How can I change my relationship with spending?
January 24, 2013 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I want to become one of those people who dislikes buying things and enjoys saving. I'm a real spendthrift right now, but I'd really like to shift my thinking so that paying bills and saving money create pleasure, and buying things other than those expenses creates discomfort or boredom. Currently, going out shopping will get me out of the house when nothing else will, even if it's "shopping" for cleaning supplies and I only spend ten dollars. I get a sense of relief when I make purchases and then the pleasure of looking at, say, those shiny bright new bottles of household cleaner and sponges, even though I don't neccessarily need them is pleasurable. I also feel like I have achoeved or accomplished something when I buy stuff...

Conversely, I delay paying my bills and I hate having money. I feel really uncomfortable when I have more than about $50-$100 to my name- I feel like I almost need to get rid of it, even if there isn't actually anything I want or need. Whenever I have tried to save money, I make it to about the $500 mark and the bubble bursts, I can't handle it anymore and I spend it. I often put myself into a situation where I'm financially unstable and have to scramble to get by- and though I hate it, there must be a part of me that prefers it because I really struggle to control my spending, even now when I don't earn enough money to sustain myself.

I've brought this up with my therapist but he hasn't been very helpful, and I only have one more session left. I figure this is like an addiction, but I have a powerful distaste for 12-step programs. What I want is to change my actual responses to these stimuli; I want spending irresponsibly to be immediately unpleasant (not just to have unpleasant future consequences), and I want spending responsibly to feel immediately good. How can I achieve this?

Note: I don't need advice on practicalities like what kinds of savings strategies to use or how to create a budget- I need to change how I think and my emotions about money, saving and spending.
posted by windykites to Work & Money (32 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
This is going to sound crazy, but I really like the show My Shopping Addiction. It takes an addiction approach to money and spending problems without using a 12-step framework, and it might give you some ideas for tools.

Also, you might find it helpful to seek out some other things you could do to make yourself feel like you've accomplished something -- Volunteering? Writing? Sketching? Try to find some ways to get busy and feel good about yourself that don't involve spending.

And one last note -- I know you said you don't need savings strategies, but just in case: Are you keeping your savings in the same account/bank? I have a much easier time saving when I have a separate account, at a separate bank, and I just don't think about the balance. You can even use a separate savings account that doesn't have an ATM and is at a bank you have to travel to.
posted by pie ninja at 4:48 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you track your spending at all? Seeing how much I spent at the end of the month on crap is a good motivator for me. works well for this.

Also, I think you need a savings related goal. Do you want to buy a house in five years, or take a big vacation in a year or two? Figure out how much you need to save each month for a down payment or a plane ticket. Hitting a target each month might give you that "mission accomplished" feeling that you get from buying stuff now.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:50 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you start paying for everything with cash (don't carry cards) and only allow yourself to get a small amount of cash out at a time, then spending will become unpleasant in a much more immediate sense, because it will frequently mean you need to go looking for an ATM to withdraw more cash.You might find yourself delaying purchases or hoarding your cash so that you don't have that inconvenience right away.
posted by lollusc at 4:50 PM on January 24, 2013

I am on a 'Spending Fast' this year as I am trying to pay off the last part of my credit card debt. While searching for ideas about how to process I came across this website and it inspired me.

My basic plan is this:
Try to get through whole days without spending a cent! Ie. the week days.
Then on payday I clear everything out of my account and pay it off my credit card leavig me with just my pay for the next fortnight.

I think a smiliar situation could work for you. Set up a dedicated savings account and then when you have saved up a sum of money, transfer it out so it's not sitting there in your account. Take each day at a time, do not spend any money today! After a few weeks you start to loathe spending anything and resort to using what you have. I pay all my bills on payday, and even though I don't enjoy paying them, I feel glad that I am able to.

Maybe a savings buddy could help? Someone to do the Spending Fast with? Then you can encourage each other as the weeks go by and it gets harder.

A savings goal could help too. What do you want to save for? Set an amount!

Good luck!!
posted by Youremyworld at 4:50 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

You have to work at this, and you have to change your mindset as to what you think is "cool" (I know you didn't use that word anywhere in your post, but hear me out). We tend to have a conditioned attitude towards things. We like a certain type of music because we grew up around other people that liked it, for instance. With spending, it's the same - we have spending habits as a reaction to those around us and what we come to view as "normal" or healthy. You can change this, just like you can change your musical taste by exposing yourself to people who appreciate types of music that you don't currently listen to -- they can provide both insight into why this other type of music is interesting, as well as a certain peer pressure that makes you feel accepted by listening to it. You can do the same with finances by surrounding yourself with people who value saving, reading books or websites by people who value this, etc. If you surround yourself with a savings-positive attitude, you'll come to appreciate it and it will seem like the right thing to do.

