How to quit spending more money than you make

This is a tough one. Spending more money than you earn is common practice in the U.S., and increasingly in other countries around the world. Credit card companies have simplified the process so much that it requires quite a bit of discipline to live only on the money you make. This is a difficult task, but it is the first step (and most crucial) for most people to financial freedom.So, you spend more than you make – you are not alone.

This is a tough one. Spending more money than you earn is common practice in the U.S., and increasingly in other countries around the world.

Credit card companies have simplified the process so much that it requires quite a bit of discipline to live only on the money you make. This is a difficult task, but it is the first step (and most crucial) for most people to financial freedom.

Just like there is more than one way to “skin a cat” or to quit smoking, there are multiple ways to spend what (or less than) you earn. Listed below are the steps that I took to make it happen for me.

1. Believe that you can.

This is so important, because it is this belief that is going to carry you when you feel like quitting. Find people who have gone from overspending to living within their means and get encouraged by their stories. I am not sure what made me decide that I needed to change, but I had read enough stories of people changing their financial picture that I truly believed that I COULD DO IT.

If you do not yet believe that it is possible, keep reading and listening to success stories until you believe that you can do it. When you get discouraged and feel like quitting, go over the stories again and encourage yourself. The motivation gained from other people’s successes are going to be one of your main keys to succeeding, because if you do not BELIEVE that you can do it, you are NOT going to make it.

2. Eliminate the temptation to spend.

I don’t really have an opinion about cutting up credit cards, because to me it is kind of like throwing away a smoker’s pack of cigarettes. It is pretty easy to go buy another pack of cigarettes and it is almost just as easy to get another credit card. Obviously, the key here is to have a burning desire to want to curb your spending. It is not a bad idea at all to cut up the credit cards. I think I did cut up my credit card (luckily, I was too foolish to know that you could have more than one credit card at a time).

Romans 13:14 says to”make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

I did this by not going to the mall and not going out to eat. These were my two big areas where I spent/wasted the most money. Especially with the case of the mall, I could eliminate most of my temptation just by not being there.

3. Learn to say “NO” to yourself.

Learning to say NO to ourselves is one of the most beneficial habits we can develop. I call it a habit because it truly is. People who never tell themselves NO have a difficult time doing it. On the other hand, people who regularly tell themselves NO find that although it may not be easy, it becomes less difficult the more you do it.

Your success is based on your ability to say NO

It is difficult to find a person who has had success in any area of their lives who didn’t become good at saying NO…

  • If you want to lose weight, you have to say NO to your body when it tells you that it is going to die if it doesn’t get a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
  • If you want your marriage to last, you have to tell yourself NO when you really, really want to say something that you probably shouldn’t.
  • If you want to succeed in your career, you have to say NO to your body’s desire to be lazy and instead work hard and smart (even when no one is looking).
  • If you want to get out of debt, you have to say NO to fun indulgences even when everyone else around you has them.

The list goes on and on, but the point remains the same: Get good at saying NO.

“Do something you hate every day, just for the practice.” –John Maxwell

The point John was making in this quote was that in order to succeed, you have to do things you do not want to do. People who achieve their dreams have to pass up a whole lot to reach their destination.

As I think about areas of my life where I have been able to implement this in small steps, the corresponding rewards have been great. My walk with God, my finances and my relationships have all seen great progress as a result of saying NO in seemingly insignificant moments.

By following these simple yet difficult steps, I went from spending about 125% of what I made to 85%. If you are over 100%, make that your first goal: not getting into anymore debt, then your next goal should be to snowball your debt and move to well below 100%.

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  1. denise

    I have to agree with #2. Don’t toss the credit cards but don’t carry them with you and put them in a place at home that is not visible. This way they are our of sight and out of mind.

    • James

      Ditch the credit cards. You don’t need them. All they allow you to do is spend money that you do not have and buy things you cannot afford. If you cannot afford something, you should not buy it.

    • Melinda

      Well said and a blatant fact!

