I majored both in Banking and Finance from the University of Nebraska. (I don’t talk much about it as my career took a different route shortly after graduation.)
And yet, despite having a college degree in money, I lived most of my life with financial discontent, always surviving paycheck-to-paycheck, despite several pay increases early in my marriage.
When more money came in, more money went out. My credit card statement seemed to often be simply a mirror of my paycheck.
As the cycle continued year after year, I found less opportunity to blame my financial stress on an entry-level income. Sure, money is tight when you’re just starting out. But at some point, the reality of my financial pinch had to be blamed on me—not employers, not rising housing costs, not previous generations, not failed political leadership.
I was solely responsible for my financial well-being. And clearly, my existing habits were not working. If I was ever to get ahead, something would need to change.
There are, of course, only two possible remedies for an unsustainable financial situation: 1) Either you make more money or 2) You spend less.
Most of us automatically assume the former is the key to improvement. If we could make more money, we’d get ahead financially. And while there is some truth hidden in that statement, I stand as proof that’s not always the case. Maybe you do too.
I would like to submit that the latter option is most often the easier to implement and longer-lasting in positive effect.
Spend less is the most important piece of financial advice you’ll ever receive.
Every financial advisor I have ever met begins with that advice as the foundation for freedom. It was the same thing my parents told me, and almost every person I looked up to in the financial world.
The most essential foundation for financial freedom is to spend less than you earn.
If you cut back on your spending, you’ll be able to get out of debt, build an emergency fund, start saving for retirement, or find more space for generosity.
Why then is this step so hard to implement?
In a country where 76% of us live paycheck-to-paycheck and the average American between the ages of 18 and 65 has $4,717 of credit card debt, the message of “spend less” is clearly having a difficult time gaining traction.
One reason I believe spending less is such a difficult step for many to take is because the solution sounds unattractive to so many. Buying less sounds a lot like taking a step backwards in life. In a world where success is often defined in material acquisition, spending less sounds boring, unfashionable, and destined for ridicule.
And that’s what I used to think too—until I actually tried it.
Nine years ago, I made the intentional decision to own less and buy less. It has turned out to be among the best decisions I have ever made in my life. As a result of paring down most of my possessions and determining to only buy things that are actually needed (rather than everything I ever wanted), I have found my life improving in very significant ways.
Now that I own less and spend less, I have more time, energy, and money available to me than ever before. Because I own fewer things that need to be cared for, I spend less time cleaning, organizing, and managing. I have more opportunity than ever before to pursue my greatest passions in life—however I decide to define them.
Rather than running up a credit card bill by chasing every new product or fashion line sold at the department store, I am able to invest in the things that make my life worthwhile and significant.
In this simple decision to buy and spend less, financial discontent in my life has been resolved.
Spending less provides the foundation for financial freedom. It can also provide a pathway for a career change or escape from the unrelenting desire to earn more. Financial relief can even improve our marriages and our sleep.
There’s a reason ten out of ten financial advisors recommend it.
Of course, simply spending less may not be the solution to every financial problem that we encounter. But it is the solution to most.
If you are experiencing financial related stress, spending less is probably the most practical solution to resolve it. And the road to relief may in fact be more appealing than you think.
Thanks for the reminder Joshua, money slips through my fingers like there is no tomorrow, silly purchases here and there but they add up, if we want to blessed of God we have to be content and a good steward of money, wasted enough and what little i have i want to use wisely.
I rarely spend my money on material/physical items, but I have a spending weakness when it comes to concerts, events, and travel. Although I can’t afford all the things I sign up for, it gives me joy… until I see my credit card statement and feel the anxiety build up. Then I spend the rest of the week hiding in my apartment, thinking of ways to save for the following week. It’s important to find a healthy balance, so I can still enjoy the things I love doing, but also feel 100% present without the panic and anxiety of the cost overwhelming what should be fun. Thank you for the reminder.