Some great things to do to help with this are removing advertising from your life (get rid of your TV, radio, and get an ad blocker for your web browser). Everyone thinks they aren't affected by advertising, but they are. you quickly, in just a few weeks, find yourself not wanting to buy anything because nobody has alerted you to the fact that "there are things that exist, that you don't have! You need them! Go buy them!" It's a lot easier to feel content with what you have when you aren't being constantly pestered about new things you should have.

And you can view savings as a game. People get really addicted to games where their main goals are essentially counting up to higher and higher numbers ("leveling up" in RPGs). You can do the same with spending. Make $100 your goal. Then $1000. Then $10,000. Make watching your savings balance rise a hobby, and get excited about seeing five figures in there.

But you're not going to change your habits without changing your values. And the easiest way to do that is remove negative influences from your life and add positive ones.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:52 PM on January 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Before I got to your second paragraph I was going to tell you that I like saving money, simply because I like seeing the numbers change from month to month. Yes, I like meeting my financial goals blah blah blah but honestly I just like numbers to increase. I guess it could go the other way but the implications of going negative are pretty unpleasant. Also, the security that savings represent does give me comfort. Do you know why you feel uncomfortable when the money starts to accumulate?

I am not any kind of authority on addiction, but maybe before you start shaming yourself about this think of it simply as a yucky habit you need to break. (We all have habits that are yucky.) You know how to best break a bad habit? Replace it with another one. What else could you do that's free that would make you feel accomplished (and get you out of the house)? You'll need something as easy and immediate as going to a supermarket ... so, perhaps, go out and clean litter in a nearby park?
posted by stowaway at 4:53 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I really think that investing in software could help. I love YNAB personally (You Need A Budget). It makes budgeting fun.
posted by Cybria at 4:57 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I really want to buy myself something, and I really can't buy myself anything right now, I buy a CD or some stock. I have made it a habit to visit my investments online instead of shopping online. I *really* have come to like visiting my investments and watching them grow. It's pretty easy to invest in CDs if you already bank online, but it is much harder to withdraw early.

I know someone who locked down their general savings account so that they couldn't withdraw very easily, and then set up auto-deposits from their checking every month. Depositing into an IRA is another way to save without being able to spend and plans for your future.

Auto-pay for your bills is also helpful if you dislike paying them.

Stopping shopping and buying stuff is really difficult. I have been there. It sounds like you feel pretty badly about it, too. I always felt less lonely when I was out there shopping and buying nice things. Just something to consider.
posted by mamabear at 4:59 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Take a look at - he has a lot of ideas about how to get over consumerism addictions. Here's a good starting point.
posted by zug at 5:01 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

This may not be helpful for you, but I had a spending problem, although it focused mainly on books. I'd visit bookstores as my primary form of entertainment, and I had a Thing about not leaving without buying at least one thing (book, magazine, what-have-you). It felt rude not to. So what helped was partly working on my ability to walk into a bookstore, browse, and then walk out again without buying anything, and a great deal down to getting an e-reader. Downloading samples satisfies my Must Purchase Now urge. That means there's well over a hundred samples sitting there that I'll probably never get around to reading, but they represent well over a hundred books that I didn't buy and never got around to reading.

And it's gotten much better in other parts of my life--I don't have to go out and Buy Clothes Now as much as I used to, and when I do want to purchase a bunch of clothes, I can actually afford them because I haven't spent a couple of hundred dollars on books this month.

So maybe: focus on one aspect of the spending to try to get under control and see if that works?
posted by telophase at 5:02 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Changing emotions is a tall order. But you can adjust your situation in a way that makes it easier to save and harder to spend. And perhaps over time, when you have had over $500 for a while and nothing bad has happened, you'll become more comfortable with the idea of having money.

When you save money, where do you save it? Is it in your checking account or a linked account? Consider putting your savings in a separate online bank such as ING. It will take a couple of days to make a transfer to checking, which makes it harder to spend on a whim. If you set up an automatic transfer from your paycheck you can forget you have savings entirely. You can also tie it up in CDs to make it even harder to spend.

It may or may not be the case for you, but accruing a decent amount of savings makes me jealous and protective over the money and makes it easier to be frugal.

