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21 Reasons Why You Spend More Than You Earn (And How to Fix It)

One of the core teachings of many financial gurus is to spend less than you earn. And unfortunately this is where so many people stumble and give up on ever fixing their finances, getting out of debt and saving for retirement. There are a variety of reasons why people spend more money than they earn and these 21 certainly aren’t comprehensive, but they are a good starting point. This was the first thing I needed to fix when I was drowning in debt and once I did everything else seemed to fall into place.

That isn’t to say that this is some magic solution that will fix all your problems. You will need to work at these solutions if you truly want to improve your finances. Spending less than you earn can be a challenge, especially with the constant bombardment of advertisements and the heavily researched methods for getting us as consumers to buy more and more stuff.

You may struggle with these initially, but as you continue to work towards controlling your spending and earnings you will find it becomes easier and easier until some parts of it will be second nature. For the vast majority there is no reason on earth you can’t spend less than you earn. The only thing holding you back is you.

  1. You are too concerned with your image (Keeping up with the Jones’ syndrome)

    Solution: Stop worrying so much about what other people think. I know that may be easier said than done, but it truly is the solution. And it won’t change a thing about your day to day life. People will still interact the same with you, you will still have the relationships you treasure and you will finally get out of debt and move on to financial independence. People will come and go, but your finances are with you to the grave. Those who truly love you won’t care if you have the biggest house, newest car or latest gadgets.

  2. You have no idea how much you spend

    Solution: Unless you are a trust fund baby chances are your resources are limited. You are responsible for staying within these limits, but if you have no idea how much you spend each month there is almost no way you will succeed at this. How can you keep your spending under your income if you don’t track what you spend? Trust me, those “small” impulse purchases add up over the course of the months and years. Take the time to get to know your spending patterns and you will then be able to control them and stay within your income.

  3. You have no idea how much you earn

    Solution: Unbelievably many people don’t even know how much they earn. How can you possibly expect to spend less than your income if you don’t know what that is. There is a difference between gross income and net income folks, if you are budgeting with your gross income in mind its no surprise you spend more than you earn. Take the time to learn what you earn after taxes and deductions and you will have a better chance of spending less than you earn.

  4. You focus too much on instant gratification

    Solution: It is one of the real negatives of today’s society that we have very little patience and want (some feel we need) everything right now. It’s just not the way the universe works. Everything takes time to develop, grow and mature and the same idea should be applied to your own finances and wealth. Be different…be patient.

  5. You equate price with quality

    Solution: Simply because one item has a higher price than another does not mean it is of higher quality. Learn to do your own research and judge things with a critical eye and you can save loads of money, especially on big or recurring purchases. There is no reason not to learn everything you can about a product or service before you buy these days, since so many people are writing their opinions online. Google is your friend.

  6. You are too generous with your money

    Solution: You know the guy or girl. They are always willing to pay for lunch, buy drinks or lend money. This is not a way to keep your spending under control. Even charity should be put on hold if you are spending more than you earn. I do have compassion for those less fortunate, but I don’t think it makes sense to put yourself in your shoes by giving away what you need to support yourself and your family. Be generous, but only after you’ve straightened up your own financial house.

  7. You don’t have a budget

    Solution: Your budget is your financial plan. How can you balance your spending and earnings without a plan? How can you save for retirement, a house, a car or anything else without a plan? Unless you are quite different from the majority of people you can’t. I know it isn’t fun (for most people) to sit down and create a budget and to review everything on it on a monthly basis. This isn’t about fun, it’s about your financial well being. You’re an adult now so take responsibility for yourself because no one else will.

  8. You don’t take care of necessities first

    Solution: Pay for all your essentials first every month. Pay your rent or mortgage, put money aside for your utilities, do the same for groceries and fund your emergency accounts. Of course this all means you need to take care of #7 above first so you actually know what these expenses will be.

  9. You are spending on things you don’t even use or don’t need

    Solution: Gym memberships, premium cable, professional association dues, cell phone data packages and subscriptions of all types can be a good thing…if you are actually using them. Too many people continue to pay for these things month after month long after they’ve exhausted their interest in such things. Take a look at your recurring monthly payments and honestly ask yourself if you are using these things or if you even truly need them.

