10 Mantras to Keep Your Spending in Check

Use these handy phrases to keep your financial goals on track.

Man hand holding piggy bank on wood table. Save money and financial investment
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Reciting a phrase won't make the dollars in your bank account magically increase, but there is value to be had in repeating key questions and statements to keep yourself on track with saving and spending. It's amazing what diligence and consistency can do. Not only can you learn to stay within a budget and even save money, but less consumerism benefits the planet as well.

What follows is a list of phrases that I have found to be useful on many occasions, and so have other people, based on conversations I've had with friends and have learned in books and online. Sometimes all you need is a little reminder of where your priorities lie, and these phrases offer precisely that. 

1. Do I Really Need This?

I ask myself this question all the time – sometimes at the grocery store, but more often when faced with beautiful clothes, shoes, cosmetics, or other household goods. It forces me to press pause on my desire to own something and do a quick mental inventory of my current belongings to see whether or not this actually fits in.

2. What Is This Worth to Me?

If you've answered 'yes' to the first question, then this is a good follow-up. Without looking at the price tag, ask yourself how much you think it's worth to you – meaning, if it costs more than the mental value you placed on it beforehand, you should probably walk away.

3. I Am Starting Today

Today is the best day to establish new habits. There is no point worrying about what happened in the past; it doesn't matter. It's easy to get hung up on the idea that you're not good with money, that it has come to define you somehow, but don't waste another day thinking like that. Start now.

4. Every Little Bit Counts

Saving a few dollars here and there may not seem like a guaranteed route to financial success, but little actions both add up over time and have a powerful effect on your habit formation. If you get used to choosing drip coffee over fancy lattes, looking at the unit prices on groceries, shopping the sale rack exclusively, packing a bag lunch instead of eating out, or staying in on a Saturday night, it may feel weird at first, but you'll have a noticeably smaller credit card bill at the end of the month. This builds confidence to keep going.

To quote Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar blog: "Your goal should be to adopt a smaller number of financially sensible changes that also bring and keep the joy in your life and make those changes permanent rather than attempting tons of changes, many of which won’t work out and ending everything in frustration."

5. What's My Priority?

It can be tempting to scoop up deals when you see them or to deal with strong emotions by shopping, but ask yourself what your financial priorities are. Maybe it's paying off a student loan, topping up a savings account, paying down a mortgage, or saving for a trip. Talk about these priorities with a partner or family member to help you stay accountable. Write them down, repeat them, and think of them often. (Pre-COVID, I used to think of everything I didn't buy as being one step closer to a plane ticket!)

6. I'm Still Building

This is something my husband says occasionally when I need to be reminded that there is a bigger plan in place and our money is going toward building that plan, slowly and steadily. If it feels like there's not much surplus, that a significant portion of your earnings are going toward debt repayment or savings or investments, remind yourself that your money is busy working for you, even if the process feels painfully slow at times.

7. Live Below Your Means

Or, if that feels too drastic, within your means. Don't be swayed by what friends are doing or posting on social media or suggesting that you do together. You alone know your own finances and you are responsible for making your own choices. By leaving below your means, you do not incur debt and are able to save and invest, thus creating greater security going forward.

8. You Don't Know Other People's Situations

It's tempting to think that people around you are in a better situation, especially if they appear to be spending more money. But you don't actually know what's going on behind the scenes. They could be incurring debt and struggling to pay it off. Maybe they work excessive hours, or have an inheritance, or have a shopping addiction, or maybe they're just really great at managing their money. Resist comparing yourself to others and focus on what you know to be best for yourself.

9. What Would My Mother Say?

This funny suggestion comes from a commenter on The Financial Diet blog. Lindsay says

"When I think about a dumb purchase I’m about to make, or if I’m buying something full price that I know I could get on sale if I waited, I think of [my mother]. I think of that sum of money appearing on a large billboard for her and all the world to see, and I’m reminded of how far I’ve come and how much I value my financial freedom from my past self (who made a lot of bad choices)."

This is enough to make her walk away. It's good advice. If your mother's judgement doesn't scare you enough, think of another senior or parental figure whose respect and admiration you want. The point is to make financial decisions that you're proud of, and that you'd feel comfortable broadcasting to them.

10. It Gets Easier!

Saving money is hard, especially in American culture where spending is celebrated and flaunted on social media and thriftiness tends to be stigmatized. Remind yourself that it does get easier, that saving becomes a more natural habit over time, and that success breeds success. Give it time and it will start to feel more normal. Focus on building new frugal habits, without trying to be perfect, and these will eventually become second nature to you. Someday you will thank yourself for it.