting the money towards something else.
And don’t forget the positive knock-on effects. Hitting your goals helps you build momentum, and you might find that something as small as bringing your own lunch to work could set you off on a saving streak.
13. Reward your hard work
In the same way that your goals don’t always have to be in the distant future, neither do the rewards. If you’re making big changes and feel you’re turning the corner on overspending, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t reward yourself. Just make sure you plan for it.
And being good to yourself when you’ve earned it means you’ll be less likely to splurge on a whim, so you’ll be able to keep impulse buying in check. Of course, smaller is probably better when it comes to rewarding yourself.
When you overspend today, your future self picks up the bill, whether it’s in missed financial milestones or poorer financial health.
But part of achieving all round better financial wellbeing is being able to tell when you’re on the wrong track.
You might be a serious overspender, or you might just slip up now and then. The good news is there are plenty of simple changes you can make to keep your spending in check and beat the urge to splurge.