  10. You have no self control

    Solution: Work on developing self control. At the end of the day this one thing will help you keep your spending in check more than any other. Many of the other tips on here hinge on your being able to control your own emotions and either delay gratification or simply tell yourself no. One way to do this is to think of the ends rather than the means. For example, if you are trying to pay down debt don’t think about the process (I will pay $x on card 1 and $x on card 2 each month), but think about the end result (I will have more money to save/spend/invest/tithe by paying down debt).

  11. You haven’t mastered the 10 second rule

    Solution: The 10 second rule simply advises you to stop and think for 10 seconds about the pros and cons of making an impulse purchase. Train yourself to do this and you will find yourself foregoing many of these purchases because when considered logically you find they are unnecessary.

  12. You haven’t mastered the 30 day rule

    Solution: The 30 day rule is similar to the 10 second rule, but is meant for larger purchases (maybe over $50 or $100). Before purchasing put the purchase on hold for 30 days to determine if it really is something you need and are willing to spend your hard earned money on. You can also use this time to research alternatives which will often lead to a less expensive purchase.

  13. You can’t see the big picture

    Solution: Personal finance and wealth creation are not sprints, they are marathons. If you can’t see beyond the end of the month you will constantly be running into roadblocks to your progress. Take the time to not only create a budget, but to also make plans for the next 1, 5 and 10 years so you have a goal in mind. These goals will help you to improve your self control and to improve your delayed gratification because they give you an end result to focus on rather than the nebulous “save money”.

  14. You have too much debt

    Solution: This is not negotiable. Get rid of the debt. Make it a priority in your life. Focus on eliminating the debt as if your life depended on it because in some ways it does. If you don’t get rid of it now, when will you? Don’t delay on this because your future happiness and well being could very well depend on it. Once you eliminate debts from your life you will find it much easier to spend less than you earn, not only because you have more money left after the bills are paid, but also because you will have learned valuable lessons about self control and control of your finances.

  15. You don’t take care of the things you already own

    Solution: Don’t abuse your stuff. Act as if you will never again buy another sweater/shoes/refrigerator/car and make these thing last. Rather than discarding broken or worn items see if there is a way to fix or restore them cheaply. Our society has taught us to simply discard and purchase new when in all honesty many of the things we use regularly can have a much longer useful life if we simply care for them.

  16. You’re not frugal enough, maybe not at all

    Solution: Learn ways to stretch your dollar whether that means buying used, looking for sales, using coupons, repurposing old items, making and growing your own or simply doing without sometimes.

  17. You don’t use coupons and sales to reduce your expenses

    Solution: Make a pact with yourself not to buy anything if it isn’t on sale. Learn how to use coupons properly. You don’t have to go to extremes like the people featured on TLC’s Extreme Couponing, but a couple hours a week of clipping and organizing coupons could save you thousands of dollars a year on your grocery bill. Now use that money to pay down your debt.

  18. You haven’t mastered the use of sinking accounts

    Solution: Sinking accounts are savings set up for large purchases. Without them we are often surprised by these purchases and without the funds on hand to cover them we turn to consumer debt. Avoid debt like the plague and start saving for Christmas, birthdays, vacations, new cars and the like by creating a sinking account for each large purchase long before you need it.

  19. You don’t talk about your money

    Solution: Talk about your money, especially with your spouse or significant other. Sometimes we spend too much simply because we are unaware what the other people in our lives are spending. Take it even further and talk more with your friends and colleagues about money. You may be able to short circuit the “Keeping up with the Jones’” syndrome when you find out how many of the others in your social circle are also struggling with debt and financial independence.

  20. You don’t earn enough money

    Solution: Don’t just focus on the spending part of spend less than you earn, focus on the earning part as well. Find a side hustle that is suitable for you, start a business of your own or simply get a part time job. It may be far easier to cut expenses, but you can increase earnings much more in the long run than you can cut expenses.

  21. You give up too easily

    Solution: As you are going through the necessary changes to take control of your finances you will inevitably stumble and stub your toes occasionally. Consider this as normal and keep moving forward. As Lao-tzu said thousands of years ago “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Don’t end your journey before you reach your destination. Perseverance and determination are the hallmarks of successful people. You can do this, so don’t give up on yourself.

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