Have you tried thrift stores? It takes focus and concentration to find something good, and when you walk away with a great find for $3 or so it's an awesome feeling (and you've only spent $3 as opposed to the $30 you might have spent in the same time at another store). You could also take up a thrifty habit - one that produces something new and pretty and awesome - quilts or rugs made from thrifted fabrics, cooking lovely foods ...

Other than that, I'd try guerilla journaling. Pick it apart one issue at a time and keep writing about it. "I feel like this. Why do I feel this way? How do I wish I felt? What could I do different?" Sometimes that helps me change the way I think about things.
posted by bunderful at 5:14 PM on January 24, 2013

I find "Get Rich Slowly" gets me in the mood to save.
posted by semacd at 5:21 PM on January 24, 2013

Maybe you could replace your spending addiction with an investing addiction. I just registered on the bogleheads forum today, and I got so fired up after browsing it that I opened an account with Vanguard and set it up for automatic monthly deposits.

If you're psyched about investing and have automatic withdrawals from your checking account, you can avoid finding yourself in the "too much money sitting around" predicament.

And learning about investing might bring about some of the changes you seek in your relationship with money: the more immersed you get in the investing culture, the more distateful you'll find your spending.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:29 PM on January 24, 2013

Have you tried thrift stores? It takes focus and concentration to find something good, and when you walk away with a great find for $3 or so it's an awesome feeling

This is what works for me. I'm actually trying to get a little more relaxed about money because I'm very very uptight about it, I dislike buying things and enjoy saving. So let me tell you about some of the mindsets that worked for me.

1. Money = freedom. This is of course not true in some ways but having money in the bank has meant I don't have to freak out when the car makes a funny noise, when I injure myself in a freak accident or when I have to plan a last minute trip or a vacation. So I can worry about what I need to worry about, but not the added "Oh shit, is this going to cost money I don't have?" aspect. It also gives me the option to be more choosey about the kind of work I take and the kind of shit I will take at work. I can opt for a life where I sleep until 10 am, ultimately. It was a lot of annoying saving but oh MAN is it great. I always ask myself "Is buying this thing worth the equivalent amount of food shopping I can't do because of it?" (or whatever) And I'm old enough now to see results. Being miserly in my 20s means getting to be a lot more chill in my 40s and I appreciate that.

2. You never avoid shopping entirely. You said you don't want budgeting advice and I respect that. I just want to make it clear that if you're not going to live in a place where you grow your own food and do your own dentistry, you're going to have to shop a little. So, you're always going to be in a situation where you need to mitigate shopping, not end it entirely. So you have to find ways of prioritizing your experience of shopping the way you want. For me it's getting good buys at thrift stores, shopping for meals I make at home, basically never buying anything I don't need and going for rock bottom prices on most things (though I try hard to not cheap out on friends). I never go to the mall because it turns out there is nothing I need there. I shop at local stores and am happy I am helping out my local small-town economy. Find ways to prioritize the things you MUST do so that there is something making you feel good about it that isn't the "ooooh shiny"

3. Culture adjustment. Turn off the TV, quit buying magazines, stay away from people who shop for recreation and move to New England. Only sort of joking but up here we're all skinflinty and we all have competitive thermostat-turning-down events and we do things for fun that don't cost money and we don't accept being in debt as a natural part of living. Its easier to stick to a plan when your social group sticks to the plan. Every time I watch TV I want to go to Taco Bell. I never think of Taco Bell otherwise. Nature is free and there are no tacos there. Go take a nice walk.

4. Tricks. Find a way to get deductions so you don't SEE that money. So that you never reach that $500 but you're somehow getting bills paid. Get stuff on a subscription basis from Amazon [cat littler, paper towels] so that you never go shopping for it. Work from a cash budget only. Freeze your credit cards. Don't get into a binge/purge mentality where you bottle it all up. What you want is a lifestyle change, not just to go on a money diet for a while.

And lastly, make sure there's not something really wrong. That you don't have some untreated OCD or anxiety issue where you might actually be able to have medicine help you out. I know a lot of people who have, as an example, quit smoking with the help of wellbutrin because it somehow took the edge off of their cravings. Not saying this works for you, but there are ways to adjust your thinking that aren't just Force of Will and if you really think that this has control over you, it's okay to explore that a little more. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 5:30 PM on January 24, 2013 [15 favorites]

You sound like me, and I don't think making it unpleasant to spend money is going to change anything

For one thing I had all my money in my checking account, and I started transferring it all out to my savings account other than what I need to pay immediate bills. I also have taught myself to get some satisfaction out of paying bills as I otherwise do with spending money on other things.

