Defeat Overspending… from the Inside-Out

“The heart wants what the heart wants…”

Advertisers work tirelessly to influence our spending habits and incorporate a variety of tactics to accomplish their goal.

They understand that controlling a consumer’s checkbook often begins on an emotional level. They know that influencing a consumers’ attitude or belief toward their product is one important avenue to influencing their behavior. Case in point: A recent advertising campaign by Subaru proudly proclaims their desire to communicate with a potential buyer’s heart and mind in an effort to influence their behavior.

After trying numerous approaches in the past to contain overspending, I believe this is the strategy that keeps many of us from breaking free from our personal patterns of overspending. We’ve tried budgeting, waiting periods, and cutting up credit cards…only to find out that these external fixes don’t win out over our internal desires. They may work for a short time, but because advertisers have connected with our heart, our mind, and our emotions, our unhealthy spending patterns almost always return.

To overcome overspending in our lives, we need to find a new approach. If external fixes have not sufficiently changed your behavior, consider the need to redefine your attitudes and beliefs towards possessions and spending. These internal changes will, in turn, begin to have an impact on your external behavior.

For a new approach to spending less, try one of these inside-out principles:

1. Recognize that we live in an overhyped culture of consumption. From the moment we were born, we’ve been bombarded with thousands of advertising messages every day. According to Yankelovich, a market research firm, the average American living in a city today sees up to 5,000 ad messages everyday. Each of these messages compel us to purchase and consume. While deep down, most of us know that overspending is not a wise behavior, we’ve been told to purchase and consume so many times and from so many voices, that we start to buy into what they’re selling. Realize that nearly every moment of every day, you are being sold something… and become wiser towards their tactics because of it.

2. Watch less televisionIn 2009, broadcast television took in $22 billion in advertising sales and cable television earned $20 billion. Corporations don’t spend that much money on television commercials because they think they can get you to buy their product, they spend that much money because they know they can get you to buy their product. Television is an industry built on the assumption that you can be convinced to spend (and overspend) your money. You are not immune. After all, if the selling platform ever stopped working, it would no longer exist. If you want to turn off overspending, start by turning off the television.

3. Consider the full cost of your purchases. Usually when we purchase an item, we only look at the sticker price. But this is rarely the full cost of our purchases. In fact, whether it be cleaning, organizing, maintaining, fixing, replacing, or removing, every purchase we make costs us additional time, energy, and focus. In addition, many of our purchases today require further financial investment tomorrow (electricity, accessories, upgrades, etc). Making a habit of intentionally factoring those expenses into our purchases will allow our minds to make more competent and confident decisions with our dollars.

4. Consider the benefits of owning less. Owning fewer possessions has numerous short-term and long-term benefits. For example, a home with fewer possessions is easier to clean and maintain. Homes absent of clutter are less stressful and more rejuvenating. People who buy less, carry less debt and possess greater opportunity to financially support causes they believe in. The sooner we get a clear understanding of the benefits of owning less, the sooner we embrace a lifestyle of buying less.

5. Practice generosity. Generosity has a powerful affect on our lives. Studies have shown that generous people are happier, healthier, and more satisfied with life. This may be because generosity forces us to appreciate the things we own and how much we have to give others. Ultimately, generosity begins to change the way we view the world. We begin to find our fulfillment in life by helping others. And when we begin to experience fulfillment in generosity, we have less need to fill our lives with unnecessary purchases.

6. Find time each day to consider the unseen blessings of life.  Emotions such as love, hope, and peace bring us lasting joy and happiness. Unfortunately, we live in world that is ruled by rational thinking, bottom-lines, and physical production. Finding time in our busy schedules to reflect upon the good things we already possess can be difficult. But if we can find consistent time each day to meditate on the joy found in the invisible blessings of life, it just may change the way we view the physical things.

To be clear, I am not arguing against behavior-based solutions to overspending. My family has used budgets, waiting-periods, and cash-envelopes in the past to limit our overspending. But if advertisers are working overtime to connect with our deepest emotions and thought-patterns, we would be wise to do the same.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Great post. I’ve been thinking about this topic lately and have come to the observation that external tools such as budgeting and cutting up credit cards (still necessary tools) make me feel like I am giving up something. These tools are still needed but instead of making me want less I’ve feel like I’m being deprived. Its a change in attitude toward possessions that will best change spending habits. Cutting out TV a few months ago, as well as cutting out visits to technology websites has had a very positive impact on my desire to buy stuff.