Spend less really is the best piece of financial advice. By spending less…you open doors for so many of the priceless things life has to offer. Before you buy anything ask yourself if it is worth giving up the money that you worked so hard to earn.
It is really hard to save money. I agree with paycheck the expenses also increases. Good advice.
Dan Erickson says
I’ve always been able to live fairly frugal while still meeting my needs. I have a mortgage and a little more debt than I’d like, but I don’t overspend. I have a challenge coming up to pinch my pennies for my daughter to go to a private, college-prep high school. I’ve got a plan and I can do it.
I work personally only five days a week, only 6 hours. My job is scanning paperwork for a company and they don’t want too much work – since paper is limited. I get decent paycheck and much of free time. I said to my boss, that is okay, to do less work.
I can afford rent, food, other bills, basic needs and some shopping when for example something breaks. I have savings account despite of social security in my country, and emergency account too, for example of laptop breaks. I don’t have fancy mobile phone data plans. Just cheap basic plan. Is okey, don’t need the fastest speed etc.
Now some people I know barely have pennies left at the end of the month. They receive about 1600 € in cash, when I only 900 €. My rent is half of that with water and electricity. They actually one day asked me some money, because they had problems, to buy food and it was one week to paycheck!!! They both are working and barely can afford one day sick without paycheck. And they are always working and complaining about back pain issues. One day I saw them to scroll Zalando, this is where money goes – app in their phone. The men actually is okey with money, pays only bills. But the women is spend, spend, spend. And selling old things.
I mean people work less, spend less, have some free time.
I make less than them, and have financially free. My rent, no loans. No car note or related bills, since I use public transportation or my mountain bike. It’s ridiculous how some of my family does with their money. They had four TV sets, until I said enough and they actually reduced to two. And I am so much younger than them. They are 50+ and always paying bills and expensive mortgage. Renovated here too, windows they had were just working fine, they replaced for new ones. I mean people wake up.
One day I called my friend and asked for a trip to woods – I am working. They are working. They never have a time a day to spend with their friends instead spending it on stuff!
Spending Less = Freedom to make a career change.
This is key, there are so many blogs focused on early retirement from unhappy careers. Spend-less, to save more, and need less to make the choice to change if you are not happy in your current field.
Could not agree more! I just quit my job last week because I was unhappy. I just interviewed and accepted a position at a juicery & coffee shop. Sure, I’m taking a pay cut, but I’m doubling the time and happiness levels!
Powerful article! Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge! I constantly go back and forwards about my spending habits. I am trying my hardest to cut back on spending, and really try have a modest lifestyle. The part that hit home for me was…”Because I own fewer things that need to be cared for, I spend less time cleaning, organizing, and managing. I have more opportunity than ever before to pursue my greatest passions in life—however I decide to define them.” Thank you for standing in your truth, and sharing your story with readers like me!
Thanks Josh I am having to learn to be content with what i have, one time that would make me feel less than equal etc but thats more insecurity on my level , but i have debt and its not going to go away on it own, debt owns me and i am not happy with that anymore, thats more of a stress than looking good or keeping upwith fashion etc, so i am having to take responsibility and deal with it, same as over eating, buying things i really don,t need only to give good things to charity shops that no longer fit blah blah its a vicious cycle, but i am getting there bit by bit and to be honest i think if i could sort it quickly i would never learn, i think a few well thought out realistic goals and sensible decisions are what i need to invest in at the moment love Jacqueline xxx
Tessa A. says
I definitely affirm and encourage the ideas behind this article. I would offer, however, that you can waste a lot of time trying to “spend less.”
For example, if someone is trying to spend less, they could be spending more time seeking a better deal on the same kinds of unnecessary things they have always been buying. Obviously, not buying something in the first place is the best bet, but when there are things you DO need, there has to be an acknowledgement that spending less on those things often requires MORE time.
Sometimes searching for the best deal ends up taking/wasting more time than intended.