Transferring the money to a separate account is also good because the amount in the checking account will always fluctuate, but the savings account will stay the same unless I actively withdraw or deposit from it.

Aside from having the money out of my checking account, I have also started buying nicer versions of things I want/need. For example I love to shop, and I used to buy shoes or bags or kitchen gadgets all the time. Now I try to invest in myself and, for example, buy myself a nice handbag or kitchen knife, and then when I later see a shiny object in the store that I would normally buy without a second thought, I think about whether or not I really want it/like it better than what I have, or if I just want to buy it. Also I try to take note of things I want to upgrade in my life, and then I spend a lot of time researching what is out there and figuring out which version of whatever it is I want.

I also enjoy buying things like cleaning supplies, but I just try to be a bit more mindful about buying them, and I buy stuff that I enjoy using. I don't look for what is on sale or what is cheapest(because I get almost no satisfaction out of doing that) and I end up spending less overall because as with other things I used to pick up this and that at the store and sometimes not even use it. I did that more with shampoo and had a showerful of junk I never used.

Hope that makes sense, but actually I used to be pretty much known as the person whose money always burned a hole in her pocket, and now I can go wander around shopping all day and not buy a single thing.
posted by fromageball at 5:33 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you view saving as just a different kind of spending? You aren't saving money, you are buying 5 year CDs or shares in the S&P 500 or something?

If that doesn't work, you can't really go wrong with having a second bank account and transferring money to it every month and then never looking at it. Then, when you get some serious cash in there, treat yourself and buy a nice mutual fund.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:53 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have an Internet-only savings account where part of your paycheck goes automatically. Rarely check it. Don't have a debit card for it. Treat it as money you don't actually have.

You might also want to start reading about minimalism. Not that you should become a minimalist and get rid of all your possessions, but I think knowing that there's a community out there that values NOT having and buying things helps shift your mindset. Sort of like if all your friends thought buying things was terrible and bragged about how they never consumed anything, you'd start feeling less pleasure in constant consumption.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:14 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel really uncomfortable when I have more than about $50-$100 to my name- I feel like I almost need to get rid of it, even if there isn't actually anything I want or need.

Good for you for trying to fix this because... wow. This is serious stuff.

First, I think you need a better therapist, because you are right -- this isn't really a budgeting/financial planning issue -- this is about your psychological relationship with money. Getting rid of this habit is going to require figuring out WHY you behave like this. Why does spending make you feel good? Is it the acquisition of stuff? Is it getting out of the house? Is it getting things accomplished? Do you feel like you don't deserve money? Do you feel stressed out by bills and this is the easiest way to avoid dealing with them? Anyway, when you get to the root of WHY, you are going to need to figure out if you can resolve the root of the problem or adopt a healthier coping mechanism.

For what it's worth, spending is immediately unpleasant for me. I typically view buying something as losing, ESPECIALLY full price items and ESPECIALLY if I find out I could have gotten it cheaper online/somewhere else. The winners are the big corps, banks, advertising, consumer culture, etc. And boy do I hate when they win. (By the way, I think taken to an extreme this relationship with money/stuff isn't that healthy either. But luckily I can live a little when the mood strikes me). I literally feel like a sucker any time I pay for something. They got me! Conversely, I view paying bills as a victory. You can't get me with your interest and fines and bullshit! I WIN!
posted by murfed13 at 6:32 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Lots of good advice above.

Even without a therapist to help, you can identify what values underpin your desire to spend money "frivolously" and potentially what you're getting beyond the objects.

Then, you need to give yourself an alternate reward for not spending money - gold stars, jelly beans, extra minutes in a bath or on the phone with a friend. Something you then only get to do when you avoid spending money. Hell, maybe it's $10 per day to invest for every day you avoid anything but grocery shopping.

Another piece of the puzzle is probably to identify things you want to do that don't cost money and schedule them into your life.

Especially if you're a goal-oriented person, setting a spending goal on paper and marking your progress might be a good tool. Imagine if every morning you could wake up and look at a picture that reminded you where your savings were going to take you? That would be cool.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:44 PM on January 24, 2013

For every activity where you spend a bunch of money, find a substitution that is free or close to it:
Instead of buying books, go to the library and borrow them.
Instead of buying coffee, make your own drinks at home and bring them with you.
Don't buy a drink with dinner; drink water.
Don't go out to expensive restaurants; go cheap or go home.