  2. Viv

    I think the suggestion about asking yourself “Do I really need this is?” is a good one. I’m trying to apply this. In terms of getting rid of all the useless, but lovely stuff I’ve bought, I tried the principle of “selling all your possessions and give to the poor”, which proved to be quite hard work as I have limited mobility and eBay fees can defeat the object. BUT this morning at church, I listened to an excellent sermon about surrendering to the Lord and giving possessions away which felt a real challenge and I felt could be quite liberating. It forced me to question why I wasn’t having a lot of success in selling stuff, which led me to realise I’m trying to redeem myself …however I have been forgiven and as a child of God should accept that forgiveness and move on…and GIVE stuff away. I spoke to the pastor afterwards, and she told me the Lord had prompted her husband to sell all his Coke pictures and give the money to missionary work – but he kept one! Some time later he was reminded that he was asked to surrender all of them so the last one went! It’s all a question of obedience to the Lord and as we free ourselves from things that we use as comfort or whatever, we are hindering our moving forward in what the Lord really wants us to do.
    Thank you for this site and for allowing me to share this. Hope it helps someone else too.

    • Shell

      I agree…it’s in the giving that we receive. When you can’t give it away, consider File 13. God once asked me to get rid of the steins I’d collected. I once drank heavily but … God asked me to quit that, too.. and I did. Anyway, my husband was stationed in Germany and with a strong German heritage…getting rid of those steins was HARD. I asked if I could sell them.. He said, “No.” I asked if I could give them away. One was hand painted … very costly. He said, “No.” Finally, I called a good Christian friend who told me…”I’ll help.” They were dumpsterized. While I struggle with finances…this was a most liberating thing. I did not pass on a disease and I freed myself from an earthly weight.

    • Allison

      Thank you for sharing. I find your words encouraging.

    • Kathy

      Thank you for sharing such a candid experience. I am in the process of downsizing and some things are hard to let go of. Of course we all wish to keep our heirlooms but I am talking about “stuff” here that could be a great Blessing to others. I soon will begin going through my closets and sharing, just looking for the right avenue to be sure people who need it receive it for free.

  3. The Best Money Blog

    The ol’ #1 rule of personal finance, spend less than you earn. Good post and practical ideas for those that feel stuck.

  4. Phanio

    I think spending goes deeper. Some people spend just to have some meaning in their lives or as a way to feel self-importance. Not sure what to do about it but think your suggestions can help those who overspend.

  5. New Covenant Bible Institute

    Thanks Bob for the tips mentioned above, those are all helpful and I will read it more often so I can be encouraged to not to spend on my means, only the enough ones and the reasonable ones.
    Being responsible with handling money is a hard job but I am sure that with the help of the Lord, we can do all those things.

  6. Priscila

    I’m a college student and I got a credit card a couple of months ago and now I’m $700 in debt which is huge for me, because I work at Burger King and maybe on a good month make $550. I’m not using the credit card anymore. Lesson learned, but once I have my debt paid off I’m gonna keep the credit card hidden in some hard to reach area and only make one purchase a month with it to raise my credit score. Debt is just such a burden on the soul. I need to learn how to say “No”. Thanks for the article.

    • Randy

      Great to hear – you can also ask them to lower your credit limit to something that fits you better in this goal.

  7. [email protected]

    Planning your spending with a budget is helpful. Using the envelope system makes it clear what money is there to spend. It could help those who just can’t visualize it.

  8. Lisa

    I got into a lot of trouble doing this a while ago. Now, I have a set amount of spending money every week that I carry around as cash. Once my cash is gone, I can’t spend anything else until next week. If I have extra, I put it away as savings for a time when I have something extra that I want to do but can’t normally afford. I still have a credit card in case of emergency, but I don’t usually keep it on me when I go into a store or somewhere I may be tempted to spend extra. I have also found that it is much easier to say “no” when you have a plan for the extra money you are going to save. I try to always have a “travel fund” where I am saving up for some trip. Then, a portion of each check goes into that account and I can’t pull it out for anything other than a trip. Every time I have to say “no” to something I want but don’t really need, it is a little bit easier when I remember that every dollar I save is a dollar toward my next vacation. Even $10/week adds up fast.

