I have to admit: Spending money is fun. I love the thrill of clicking “Add to cart” on my favorite online retail site. The rush of unveiling my purchases after a good long shopping haul. The satisfaction of signing the check after a delicious dinner out. But then the guilt and distress sets in when I check my bank account and realize I blew past my budget (again).

After a few too many of those unpleasant, budget-blowing surprises, I set out to make some changes. I realized that knowing how to spend money smartly was an essential component of practicing healthy money habits. If I wanted to save more, I needed to start spending better.

Learning how to effectively manage my money has been a long process of trial and error, and I’m still learning. Though I’m far from being a master budgeter, I’ve found spending strategies that work for me. These money habits have helped me spend smarter and save better.

4 Money Habits That Changed How I Spend (and Save!) Money

Money habit #1: Create a spending log.

When I first started working full-time, I had never budgeted before in my life, and to be honest, I had no idea where to begin. I didn’t want to overcomplicate things with a bunch of math, so I decided to start simple. I pulled up a blank Excel sheet and started logging the dollar amounts every time I spent money.

After a year of following this system, my budgeting Excel sheet now looks a bit more sophisticated, but the concept is still the same: I record every single payment and purchase I make. Utility bills, rent payments, Spotify membership fees, $5 oat milk lattes—everything goes into the Excel sheet.

This simple habit has proven to be one of the most effective ways I’ve found to curb my spending. By manually entering each expense into the list, I can keep track of how much I’m actually spending throughout the month. It holds me accountable for every single dollar I spend and demonstrates how small purchases—like impulse-buys at Target or Friday night takeout—really add up.

Money habit #2: Shop for necessity, not entertainment.

Shopping can be a dangerous activity for your budget. One minute you’re casually browsing through racks of sweaters and the next minute you’re coming home with armloads of bags filled with things you didn’t really need. We’ve all been there, right?

I reign in my inner shopaholic by limiting shopping to those occasions when I’m looking for something specific. I’ll go shopping for new athletic shoes when my old ones get too worn out. I’ll hit the mall to look for a dress for a friend’s bridal shower. But I try not to treat shopping as a “just for fun” activity. By reframing it as an occasional, necessary expense, I don’t end up buying a whole new wardrobe just for something to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Money habit #3: Use cash instead of your card.

Swiping your debit card is just too easy sometimes. It’s such a second-nature action that it almost feels like you’re not spending real money. But as your budget shows, those purchases are very real.

To force myself to spend money in a more conscious way, I frequently use cash instead of my card. It allows me to physically monitor how money is leaving my hands—and makes me think twice before spending. This cash-only strategy is especially handy when I hit the bars with friends on the weekends. On nights out, I usually leave my debit card at home and only bring a set amount of cash with me. That way, I can thoughtfully set a spending limit for myself beforehand that I have no choice but to follow.

Money habit #4: Consider eating out a treat instead of a habit.

I love trying out new restaurants with friends or grabbing sushi takeout instead of cooking—but my budget decidedly doesn’t. Dropping $20-30 for dinner and drinks (or dinner and a delivery fee) on a daily basis is definitely not a habit my budget can sustain.

I’ve made it a rule for myself that during the week, I 1.) bring my lunch to work and 2.) cook at home every night (with the exception of special occasions like a birthday). I now save eating out for an every-so-often weekend splurge. Cooking and meal prepping for myself may be a lot more work, but it saves me (literally) hundreds of dollars each month.


Learning how to curb my spending has been the biggest hurdle on my way to managing my money in the most effective way. It wasn’t easy to change those behaviors, but these money habits have seriously helped. And, as it turns out, saving money might just be more fun than spending it.