Don't ever buy something the first day you see it; if it's important enough to spend money on, it's important enough to think over. This isn't fun; just buck up and do it anyway.

Really can't control yourself? Don't have any money accessible: freeze your credit cards in ice, don't have cash. Buy a bunch of food, then just go days without buying anything. Not a nickel lollipop, not a bus ticket: Nothing. It'll start to become normal not to spend. When I get too addicted to the Internet, abstaining is what allows me to pull it back to moderation.

There's the occasional wanting-to-recover alcoholic on here who worries about losing his/her friends if s/he stops drinking. The common response is: yes, you will, because your friendship is predicated on drinking and you'll stop being close to most or all of them. That may be the case for you too; you may need to find a more-responsible peer group, one that doesn't mind going to the cheapest restaurants or doing potlucks from people's apartments.

Finally, do splurge responsibility. Figure out how much a year you are willing to blow frivolously, divide it by 24, and every two weeks waste that money in whatever way you want and don't feel guilty about it.
posted by flimflam at 6:51 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Whenever I have tried to save money, I make it to about the $500 mark and the bubble bursts, I can't handle it anymore and I spend it.
I know this isn't a budgeting or money management question, but at least part of this can be mitigated somewhat by having your savings in an online account (ING, for example) and just not checking it. Maybe you can get used to this by having a very trustworthy friend or family member hold onto the login info for you.

I have a very similar problem with spending money as recreation and actually talked myself out of spending a boatload of money in Target just this evening. I did that by consciously reminding myself that I only wanted these things because they were pretty and buying them would temporarily feel good. They weren't actually going to add any value to my life. More importantly I thought about all those times I spent too much money on shit and felt bad about it later and that that would happen again this time. These thoughts were what made the action immediately unpleasant. It actually seemed really gross.
posted by bleep at 7:00 PM on January 24, 2013

I find I get some of the same feeling of excitement over new things by having holds at the library. Not just visiting the library, mind, but knowing there were new things waiting for me there, got me excited and happy about the new things I would have. And then in a few weeks when I'd read the books, watched the DVDs, listened to the CDs and was done with them, it was time to return them. So this habits works pretty well for me. (And gets me out of the house, which I can see why you like.)

I agree that the anxiety with having a reasonable amount of money deserves time with a better therapist. I hope you can find some help with that -- I think it'll be key to making this work.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:28 PM on January 24, 2013

I really appreciate the responses so far, especially the ones that describe why people don't like to spend- those are some attitudes I will incorporate for sure.

I just want to clarify that, while the advice to buy investments and save in an online account and whatnot is really good, I've gotten to a point where it's really not feasable. As in, I am receiving government assistance to pay rent because my work situation is so bad, but I'm still strugling to keep that money "saved" in the bank long enough that my rent cheque won't bounce. When I get back on my feet, I can look into that stuff, but not now. I'm already shopping at thrift stores and buying the discount produce because I have to- and then I go and do something stupid like spend $25 on pretty flowers and perfume and then another $15 to go out for food with friends and so forth and there goes the money that was supposed to go to the phone company. That's why I need help changing my attitude rather than with savings tricks.

I had an ING savings account when i was working full-time but I lost control when it hit $500 and spent it all and overdrafted my account, and now they're after me because my work situation got bad and i couldnt pay it back. Tricks don't work for me, my responses need to change.
posted by windykites at 7:37 PM on January 24, 2013

Considering your update, windykites, I wonder if you are being rather hard on yourself. As in, $15 for food with friends isn't, say, a $900 pair of shoes. When you are in a situation where you are on government assistance, it might be less about having bad spending habits (or a spending addiction), and more about the fact that having no money is really, really hard. As in, yea, it's easy enough for someone that makes a healthy salary to pass along money saving tricks, but many of those people might not blink twice at a night out with friends. It's much, much easier to live on a budget when ... your budget is bigger. It's all relative.

Of course, this is just speculation given that I don't know your entire financial history.

I bring this up because I think it's going to be really hard to change your habits if your income is so low that you are elligible for government assistance. Here's how I see it: if you are in a situation where you can't even pay for the necessities, there's little motivation to save. I think the thought process is: What's the point of being thrifty if I can't make ends meet anyway?
I think this is a pretty human response to deprivation.