    • Onunka

      Though I have not started earning money yet, though I have handled some money. My dad always tells me not to spend excessively to the extend you have no money again. Sometimes one spends to the extend of borrowing from others. It is always good to spend wisely…

  9. Jenny

    Spending more money than you actually have to spend is a difficult subject to be sure. For anyone, regardless of spending habits, you have to learn how to stay in control of spending only the money you A) have or B) have allowed to be spent. For us, for example, we only have so much money for groceries, gas, dinning out, and walmart. But we do have extra money that is meant for saving and we still have to watch and becareful not to spend money meant for saving. So even if you don’t have wreckless abandon with your credit cards and even if you have X dollars remaining at the end of the month – there is always a need to stay on track, on budget.

  10. Mac Hildebrand

    I really appreciate the use of Romans 13:14 to give a God-motivated purpose for getting out of debt. Titus 2:11-14 has a similar message that came to mind,
    11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
    Not only does grace provide the proper motivation for a lifestyle that is not enslaved to debt, it in fact teaches us to not be enslaved to debt because we regard our hope in Christ as higher. Thanks for the articles posted here!

  11. baconexplosion

    Learning to say no to yourself is by far the hardest thing on this list to do. In my humble oppinion personal finance is about self control. Learning how to do math is the easy part!

    If you can learn to put off personal gratification, you’re off to a great start!

  12. melody nyasha

    This is powerful.l am one of the people who was always to struggle to move forward financialy cause l spent more than i have.Thank you so much for these lessons indeed i am moving forward financially as i am putting these lessons into practice.


    Hi Bob,
    Thanks you for your article of spending less for the success of my money.
    So it very much important to live within the budget.
    If we fail to live within it we will lead to temptations of spending more and more and to extend of committing sin of desire.Because it is our innermost heart filling that we develop a desire of sin.But i do call the Lord to stand with our budgets and spending for He knows about us better today and tomorrow.Amen.

  14. Serena

    I think you really touch at the heart of the matter regarding self control in point 2. I agree, rather than cutting up credit cards it is better to deal with the temptation at source – Like you say don’t go to the mall and don’t go out to eat.

  15. pauline mwende

    Thanks. Bob. Point no. 2its very crucial.its very important to remember that temptation is verry hard to resist, Jesus was tempted and its always good to ask the Almighty Fatther to help us when it comes to temptations .for sure with the Lord everything is blessed

  16. Prosper Financially

    Very nice,

    Most of the time we know what we should do but don’t do it anyway. That is why i agree on the point you said about saying NO.

    It’s been a big help on my finances since i started saying no.

  17. Michael Kampff

    I love your posts – always filled with great tips on managing finances.

    I think it’s also important to note that these tips, while good in and of themselves, need a solid foundation to really make a lasting impact on most people. Many people will read this and think – Yes, I can do this! And then look at their lives in three months, and the evidence will not be there. What to do?

    We need to break it down. We need to focus on doing simple things that result in a change in our habits and therefore change our trajectory in the desired area of our life (finance, health, relationships, etc). Each person is so different, and the right next step for them could be far different than the right next step for anyone else. My point is that it can’t be prescribed, it must be understood, believed, and consistently acted upon.

    Most people start with great intentions and the vigor fades quickly, and it’s because they haven’t laid the right foundation. They either don’t understand the problem fully, they aren’t clear on their objective, they don’t believe that even taking small steps will compound over time to carry them to their objective, or they are simply stuck in information consumption and they aren’t putting it into practice.

    Habits are far more powerful than willpower. Willpower fades as our attention gets pulled in so many distractions of life. Habits build upon themselves, and create momentum toward your goals. It’s a slow and steady approach that actually works, rather than the quick-fix approach that results in you wondering why you can’t make the change you want.

    I would urge people to work on their habits, One Step In Faith at a time.

  18. mc

    Decipline and powe knowledge ,these are the 2 things very important and without these can lead your credit cards into a consolidated massive problems. Using credit without decipline surely soon you will never know that you are paying only for the interest rates because you have no more allocations for the other things and soon realized its too late anymore. Power knowledge, if you know only the things that you only needed and can support your budget. Live only what you earned and you will have a peace sleep. Then never stop dreaming for more beautiful life coming, strive more soon all your dreams will come true.

  19. Godwin Ufere

    All the points are important and if one can discipline him/her self to align with these points, there is no way one will not have blissful spending.