  2. says

    Another benefit to cutting out conventional TV is that it cuts out the celebrity gossip, which also cuts spending (in my opinion). I used to catch shows like Entertainment Tonight and such because they were on after my beloved nightly news (with Tom Brokaw back then) and before the good prime time shows at 7. I used to get caught up in what random people I never actually knew were doing, what they were buying, how they were living, etc. Now after living with Netflix for TV, I can’t stand celebrity buzz at all. I think once you take yourself away from it, it’s easy to see the programs and commercials for what they really are should you view them again.

  3. says

    Not watching TV, stopping to buy or subscribe to magazines, and never going to window shop or walk into shops just to ” browse”, not checking retail web sites unless you are actually looking for something specific.. these tricks work for me, but I agree that the most important thing for me has been changing my mind set. Minimalism and simple living have been the key to finding freedom in this shopping obsessed world. It didn’t happen immediately, but the more I have experienced the benefits of not buying, the easier it has become to resist. I actually put of buying a new blender for over six months after ours broke. Finally I decided I would get a stick blender instead, which would be more versatile and easier to store. It’s the only small kitchen appliance we have. It was interesting to notice how I wished we didn’t need it.. But after a dozen times of needing it and not having it, I gave in.
    It feels so serene just being content with the basics, and having a small, neat, comfy home with nothing excess. I also don’t want to raise a consumerist child so I better watch my own spending habits ;)

    • says

      Agree. The most important thing is to change the mind set, however this wouldn’t be possible if you are surrounded with clutter.

  4. says

    I agree with Megyn – when I see TV commercials at someone else’s house or if I browse a fashion /decoration magazine in a waiting room, I see so clearly through it to the real agenda, which is: “BUY! And whatever you do, don’t just be happy with yourself and what you have! ”
    And they feel so silly and even nauseating…

  5. says

    Thanks for the post. Buying is about producing and reproducing new desires that act as a temporary therapeutic against our deeper emotional state of being; hence the term ‘retail therapy.’ What I want is true inner peace, not false gratification (which becomes guilt over $ spent and guilt again when disposing of consumer good to the landfill or even the thrift store). I want to learn to be an emotional human being again, before school and socialization taught me that it’s better to be invulnerable, perfect, unemotional and intellectual. No, I want to feel again and be human again.

  6. says

    Advertisers and marketers certainly know what they’re doing with their tv ads. The Ford ads during American Idol got to a co-worker of mine, and they leased a new Explorer that I know they can’t really afford. But the commercial made it look like a necessity. My wife and I make it a game to discuss the marketing ploys of the commercials we see. Whoever can make the most fun of the ad wins!

  7. says

    And… Be mindful of where your product was made. If 99% of the things you consume are from stores where 99% of their goods are made in China, consider the costs of that multiplied by millions of other consumers. When I walk in to Target or Ikea, or even Crate and Barrel and J. Crew, it is nearly impossible to buy things that have been made in the United States!!! Every $ decision is a vote. That’s why I am choosing to buy nothing new in 2012 (i joined the compact). I will make exceptions for new kids’ things made in the USA (or non-American things of exquisite quality).

  8. says

    Joshua, I could not agree more. The emotional side of buying is really behind overspending. We clearly need to undertand why we spend, and how to make changes to stop doing so. You have provided some great places to start, such as watching less TV and thus exposure to less advertising.

    I do believe that tools such as tracking spending and minding how one uses crdit cards are also important. Actually I am strong supporter and advocate of the Financial Integrity (FI) Program offered FREE through the New Road Map Foundation ( and In the nine steps of the program you are provided with both practcial tools such as tracking along with ways to assess you spending in terms of your values and goals (the emotionall side of things).

    Some of your reader may find the 9 Step FI Program to beat overspending as it does address the problem for inside-out as well as simple tools to put that into practice. Plus it is all FREE.