I think before you can deal with your spending habits, you need to get to a point where you have enough money for the necessities plus a little bit extra. Obviously, easier said than done. I wish you luck.
posted by murfed13 at 8:07 PM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think murfed13 is on to something. You are broke. It's not a completely valid excuse to not save what you can for a rainy day, but, yeah, it is hard to be poor, it is unpleasant to pay bills when you have to triage them, and it sucks to do without. I had thought that it wasn't a coincidence that your example of giving in to a splurge was to get new cleaning supplies. Definitely not in the $900 shoe category.

Another thing for me and money and feelings is a sense of control. When things are such that ends aren't meeting easily, I can see why you dread bill-paying. Maybe this is how budgeting could help you. It's not pleasant to face, but it may be empowering for you.

I've always been a saver, but I was once married to a man who spent and spent, hid credit card debt, and expected me to bail him out. It was really hard on me. I saw Suze Orman (a personal finance advisor type) on PBS one night presenting on Women and Money. Now, I'm not the biggest fan of hers, but I think she has some keen insights into the money issues that women face and how we are enculturated to give away our power. I had no problems with budgeting, saving, investing, etc - but I was married to someone with whom I didn't share fundamental values. So I think if you read her Women and Money book you may find some helpful ideas to help you through this. Best of luck to you! You're not doomed. :)
posted by stowaway at 9:02 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was going to reply with stuff about online savings accounts, etc. but from your update your immediate problem sounds different than the initial one. It's really really hard to be broke all the time. It sounds like your general broke-ness isn't so much from being a wild overspender but from other things. And so these times you go wild and spend $25 on flowers has an outside impact. $25 on flowers or $15 on lunch with friends, in the grand scheme of someone making it check to check okay but just not putting anything away isn't such a big deal. But if you can't make rent, the impact is really outsized.

The thing is: you should be able to have these little indulgences. Everyone should. BUT yeah, you can't afford them exactly. So maybe the thing right now is to figure out ways to legitimately indulge in something that doesn't cost money (or costs even less money). I wish I had direct ideas, but I think some of that could be just "wasting time" - while away an afternoon when you could be doing laundry at the library or a park just staring at the sky. Whatever. The point is to give yourself the break you deserve and need from the grind with something that truly scratches the "must treat myself" at a $0 price point.
posted by marylynn at 9:19 PM on January 24, 2013

Your Money or Your Life
posted by suprenant at 9:29 PM on January 24, 2013

and then I go and do something stupid like spend $25 on pretty flowers and perfume and then another $15 to go out for food with friends

This isn't stupid. Shortsighted, maybe. I'd skimp on the flowers and save the perfume money and think "There, that's X bucks towards something meaningful and permanent." Not something transitory like flowers. Going out with friends is different. DO NOT OVERDRAFT.

It's not about cutting off the flow, it's about making it manageable. You'd be surprised on how you can simply save a ton of money by cutting out like three or four daily things you do. PLEASE AVOID OVERDRAFTING.

Don't nickel and dime yourself into poverty just because you can. NEVER EVER OVERDRAFT. EVER. You have no reason whatsoever to buy something that would overdraft your account. Full stop. All that does is gives what little money you possess to the bank. The bank exists to make money investing your deposits, you should on no account give them any fee income AT ALL.

If you can't deal with that, you need to (at least temporarily) move to cash only. From experience, living in a cash only world can be fun and exciting. It can also be terrible and awkward.

That being said, don't buy a CD right now. I think you're in Canada, but if you're in the US, CD rates are flirting with historic lows. Currently, banks seem to be offering very poor rates on investments. Even the usual bastion of decent rates, the Credit Unions are taking a hit. Sure, they'll loan you money for a decent rate, but your investments might as well be under the mattress. %1 return on a 3 year CD is hilariously garbage.

And as usual, jessamyn has some great advice. Excepting the moving to New England part, it's pricey up there.

EDIT: I am not a financial adviser, and this is not financial advice.
posted by Sphinx at 9:29 PM on January 24, 2013

Your shrink needs a knock on the head. This sounds like classic anxiety to me and totally not about budgeting. And, as murfed13 and stowaway point out, feeling anxious when you are always on the cusp of being penniless is kind of appropriate.

I hate having money. I feel really uncomfortable when I have more than about $50-$100 to my name- I feel like I almost need to get rid of it, even if there isn't actually anything I want or need.

