How to Break a Spending Habit

Ever since college, I’ve had a bad spending habit – or an addiction, if you will. In the early years I didn’t see it as an addiction – instead it was something that made my life more valuable. Unlike other people’s bad habits, this one did not ruin my health or cause me to go into debt, but it did cost me thousands of dollars. If I haven’t built up the suspense long enough, my addiction was buying books.

Yup, that’s right. I was obsessed with buying books. Okay, before you shake your head and give up on this post altogether, hear me out a little. It’s understandable when you consider my environment. I went to college and learned that there was so much that I didn’t know. It was up to me to change that and so I started reading. Obsessively reading. Books at the library weren’t good enough, so I resorted to buying books. Since I was so busy, I justified buying new books on amazon.

Before I knew it, I was buying books for reasons that I can bear to think about right now. To complete a series that I was unlikely to read. Because they filled up a new bookshelf that I purchased. Because they were old and rustic. They looked good on my bookshelf. They matched the height of other books that I owned. All of these were ACTUAL reason that I purchased books. Now, you can start to understand why buying books (obsessively) is such a bad thing. Anytime you choose to buy things for reasons like this, you know you’ve got a problem.

I’m not proud of this moment, but I’m able to talk about it now because I have officially┬ákicked the habit. As of Saturday of this past weekend, my wife and I dropped off 5 full bags of books at Goodwill. With the impending move to Boston, my wife and I are starting to plan ahead. Okay, I’ll admit it. It’s really just me – I’m the planner in the family. But, she did help me go through the books and find all of the books that we are never going to read or need in the future. While I still have more books than I know what to do with, this was a huge step for me.

While many of you most likely won’t suffer from the same addiction, many of us collect SOMETHING. Many of us buy things for stupid reasons and ruin our financial future for a number of hidden philosophical scripts. Things like, “I NEED this to be happy,” or “I’m so bored that I need to buy something for me.” Whether we realize it or not, these types of small reasons define us. We buy consumer products even though they aren’t necessary or don’t even improve our life. So, the question remains, how do you move from being completely addicted to donating your treasured items to charity. In other words, how do you kick a spending habit.

Steps to Kick a Spending Habit

It’s practically impossible to get rid of a habit in one night. It’s much easier to make small changes until you accomplish the goal that you want to accomplish. While every habit won’t be the same, here’s how I got rid of my spending habit:

Find a Cheap Alternative to New

Buying a new product regularly not only means that you are spending a lot of money, but you get used to spending this money. This makes getting out of the habit even more difficult. One of the first steps that is instrumental in kicking the habit is NOT to admit that you have a problem, but instead to find a cheaper alternative to the new option. This means that you can continue to buy the item that keeps you up at night without feeling guilty. Remember, start small. Without realizing it, this was the first step that I took. Instead of buying books on amazon, I filled the need to get new books by buying lots of used books. Not only could I get more books with the same amount, but I started to realize that buying new books was not the best use of my money.

Find a Free Alternative

The next step to officially kick the habit was to find a way to continue the obsession without spending any money. My intention wasn’t to progress towards kicking the habit altogether, but instead to continue the addiction. I did, however, realize that I couldn’t continue to spend as much money on buying books. So, in a way, while I wasn’t willing to give up my addiction to books, I did see the problem more clearly. My efforts paid off and I was able to secure tens of books for free from a local library. It’s hard to turn down free anything, right?

Start a New (Productive) Hobby

Around this same time, I also started a new hobby. About a year and a half ago, I started blogging. I not only started writing more, but also reading other blogs – obsessively. Not only did I find something else that I enjoyed more than collecting books, but I became too busy to even think about getting more books. What I have come to realize in the past year is that I often bought books out of boredom. Life would seem boring and so, in order to spice things up a little, I would jump on Amazon and fulfill a “need” of mine. If you find yourself sitting around and being tempted to buy something new, it might be time to start a new hobby to distract yourself from it.

Realize That You Don’t Need These Items

I never wanted to admit that I was getting over my spending habit because it had slowly become part of my identity. When friends would come over, they would admire our bookshelves. While it sounds extremely shallow, I was proud of my collection. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the entire purpose of collecting the books – so I could impress others. But in pulling myself away gradually and preoccupying myself with other hobbies, I found myself less attached to this collection. I could go weeks without getting a new book. Then months, and before I knew it, 6 months. Then, the defining moment really happened.

I realized that we had books that we didn’t need. GASP! While it may not sound like that big of a revelation, it was to me. I realized that I didn’t have to be defined by my possessions.

Get Rid of the Unnecessary Items

The last and final step to kicking a spending habit is to rid yourself of the huge burden of keeping these unnecessary items. It’s one thing to stop buying something, but it’s another to take a step in the opposite direction and get rid of your junk. It’s not just giving away your stuff – it’s admitting that you are more than your possessions.

Overcoming a spending habit is not going to be easy, but that is not to say that it’s not worth it. Not only do I have much more space on my bookshelves and more money in my wallet, but I feel better about myself. I don’t have the excess in books reminding me of my inability to control my spending. Instead, I am reminded of how I was able to take control of finances and put an end to the destructive lifestyle. Just remember, if you want to change your life, start small.

Readers, have you ever kicked a spending habit? If so, how did you do it?

6 Responses to How to Break a Spending Habit

  1. I had the same problem Corey. I did two things that helped me spend less. One, I bought a kindle and started buying kindle versions of books, which are cheaper. Two, I have been reading a crazy amount of blogs lately and that has left time to worry about buying books to read.

  2. Interesting post, Corey! It is really necessary to break spending habit especially if its already becoming detrimental to your finances and if it’s something you won’t be able to make full use of. My friend used to have a bad spending habit, but in her case she love spending money on clothes. She bought clothes not because she needed them, but because she felts she must reward herself for her hard work. It took awhile before she realized that the best way to reward herself is to save money for the future, which she now focuses on.

  3. After speaking with my wife yesterday she implemented the 4th and 5th steps. It wasn’t an item she needed but a service to her hair above a typical haircut. We went over it and decided that if she wanted it done then it would have to come out of her monthly budget. When I was in the office at the computer, she looks at the book case and starts pointing out books she plans on selling.

  4. I think your experience is common. You mentioned that you loved getting positive reinforcement from peers, friends, who admired your book collection … and deep down you were collecting, in part, to impress others. Lots of people do this. I think many people aren’t consciously trying to “impress” others, but it’s a subconscious motive.

    A good litmus test is asking yourself whether or not you’re “proud” of any object. (In the way that you were “proud” of your book collection). If you are, there might be something beneath it …

  5. Breaking old habits can be hard-thats why we suggest a total makeover of your surrounding to start new!

  6. […] you are spending on things seems a bit difficult unless you understand how everyday activities and habits influence your lifestyle. Perhaps it may even keep you off from accomplishing your savings goals. Here are few tips to help […]

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