  20. Suzanne C

    I particularly like point #2. We curbed our spending by freezing our two credit cards in Ziploc freezer bags full of water. If we think we need to use one, we have at least 24 hours’ thawing to really be sure about it. Another thing we did was unsubscribe from sales emails from specific stores, but especially deal sites such as Retail Me Not and Brad’s Deals. The only exception is Groupon- we can usually find an excellent deal when we do eat out. (I was able to save $35 on my parents’ anniversary dinner using a Groupon.) If you don’t want to go ‘cold turkey’, many sites will reduce the number of emails, so you’re not bombarded daily.

  21. Cathy

    I’m sorry but when you don’t make enough money going into debt is not an option it is a reality. I have 4 part-time jobs and am getting a 5th. I can’t find full time work that pays enough. I live on about $2000.00 a month. My mortgage is $600.00 without taxes. My daughter has been sick for over a year and not even Mayo Clinic found the cure so I am shelling out $500.00 a month plus a $1000.00 lab fee on a CareCredit account because this doctor is homeopathic. Obviously if he doesn’t help her in 3 months I’m done. I am tracking my spending each day, doing all the things I should and yet I can’t get out of debt. There are more people in this situation than you think. Just saying “no” is not the answer.

  22. Debbi

    I totally agree about avoiding temptation. Sooner or later, we will find something at the mall or on the web that we “need.” It is easier to never face the temptation than to have to call on limited willpower over and over again. I also think substitution helps. If it is a nice day and you want to go to the mall, drive to the nearest woods and take the dogs for a walk instead (assuming you like walks in the woods and have dogs!). It also helps to, at least for a little while, spend less time with shopaholic friends and more time with friends who enjoy other activities.

  23. Paula

    I agree I”am a shophalic and I love to shop, however I know it’s best to have an emergency fund then to go shopping at the mall or Target because if I keep doing tis I will be broke and homeless I don’t want that so I prefer not to shop as much I rather save more money for my wedding to Peter then not be able to pay for the wedding .

  24. Josh

    The struggle is real Bob. The theme here is that money management starts with mindset. If you’re not ready and determined to take control then there’s no budget software out there that will help. Thanks for the timeless advice!

    • Tesha

      I totally agree that it begins with the mind…

  25. Reuel Dawal

    I agree with you Bob!

    For me, the greatest hindrance is the temptation to spend – mostly because even as Christians, temptation of the flesh is still there.

    But I would add, “Learn to Discern what is Necessary.” I just went to the shoe store yesterday to buy trekking shoes. I could have bought Merrell shoes, but I chose a cheaper – though still quality – one (about half the price of Merrell). There’s no question for the quality of Merrell shoes. But the reason behind my buying decision is that I will not be using it very often after all. So, all I need is trekking shoes – not necessarily Merrell shoes.

    All I need is food, shelter, and clothing (Matthew 6:25), not necessarily “BRANDED” food, shelter, and clothing.

    I believe that is spending wisely too!

    Thanks for the post!

    • Bob

      Good point Reuel! Agreed!

    • Heidi

      Absolutely agree that it is vital to “learn to discern.” Even as my husband and I are taking the first steps to climb out of the pit of debt, we share what we learn with our kids because no doubt, they’ve already picked up on our excessive spending habits. Something I ask of myself and of them when considering a purchase is the simple question, “Is this a WANT or is this a NEED?”
      Simply bringing awareness of this distinction makes it so much easier to figure out what to do next.
      Obviously, if it’s simply a want (especially an unplanned for, not budgeted for want) then buying it takes me in the opposite direction of where I’m headed.
      And that’s why the all-important Mind Set is essential to success!
      I walk away…
      I can do it!
      I will do it!
      I am doing it!
      I DID IT!

  26. Kimberly Ely

    This article stirred up lots of comments! Interesting ones, too! I love the direct approach to the heart of the issue – how did we, as a nation, as a people, get here…I guess living in the age of the credit card is the start of it all. Before we had credit cards, it was hard work to get into debt! You had to go and actually ASK somebody for money! Can you imagine? Going to a bank to borrow money to buy a new dress? A new couch? impossible! embarrassing! Or to go to your parents, or your children to ask for a loan to go away for the weekend? I guess it’s all in the mind-set, and in the habits we have formed. Very good ideas and reminders to help us see the truth and do something about it! Thank you!

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