This really resonated with me. Six or seven years ago I was in really dire financial straights for a couple few years. I used to beat myself up all the time because I'd be trying to stretch out the small bits of money I was making from freelancing, and I'd do a pretty good job, but when I'd get down close to being completely broke, I'd inevitably just blow the last $30 or $40 on stuff I didn't really need. At a certain point I realized it was because the anxiety of almost being broke was excruciating. In a perverse way, actually being broke was just easier to bear. I think in part because then I didn't have to worry any more about how to most responsibly make the money last. Fuck it, sushi for supper and a nice bouquet of tulips and now I have no money worries until the next cheque comes in.

Maybe try to limit the spending in a way that makes it fun. If you are feeling the need to shop, set yourself goal and stick to it. Like," I am going to find a red sweater that costs less than $10." Until you accomplish that "goal" you can't buy anything else. Or, "I am going into that office supply store and I am going to buy stuff that comes to an exact total of $6.66." It makes it slightly taxing and should slow you down. Maybe the goal ends up being so annoying, you stop shopping. Or maybe accomplishing the goal makes you feel good--and not spending more than you can afford makes the good feeling guilt-free--and without the shame spiral you don't have to keep feeding the beast.

If you shop with friends, something I like to do is just pick up stuff I like and carry it around for a while then put it back. Big places like Ikea and Winners are good for this. If you're shopping out of boredom, a lot of the time if you just hold on to whatever it is for long enough, you'll realize you don't really want it anyway. And if you do still want it, put it back and promise yourself you'll come back the next day. 95% of the time the urge passes.

Try shopping at busy times or in stores notorious for bad customer service. I have saved so! much! money! trying to buy stuff at The Bay. Seriously, you could bleed to death in that place before someone rings you up. I'm sure over time I've left thousands of dollars worth of merchandise unbought because they are so understaffed. Similarly, a long line-up at the cash will often kill my impulse buy buzz. You don't get the zingy pay-off if the purchase takes too long. And after holding it in your hands for 10 minutes in line, an $12 jar of olives starts to seem dumb.

The ultimate solution to my problem was earning more money. But before that happened, after I figured out what was going on with getting rid of the money to allay the anxiety, I just gave myself a break. Feeling bad about shopping just makes you want to shop more, which makes you feel worse, shame spiral, etc. So try to be gentle with yourself. I find the more I try to change something I'm really not ready to change, the more I hang onto the bad habit. In the interim, just try to slow yourself down and that should take some of the zing out of it.
posted by looli at 9:57 PM on January 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Find a couple of hobbies that are acquisitive or involve accumulating stuff, but which are free or very inexpensive. Get a Pinterest account and fill it with images of pretty flowers, or keep a journal of scents.

Someone posted on the blue a link to a project (book or blog?) called something like "Beautiful Things I Didn't Buy." The author drew pictures of these objects of desire she hadn't bought. I can't find the post now, but I loved that idea.
posted by BibiRose at 10:00 PM on January 24, 2013

Think of the money you're setting aside for the rent in a positive way. "It's going to feel so good to be able to pay the rent with no hassle." Reward yourself - get some stickers and when you get 250 saved, then 400, 500, etc., put a sticker on the calendar. Review your budget and make sure there's at least some money in there for treats, like going out with friends. Relationships and experiences are as important as rent. Keep a list of stuff you need, new tights, a garlic press, lip balm, etc. When you feel like shopping, buy 1 thing you actually need. I love the Pinterest idea. Maybe you could take pictures of things you'd love to have, and if you really want it the next day, go back for it.

If you can set up a way to move 20-50 at a time to a hard-to-reach savings account, possibly at another bank, you could develop an emergency fund. Think of your emergency fund as a way of buying some peace of mind.

Spending some time on money-management sites will help reinforce your goals. Watching tv and reading magazines, anything that exposes you to more ads, tends to reinforce the desire to spend. Your awareness of this issue is going to help you resolve it.
posted by theora55 at 6:22 AM on January 25, 2013

I also have a self-destructive relationship with money that I've worked very hard to overcome. I'm not flat broke now, but these are habits I started when I was flat broke, and how I've adjusted them as I've struggled to maintain small windfalls (tax return or such). So while you can't focus on any of the savings habits yet, you can set up your spending so that you can eventually squirrel away extra money as it becomes available. Sorry for the bookish length. I wanted to be thorough so that you can figure out what parts will work with your specific relationship with money.

1. I watch my budget like a hawk. Unlike most people, I don't focus on the current or future months. Instead I look at past months, and try to understand the *why*. I brought home X amount of dollars in the last six months, I only have X saved. Where did the money go, and did I really feel like I had gotten any benefit out of that money. On the one hand, it was really nice to have those bright flowers to cheer myself up. On the other hand, they're dead now, and I was really sick of ramen the next week while waiting to get paid.

