Clean Out Your Bad Spending Habits

A pad of paper on a a desk with a cup of coffee and a pen with the words 'break bad habits and 'build good habits' encouraging to replace bad habits with good habits.

Warm weather may inspire you to fling open your windows and tackle some serious spring cleaning. Why not channel some of that fresh-start energy into your finances? Just like clutter accumulates at home, bad spending patterns can creep up bit by bit, making them hard to spot. Commit to dropping a few of these bad habits, and you may be surprised by how much money you can save.

Blowing Off the Budget

Having a budget is only helpful if you follow it. Ignoring your spending limits almost guarantees you’ll break them sooner or later.

What to do:

Find a budget format that fits your lifestyle. A mobile app can make it easier to enter information as you go through your day, but speaking with a certified financial coach to receive personalized and professional advice is the best way to create a realistic and effective budget for yourself. Commit to tracking every dollar, at least for the next 30 days, and make an appointment with yourself to review the budget at the end of the month to make any adjustments needed.

Adding “Just One More…”

“Happy hour” turned into dinner, and a movie, and a nightcap, and suddenly you and your wallet both feel drained the morning after. It’s understandable to want to have fun out with your friends, but a sense of social obligation or lowered inhibitions after a few drinks can spell trouble for your budget.

What to do:

Make a plan in advance. Picking an affordable meeting spot beforehand gives you more control than “seeing what we’re in the mood for” in the moment. Ask for separate checks, pay with cash instead of a card, and include free (and alcohol-free) social activities in the mix so it’s easier to save.

Racking Up Late Fees

A library fine can be annoying. Credit card or utility late fees can pack more of a wallop. With fees ranging up to $38, late credit card payments can quickly add up to a sizeable dent in your spending budget.

What to do:

If you haven’t automated payments, now’s the time! The fewer deadlines you have to remember, the less chance you have to miss one and get hit with a penalty. Schedule payments around your best timing, too. Scheduling a payment for a few days after your paycheck hits, or spreading the bill into two payments within the payment window, can let you pay in full without risking a bank overdraft.

Giving In to Unnecessary Spending

If you’ve made a purchase on a whim, you’re far from alone. More than half of U.S. shoppers have dropped $100 or more on an impulse buy. Even small purchases, like lottery tickets or snacks, can add up if they’re a frequent indulgence.

What to do:

Plan your shopping trips. Knowing what you want to buy gives you a focus so you’re not looking for whatever merchandise catches your eye. And keep your hands to yourself! Studies show we’re more likely to buy things we touch.

Using “Retail Therapy” to Feel Better

Shopping, for many people, can provide a short-term “high.” The buyer’s remorse, added clutter, and lower bank account isn’t worth the temporary rush. Going shopping when you’re sad can also lead you to spend more.

What to do:

Instead of turning to a shiny new purchase when you need a pick-me-up, try calling a friend or making time for a non-monetary activity you enjoy. If you find yourself turning to shopping to manage emotions, feeling out of control over your shopping, or damaging relationships because of your spending, you may need some additional support. There are resources that can help, seek support before you make any more unwise purchases.

Buying Warranties

Employees upsell warranties, but these “protections” often go unused. Consumer Reports advised against buying protection plans. The contracts may exclude key components of the item or types of damage, or fine print can make it difficult to file a claim. Plus, the manufacturer or even your credit card may already offer a warranty anyway.

What to do:

Read up on “purchase protection” offers from your credit card. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that you can file a claim with your card if a recent purchase was damaged or stolen. Put the money you would have spent on a warranty into a “repairs fund” so you’re ready to cover any costs yourself.

Relying on Credit Cards

Research shows that people spend more when they charge the expense, rather than pay in cash. Money feels more “real” when you’re handling actual bills and coins. Not to mention that credit cards may offer spending limits above and beyond your current account balance, but it’s impossible to spend cash you don’t have.

What to do:

Wean yourself off using a credit card gently, or lock all your cards away to “reset” your spending for a set period of time. A credit spending freeze can accomplish two things: Force you to use cash, which can help you plan purchases in advance, and lower your credit card utilization ratio. Your utilization ratio is one factor used to calculate your credit score, so keeping numbers down can be good for your credit.

Straightening up your spending habits can be the most impactful part of your spring cleaning plan. A fresh-scrubbed floor will be dirty again in a week or two, but smarter spending habits can keep adding benefits to your bank account over time. An NFCC accredited financial counseling agency like can help you gain a stronger grasp of your finances with services like student loan counseling, credit and debt counseling, homeownership resources, and more.

Article written by
Melinda Opperman
Melinda Opperman is an exceptional educator who lives and breathes the creation and implementation of innovative ways to motivate and educate community members and students about financial literacy. Melinda joined in 2003 and has over two decades of experience in the industry.

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