5 ways to keep from spending money you don't have to buy things you don't need


It's one thing to declutter and quite another to maintain a tidy home. Stuff, by its nature, will rush to fill a void, be it a clear countertop or an empty room in your basement.

Whether you're downsizing, using the KonMari method to organize your closets, or doing a life edit, the biggest challenge isn't offloading your junk. It's maintaining your minimalism and resisting the urge to accumulate stuff and more stuff, for months or even years to come.

If you are able to keep your home clear of clutter, though, that can have a big impact on your financial health.

"When you're happy with what you have, it sort of mentally stops you from buying something that may be unnecessary," says Richard Eisenberg, managing editor at Next Avenue and cohost of the podcast "Friends Talk Money," who has written about boomers struggling to get rid of family heirlooms. "Once you start realizing that you can live with less, then you feel less of a compulsion to buy more."

After you've downsized, edited, or cut back, use these five strategies to keep clutter at bay.

1. Rent instead of buy

As a rule of thumb, "don't buy things that you rarely use that you can rent," says certified financial planner Carolyn McClanahan, director of financial planning for Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida.

To determine whether it's smarter to rent or to buy, crunch the numbers. Consider that items like sporting equipment and large tools take up a lot of space and might not be a good value, depending on how frequently you use them and how often you'll have to replace them.

If you're paying year-round storage fees for items you may only use a handful of times annually, that's yet another reason to unload them and rent instead.

"People don't realize how much money it costs to support all [their] stuff," says McClanahan. She adds that big-ticket items, like boats and motorcycles, also take up space and cost a lot to keep around.

Instead of buying all your own tools, for example, consider renting out space in a workshop if you enjoy building things, suggests McClanahan. At Spark Workshop in Brooklyn, New York, for instance, members have access to tools, equipment, private, and semi-private studios and more starting at $200 a quarter.

How the pain of paying can affect your spending

Video by Courtney Stith

2. Follow the $1 rule

In 2016, financial coach Bernadette Joy adopted a minimalist lifestyle to pay off more than $300,000 in debt in three years. To maintain that aesthetic, today Joy is working on "really paring down [her] wardrobe to make sure everything can be mixed and matched."

To keep it simple, Joy sticks to a simple shopping guideline: "I implemented my dollar rule, which is basically anything that I'm going to buy that's clothing-related, the cost of it has to be equal to a dollar per use, meaning I'm not going to buy a shirt for $20 unless I'm going to wear it 20 times. So it makes me really selective about the things that I buy."

Following the $1 rule doesn't mean you can't splurge on nice items, particularly shoes and purses. For instance, Joy recently spent $67 on a Kate Spade bag, which retailed for $80 and which she plans to use as her everyday purse. That easily makes it worth a dollar a day.

3. Take out what you put in

For Joy, when it's in with the new, it's out with the old: "I do the one in, one out [rule]," she says. "If something else is coming in, then something else is coming out."

What's more, she earns some, but only some, of the resale value of her discards.

"I'm big on selling clothes," says Joy. "To know that I spent $30 bucks on a shirt, and I go to some of these chain resale places, and to know [they'll say], 'Oh yeah, we'll give you $3 for it,' it really makes you realize clothing is not worth spending a ton of money on. It depreciates so fast."

I implemented my dollar rule, which is basically anything that I'm going to buy that's clothing-related, the cost of it has to be equal to a dollar per use, meaning I'm not going to buy a shirt for $20 unless I'm going to wear it 20 times.
Bernadette Joy
Financial Coach

4. Distinguish between needs and wants

You may find yourself replenishing items you don't actually use just because you think you should. For example, Joy, who does speaking engagements and photo shoots, says she convinced herself to spend $200 on makeup that she "thought she needed" for a shoot. It turned out she didn't.

"I just threw out probably 80%. I had to toss it," says Joy. "If I do the math, that's $150 of stuff I literally just threw in the garbage. I think for a lot of women, we convince ourselves that we need all these beauty products, when in reality, I use four things every day. I use a foundation, an eyeliner and a bronzer and an eyebrow pencil. And that's it."

Whether your focus is on beauty products or appliances, going through your daily routine can help you figure out what you're actually using daily, weekly, or monthly. If you're not using it, no need to buy it again.

5. Make memories, not purchases

Joy is currently working on downsizing yet again, from a house to a condo. That requires being forward-thinking about accumulating objects of all sorts.

When she travels, for instance, Joy will put her money toward "experiences that I'll particularly remember, instead of bringing home what used to be a collection of shot glasses or a collection of magnets."

At the same time, Joy realized she didn't really want to keep the ones she had around. The memories matter more, she says: "A lot of people think they need a physical memento to remember something, and I find myself remembering a lot more things just from having more unusual experiences because we're putting our money towards that."

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