From there, I was able to realize that in the moment I can always justify a decent meal. Drinks with friends. 10 dollar kitchen/organizing gadgets at Target. Any magic beauty product sold at Sephora. I was trying to spend my way into feeling prettier, more organized and put together, and with a more fulfilling social life.

Understanding that, I could find ways to meet those needs without spending money. Host a game night at my place, spend a day cleaning and organizing my apartment with elbow grease and a mix of water and vinegar. Take an afternoon pampering myself by putting on nailpolish and a bit of makeup.

2. Goals. For me, personal goals can be hit or miss. I often feel like I don't deserve nice things. Who cares if my retirement doesn't exist? Instead my goals are for other people. I got my bad spending habits from my parents, who don't have the best genes. I am saving so that I can step up and help out, if necessary. I am saving more, so that we can maintain separate residences while doing so. I am saving so that I can pay exorbinant vet bills for my pets when they get older. I am saving so that my partner never has to worry about losing the apartment over our heads.

3. Always mimic being broke. I keep four different bank accounts. My primary checking and savings are at an out of state credit union. I don't have a checkbook or debit card for this account. and most of my paycheck goes there, and my primary bills are dealt with Bill Pay. This makes it virtually impossible to make discretionary purchases with these two accounts. By discretionary, I mean anything that's not billed monthly in a predetermined amount. This creates an iron tight guarantee that you won't spend the Rent money. You won't even see the Rent money or your savings when you're checking how much you have in the bank.

For my secondary checking and savings, I only keep as much as I need to feel like I am scraping by without triggering any panic. Right now it's 80 in checking, with 200 in savings. My checking account does not have overdraft protection and will actually decline the purchase rather than go negative. It's embarrassing, and a godsend. Usually I will meekly run away and hope the nobody saw it. If it's a vital purchase, I can move that savings into checking from my phone automaticaly.

I can move money from my primary to secondary, but it takes two business days.

As my finances have gotten better, and I've been able to spend more than that 80/pay period, I've added credit cards to the maintain that feeling of broke. This works because I'm terrified I'll lose my ability to repay, and the interest and fees will be ten times what I originally charged. So mentally everytime I buy something, I feel like I'm broadcasting "It's on credit because I can't afford this" If credit instead feels like free money, this is absolutely a bad way to go. Before I had a credit card, I would put all my discretionary into savings, and push up 50 dollars a week.

The balance on those cards stays at exactly what my discretionary budget should be. As money gets deposited into my secondary checking account, it immediately pays off the credit card, and I can breathe a little until I hit that threshold.

I have two, because I'm not entirely trustworthy with this system. One is from when I was building credit, and still has a very low limit. If I max it out, I can easily pay it off when I get paid. The other has a higher limit. Occasionally I leave this card locked in my desk at work, if I find I'm recklessly spending. But if I've saved up for travel, I can place the purchase on that card. Then I usually delay a payment out of my primary savings for as long as possible to prolong that feeling of being deeply in debt, and curb my discretionary budget. Usually spending begets spending, so pretending I just spent my last dime on Christmas presents for family stops me from justifying that I could use a nice outfit to deliver said presents. That either comes out of the discretionary budget, or waits until I make room for it.

4. I regularly make wishlists, but I don't maintain a wishlist. For example, I've been delaying buying new shoes for weeks. I always fall in love with all the shoes, and buy the impractical cute shoes I'm always reaching past for my comfortable low-key shoes that appeal to early morning me. So last night I had eight pair in the cart, along with a dozen various insoles and socks that I had to have, and then closed the browser. The last few times, I never liked the same shoes the next day. This morning, I was still a fan of one pair, so I'm going to try them on in person and if they stay desirable I'll buy them.

By making the wishlist, I'm making my desires compete against themselves to debate which deserves my limited funds. By maintaining that wishlist, I'll inevitably buy all of those things as funds become available.

Good luck. And be gentle with yourself. While things are tight right now, few people can manage perfect will-power. That's why I set up my accounts to make it harder to spend than save. Luckily, we usually find a way to scrape by by the skin of our teeth. But going forward, you can remind yourself that you're building yourself a safety net, should you ever be back here. So that you can have some flowers to cheer yourself up, even though you're unemployed and not sure when the market will pick back up.
posted by politikitty at 5:17 PM on January 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

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