If you’re struggling with money, it probably seems pretty counterintuitive to talk about spending, right? Wrong. In fact, discussing just how you spend your cash can be a huge boon to managing your money more intelligently and comprehensively. Here’s what you need to know about spending intentionally and reaching your money-saving goals faster.

Saving Is Great. Over-saving Is Not.

There’s no question about it—in this day and age, it’s absolutely vital to save money. The world is an incredibly uncertain place right now thanks to the global pandemic, and there’s no indication that it’s going to “get back to normal” anytime soon. The distribution of vaccines to the general public is still months away, businesses have had to permanently shutter thanks to the downturn in the economy, and many people have lost their jobs. All of those factors point to an incredibly uncertain future, which is why saving now is so important. Yet you can overdo it.

If you tend to experience guilt or anxiety when spending money on basic necessities, you could be over-saving. Generally, this type of behavior stems from a fear of scarcity or not having enough money for whatever it is you are saving for. This is often deeply rooted in our psychology around money and what it means to have it or go without it. The good news is that you can make small changes to adjust your spending and saving habits once you recognize that you are over-saving. As a reminder, it’s always best to stick to a budget with a planned goal and outcome. This can help you regulate your saving and spending and help you keep track of where your cash may go. If you want to learn more about how to create a budget, check out my recent story on how best to set and stick to a long-term budget.

How to Spend Intentionally

Once you have gotten a handle on what kind of saver you are and whether you need to adjust your spending or savings habits, you’ll need to figure out how to spend intentionally (and save money doing it). Follow these steps to find the right path for you.

Assess Your Goals

Just as with budgeting, you should assess your goals and prioritize them when you start to consider spending. It’s essential to evaluate your own relationship to money and what it means to you in this phase. It’s also essential to involve the most important people in your life in this evaluation, too, since many times spouses, loved ones, and partners have different perspectives on spending. Some questions to ask yourself and your partner include:

  1. What do we value most in our lives? Family, travel, comfort, something else?
  2. What are our long-term goals for retirement?
  3. What are our long-term financial goals for our family?
  4. What is the most important thing to consider when it comes to money?
  5. What do I consider to be “too expensive”? What does my partner consider to be “too expensive”?
  6. How does saving make me feel? How does saving make my partner feel?
  7. How does spending make me feel? How does spending make my partner feel?
  8. What do I have a hard time spending on? What does my partner have a hard time spending on?
  9. Do we struggle to save? If so, why? What does saving mean to each of us?
  10. What are our priorities when it comes to money? How can we make them align in some way?
  11. What does success look like for each of us? Is there a specific monetary number we each put on “success”?

These are some basic questions geared toward getting you and your partner, spouse, or loved one thinking about how you each approach finances. It will help reveal some of the tendencies, thoughts, feelings, and emotions you each might have around spending and saving, and it will help open up lines of communication about where you might differ.

Remember that it’s always important to keep an open mind and be compassionate with yourself and your loved ones when it comes to discussing money. We all often carry a lot of emotional and psychological baggage around with us about money issues. Being kind to ourselves and our family when unearthing these thoughts is vital. Feelings and emotions can be overwhelming, and it pays to be patient.

Map Your Goals to Your Money

Once you have assessed your feelings and goals around money, you can start to put the pedal to the metal and figure out how to achieve those goals with the resources you have. This is a great time to write down your long- and short-term money goals. These can and should be both large and small. If it’s saving for someone’s birthday or a big trip or just working toward getting that piece of jewelry you’ve always wanted, it pays to write down the things you want so you can start to overlay some of the things that came up in the first step with the financial goals you have.

It may seem at first like your goals and your money habits don’t line up. That’s okay. It can take a bit of creativity to think about how an important priority, like the value of family, can map to saving for a rainy day. If you reframe some of your goals, you may find that they resonate with you. As an example, if family is very important to you and your spouse or partner, you can reframe saving for retirement or putting aside an emergency fund as a way to make family a priority. Doing both these things can help set your family up for a much more financially stable future.

Look at Your Spending and Saving Habits

Once you’ve translated your overarching priorities to your money goals, it’s time to take a good, close look at your spending and saving habits. While we’re all sheltering at home, we may not have our previous afternoon latte habit, which could be great for our bank accounts. Yet the truth is that we may have simply shifted that spending to something else—maybe Netflix or another seemingly small membership that’s now regularly coming out of our bank accounts.

It’s important at this point to get focused on where exactly your money is going. Whether you are leaking little amounts here and there or have a splurging spending habit, it’s vital to clarify both the inflow and outflow of cash. This will help you assess where you might be able to restrict and where you might be able to spend!

Mindfully Spend

This brings me to the most exciting part of this whole process: spending! Examining your finances doesn’t always have to be about restriction. If you’ve set a goal and reached it, it’s time to spend on the things you want!

Whether you’re purchasing a new refrigerator or deciding to make renovations to your home, it’s time to research the best bang for your buck and make sure you are getting the most value from the way you are spending. Some people really enjoy the research part of purchasing, and it can certainly make you more aware of both where your money is going and the value that the item, event, or renovation brings to your life. This helps reinforce good feelings and the behavior of mindfully spending your money.

One trick to help you spend mindfully is to do your best to purchase things when you feel grounded, stable, and generally happy. Research has shown that we often use purchases (just like we use food) to self-soothe when something has gone wrong. If you can be aware of how you approach your shopping, you can help stave off some of the behaviors that can scuttle your financial goals.

Additionally, it always pays to sleep on a big purchase and make sure that it’s something you genuinely want. Delaying gratification can give us the chance to evaluate our reasons for wanting something and determine whether that thing, event, or renovation will actually satisfy our needs and our wants.

Sometimes it helps to just take a few deep breaths before hitting the “buy” button, too. Breathing deeply can connect us to our bodies and the present moment and help clarify our thinking and feelings around a specific purchase. There is no wrong or right way to focus your mind, but meditation and mindful breathing can help you manage those impulse purchases and keep more of your hard-earned cash in your pocket.

The Bottom Line

This kind of financial work is often largely psychologically based, and it requires honest and compassionate inquiry. Money brings up many complex emotions for people, and it’s essential to be patient and kind when working with these ideas. It will help make goals stick if you are honest, and it will help you see the path forward for how best to spend (and save) intentionally. At its core, spending intentionally, just like saving, is a mindfulness exercise. It can help us figure out where our blind spots might lie and get us more focused on what truly matters in our lives. If you follow these steps, you’re sure to become a more intentional and mindful spender and saver—and secure the future for yourself and your family.