Fixing Your Spending Addiction

Obligatory, “I’m not a licensed therapist – go see a doctor if you have issues” disclaimer.

I believe that more people deal with addiction than one might suspect.  When I speak of addicts, I don’t just mean hard drugs or the usual suspects like alcohol or gambling.   I believe addiction surrounds us with a variety of less obvious culprits.   Sugar, video games, feeling sorry for yourself, internet, reading, work, exercise, they’re all activities people become addicted to and find themselves doing with compulsion.

I’ve done it, and I’ve seen plenty of others do it.   Using money as a means to feel powerful or to entertain and spending as a matter of habit without a focus of actually meeting your real needs.    It makes sense.   If you want some excitement or hits of dopamine on a dull day, going out and buying a shiny new object creates a dopamine spike.   You get a new smartphone.  You bring a brand new item into your home and life.  You get the thrill of opening it and the experience of using it the first time.   It’s a temporary cure for boredom.   And it likely will improve your life in a marginal way although often at a higher opportunity cost than one would care to calculate out.

But this kind of spending just creates a pattern where it won’t be long before you’re buying the next unnecessary thing.   Maybe it’s dropping several hundred every few months on gadgets.  Maybe it’s frequent restaurants and coffee shop visits with indulgence on whatever sounds nice at the time.   There will be little to show for your spending but you’ll be missing out on thousands in savings before the year is over.

How to Beat Your Spending Addiction

So how to deal with a spending addiction?   Let me give an unconventional answer here.  (Psychiatrist hate him!) If you’re looking to eliminate an addition, I’m sure there’s a right way with therapy and meditation and what not, but what I’ve seen work well is that if you want to get rid of an addiction you can swap it out for a different addiction.

How many times have you seen someone beat alcoholism only to become addicted to gambling?   Or lose weight only to become a smoker.  Your brain wants to get that rush somewhere.   So here’s my idea.   Find a healthy addiction if you must have an addiction.  Why not become addicted to the gym?  Or become addicted to healthy organic eating.   If your issue is spending and your goal is to achieve savings/get out of debt, and ultimately achieve financial independence, consider doing a complete 180 and become addicted to being frugal.

I’m certain there is such a thing as becoming addicted to not spending money.   You don’t need to dig too deep into subreddits like r/frugal to see how far it can be taken.   People subsisting on lentils and rice for most meals and keeping their monthly food budget under $100.   For a nice example of how it can be done, you can check out sites like Early Retirement Extreme.

The idea here is that if you must have an addiction, it’s best to be addicted to something that generates a net positive for your life concerning health, finances or time. Here are some examples of addictions that might not be the worst to have:

  • Exercise
  • Making a business successful
  • Eating exceptionally healthy
  • Budgeting or being frugal

But yeah, if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed with addiction please speak to a professional.

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