  9. Tiffany says

    I love this post. Personally, the hard part about spending less and becoming less attached to things has been giving up the idea that the new “thing” could make ME someone new/better. It’s hard to realize that, yes, I could buy new fashionable shoes every season and trendy clothes to match…but I will still be the same person working on the same internal issues. It’s like buying things gives you hope for a “quick fix.”

    Now when I feel like shopping I get out my journal and figure out what I’m really looking for…

    Oh…and the TRUE COST is a great reason to not buy. I’ve started looking at an item and thinking…”If I worked for two hours and they gave me this as payment, would I be happy with that?” 99.9% of the time the answer is no!

  10. says

    Have you read “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez? That book radically changed how I viewed money and how I spent (or didn’t spend) it.

    • Michelle says

      I found “Your Money or Your Life” to be a great resource. It actually helps to look at spending in the light of “How many hours of my life am I giving for this?” I decided to upgrade my cell phone because I felt that the price I was paying wasn’t giving me good value. For just a little more each month, I get much more use out of my phone, and no longer keep things like a separate calendar in my purse, etc.

  11. Andrew C says

    Now you make me want to buy a Subaru . Just kidding. And never go for a test drive- that’s the first step to making that emotional attachment.
    Love all your posts.

  12. says

    Great post! I threw out the tv in 1992 and life has been increasingly more satisfying since then. I took my kids to yard sales to buy their clothes (only bought socks and underwear new) and when they were old enough to go to the mall by themselves, they were appalled that a tshirt could cost 18.99 when they were used to paying 25 cents!

    Keep sharing…we all need the motivation to live life fully!

  13. says

    Okay – this was speaking to me today. I keep trying budgeting and I always find my self wanting more yet I am trying to live a minimalist lifstyle and you hit the nail on the head. I believe that my recent turn to watching less tv and reading more will help, and me finding one or two little splurges to keep me budgeting. I get my nails done ever two weeks. I feel better and I bring nothing home to sit somewhere. I also like to buy my daughter each something little on the off weeks – like a redbox movie and cuddle time….your posts are awesome and do inspire…

  14. says

    This is superb perspective. By changing our thinking we can overcome the powerful marketing messages written up by very smart people to manipulate us. Sure, capitalism is better than communism but balanced living is better than materialism.

  15. says

    My friend told me when he stopped watching t.v. his savings started to increase. He realized that he didn’t know what to buy anymore without advertisements telling him what he “needs.”

  16. says

    TV is a huge factor in my family’s life. We went extreme and got rid of it. We still watch tv shows on Hulu, but the effort of having to set the computer up keeps us down to maybe once a week. It has been wonderful!

  17. says

    I love that you included removing TV from life. I’m a huge advocate of no TV in the house! Advertising can be so powerful but appears so much more obvious once it has been removed from your life!

  18. says

    We do become so attached emotionally to stuff, especially if we have low self-esteem. I think this is why I dislike TV as well. If we aren’t grounded in who we are or have a clear vision of where we are headed it can be easy to be influenced by marketing on TV and in advertising who will define who we should be and draw us in with our emotions. When we remove the TV and stuff we have more opportunities to nurture the important relationships in our live. Thanks for the post.

  19. says

    Our family hasn’t had cable in years! Our philosophy is that anything truly decent will come out on DVD eventually, & if you wait long enough it’ll hit instant streaming via Netflix, which is our only source of TV entertainment. Between the Netflix online-only option & our local library, we save money by avoiding cable fees as well as commercial advertising. As a matter of fact, the only commercials we actually see are those which air during the Super Bowl — & we always go to mom’s house for a party, never pay to see it at home or bars.

  20. says

    Hi Joshua
    I enjoyed reading your post. That is a staggering amount of ad messages Americans are bombarded with every day. Staggering! As an Australian, I wonder if the numbers would be as high? They probably aren’t far off. I think cutting down on television viewing would definitely help with overspending. Megyn made an interesting point about cutting out the celebrity gossip as well. I totally agree with her. It’s amazing the number of people who want to buy an expensive bag or pair of shoes (that they know they can’t afford) because some celeb is wearing them.
    Thanks again for the post.

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