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What Is Intentional Spending?

January 11, 2023


Many of our day-to-day spending decisions are made almost automatically, without much conscious thought. We might grab a bite to eat on the way home because we’re hungry, or buy a new outfit for work because it catches our eye. 

Other spending decisions require more thought. We might pause before making a major purchase, for instance, because we know that it will significantly affect our finances. Or we may spend lots of time researching a purchase to make sure we get the best solution for our needs. 

One radical way to change your relationship with money and spending is to implement that same pause into everyday spending. By practicing intentional spending, we can better align our spending with our goals, values, and financial situations. But what is intentional spending, exactly — and how can we use it to our advantage? 

What Is Intentional Spending?

Intentional spending is the act of making thoughtful, mindful spending decisions. It’s the opposite of impulse spending. Intentional spending allows us to approach spending decisions in a more measured, thoughtful way. It can help align our spending decisions with our goals, values, and priorities in life. Intentional spending can take a lot of different shapes. Here are just a few examples:

  • Spending less on restaurant meals so that you can buy fancy ingredients for your home-cooking adventures
  • Making more purchases at local businesses to support your local economy
  • Reducing your spending on entertainment so that you can save up for travel
  • Spending more on gifts and experiences with friends 
  • Spending less on yourself so that you can donate more to charity

Intentional vs. Mindless Spending

Mindless spending is that automatic spending that many of us practice from time to time. The impulse purchases at the mall, the splurges at the grocery store, the unplanned Amazon orders — you know the drill. Intentional spending is mindful, thoughtful spending that involves being purposeful with what you use your money for. 

How To Practice Intentional Spending

Intentional spending is an important part of a healthy money mindset. Here are some ideas for how to practice intentional spending in your day-to-day life. 

Identify Your Values and Goals — As They Relate to Money

What are your values in life, and how might they relate to your spending decisions? What goals are you aiming for, and how is progress towards those goals tied in with your day-to-day spending?

Perhaps you’re passionate about supporting local businesses. In this case, it might be important to you to prioritize buying local — even if that means paying higher prices. 

Maybe it’s important to you to support charitable causes or your church. With this mindset, you might choose to spend less so that you can donate more money. Or maybe family is your biggest value. This might cause you to prioritize spending on experiences and purchases that can bring your family closer together — no matter the cost. 

Align Your Spending With Your Values

Whatever your values are, think about how they can relate to money and your everyday spending decisions. Then, think about ways that you can align your values with your spending. 

This can look very different for different people. It might mean putting extra effort into saving money so that you can travel or retire early. Or, it might mean spending more money on nutritious food and a gym membership so that you can be as healthy as possible. Remember, intentional spending isn’t necessarily about spending less money. It’s simply about spending with intention. 

Track Your Spending

Tracking your expenses is a good way to ensure you’re actively practicing intentional spending. To do this, you can use a budget app like Mint or YNAB, or you can track spending manually. Once you’ve tracked everything for a month or two, take some time to review your spending. Does your spending align with your values, goals, and priorities? If not, it might be time to make some adjustments. 

Utilize the 30 Day Rule

If you’re new to intentional spending, utilizing the 30 day rule can be very useful. With the 30 day rule, you simply pause for 30 days before making any unplanned purchases. If you still want the item or service after 30 days, you move forward with buying it. If 30 days seems extreme, simply pausing for 24 hours can also help. 

How Intentional Spending Can Benefit Your Finances

Put simply, intentional spending can help you make progress towards your goals — whatever those goals might be. We all have different intentions and goals in life, which means that intentional spending can look different for each of us.  The benefits of spending with intention could be:

Intentional Spending Is Just One Approach to Improving Your Finances

Spending with intention is a great way to improve your spending habits and make progress toward your goals. But it’s far from the only method to consider.

Whether you’re working towards becoming debt-free, taking steps to improve your credit score, or attempting to start budgeting, the key is to make consistent progress towards your goals. Whatever your goals may be, approaching them with intention is a great place to start.