Who needs willpower!? How gratitude helps you spend less money


Do you ever think “If I just had more willpower, than I could…”? Fill in the blank here.

From dieting to spending less money, making changes that require us to hold back and use our willpower is difficult.

Research has shown using willpower for self-control often fails when people are attempting to make changes in their lives.

So, if willpower doesn’t work, what does?

Believe it or not, a gratitude habit will help you make changes and stick to your long-term goals better than willpower ever will.

One study showed that having a daily gratitude habit actually contributes to people’s feelings of well-being, which leads to a huge decrease in impatience, thus positively affecting financial and health decisions.

At the heart of the matter is our difficulty with controlling our desire for immediate gratification. Take dieting for instance. When you have those cookies sitting in your kitchen and your feel that desire to have one, it’s so hard to just leave them sit there and walk away. We want one right now! So we tell ourselves, “Just this one now, and I won’t have one later” or “Once their gone, I won’t have the temptation sitting there” (Hello, I’m guilty!).

It’s the same thing with spending money. You see that new shiny thing, you almost feel like it’s yours already, like the decision has been made for you. And that burning desire is tough to override. You want the new, shiny thing today, right now.

Change the Desires

Rather than grappling with your desire for immediate gratification, it’s infinitely easier to change the desires themselves. That is where gratitude comes in.

Gratitude helps us change our desires, suppressing the need for immediate gratification.

Simply feeling happy has not been shown to have the same effects. But an ongoing habit of gratitude can change everything.

Be grateful, spend less. This is gold to those of us trying to cut back on spending (or eating!).

If this really works, how do you cultivate a gratitude habit to help control spending? (Not to mention the myriad of other benefits gratitude can provide.)

How to develop a gratitude habit

Start with this video

Watch the whole thing. Trust me, you need to stick around to hear the child and elderly man speak (3:48). Gratefulness will be spilling from your pores after watching this, so watch it now. I’ll wait. It’s important stuff.

Recognize how fortunate you are

We all have problems that get us down from time to time, but the conveniences and opportunities we enjoy each day are things most people in the world never experience. Compare your situation to the world’s population here. You may be surprised at the results.

Laurie from The Frugal Farmer recently reminded us of how fortunate we are by sharing stories from those who lived through the Great Depression.

For a daily gratitude reminder, hang this on your refrigerator:


Start a daily gratitude habit

Use a gratitude journal to jot down three things you are grateful for each day (make it a habit by doing it at the same time each day – like when you brush your teeth). Your journal can be whatever you want it to be. Just write down three things, or expand on your day and why you are grateful. Do whatever feels right to you at the time; the most important step is to do it each day.

Start a tradition of gratitude with your friends and family. Go around the table at dinner and have each person say what they are grateful for that day. Send a text or email to a friend each day stating your gratitude. Share what you are grateful for with your kids or partner each night at bedtime.

Be grateful for the people in your life. Pick one or two people each day and let them know how much you appreciate them, either by telling them, calling them, or writing them a note.

Be kind each day. Say “please” and “thank you”, hold the door for others, and smile. This not only helps you feel good, but acknowledging others brings about mindfulness and strengthens relationships. Being kind also attracts other positive people into your life, thus spreading the gratefulness!

Use positive words. Positive words help you focus on the good in your life and limit negative thoughts and feelings. When you speak about the good, you are more likely to feel it (and so will others).

Try this: Vow not to complain for a day, or even a week. You may find this to be harder than you thought and you may not be able to completely stop it altogether (but here are some tips). When you catch yourself starting to complain, turn it around and figure out how you can be grateful for whatever it is you were going to complain about.

Ty over at Get Rich Quickish reminded us “How you spend your days is how you spend your life” and to find the joy in each and every day.

Surround yourself with grateful people

People who are grateful and happy in their own lives have a way of spreading their energy. If you are bombarded with negativity from your friends that happen to be unhappy in their own life, it’s going to bring you down too. Try to limit or distance yourself from the negative people in your life and instead choose to spend more time with people who focus on abundance. There is enough good in the world to go around.

Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses

Trying to constantly keep up with the Joneses is unproductive, but also breeds negativity and ungratefulness. Comparing yourself to others only brings you down. Focus on what you have, not what others have.

If you are trying to improve yourself or your situation, set your goals and do 10% better than you did yesterday, last week or last year, not better than someone else.

Deal with the hard times

When you find yourself in a bad situation, ask yourself what there is to learn from it. Most times, there is a lesson to be learned, though it may not always be apparent.

Ask: When I look back on this, what will I be grateful for? Expressing your gratitude during the hard times helps you tolerate and overcome hardships more easily.

Life is not always great and we cannot expect it to be. I love the Buddhist theory of 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. The tough times will come, but they will also pass.

Get involved in a cause

There’s no better way to experience gratitude than to help those that are struggling in their own lives. Find a cause you are passionate about and help out on a regular basis.

Appreciate the simple things

There is beauty and goodness all around us, every single day. Simple things can bring the greatest pleasure – listen and look for them. A bird singing, a child laughing, the color and shape of the clouds, the warmth of the sun, a hot cup of tea and so much more.

Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky…The formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same that is right now. Open your eyes. Look at that.” – Louie Schwartzberg | TEDxSF

Want to spend less money and completely transform your life? Develop a habit of gratitude.

What do you do to express gratitude? Do you find you spend less when you are feeling grateful? Do you have any tips for developing a habit of gratitude?


33 thoughts on “Who needs willpower!? How gratitude helps you spend less money

  1. Awesome post, Amanda! Gratitude has absolutely been the catalyst for us not spending. It’s hard to want to spend money when you realize how much you already have. Gratitude is very humbling, but in a good way. It helps you to think about how blessed you already are and the stuff you thought you were missing suddenly seems unimportant. Thanks for the link up too, Amanda!

    1. Thanks, Laurie! I’m glad gratitude has helped you so much! I really do think gratitude helps to change our desires and bring focus to what’s truly important. Sometimes I get distracted, but gratitude brings me back! Oh, and I loved your post on the depression quotes – the perfect reminder to be grateful!

  2. I love this. It is easy to forget how fortunate some of us are. It’s great to have a reminder!

    1. Thanks, Holly! It is very easy to forget how fortunate we are. Having a reminder each day, in one way or another, is very helpful.

  3. I think gratitude is an important skill to cultivate, both for myself and my child. We are darn lucky! And yeah, if you can appreciate the things you do have, it makes it a lot less likely that you’ll crave new things/experiences. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. I try really hard to help my kids develop their gratitude. As teens, they have their “moments” that make me feel like I’ve failed, but then they go and prove me wrong over and over again. I try to lead by example and have discussions as much as possible…

  4. Wow – this is just beautiful, Amanda. I’m such a big believer in all these things. We all have so much to be grateful for — life is definitely richer when you remind yourself. And positivity is contagious – as is negativity. I have some friends who like to wallow in our struggles. Everyone feels that way sometimes, but I can’t indulge in those emotions for too long. I’m really seeing lately how being around others who do too this often can really sour your outlook. I avoid it. I love your comment about “going around the table.” We have many children in our family and this is always my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner – hearing what they are grateful for, especially year after year as they grow. What a great idea to do it during ordinary dinners once in a while. I really love that…

    1. Awww, thanks Linda! I was really excited to finally publish this post. Several years ago, I had to let go of a couple of friendships that were just bringing too much negativity into my life. And, I went on a news diet – too much negativity in the news (I know enough of what’s going on in the world, I just don’t make it a daily habit to watch/read the negative headlines).

      My kids always feel a little awkward when we do the “go around the table” thing, so they just say something silly sometimes. But, they get to hear what the adults in their life are grateful for and I believe this is helpful.

  5. This is a very interesting concept! It makes perfect sense for consumers to spend less if they are thoroughly happy with what they already have. So it turns out gratitude isn’t only great for the soul, it also does wonders for your wallet! Thanks for sharing…

    1. I’ve seen it in my own life. I just don’t “desire” the new, shiny things anymore (though I do love experiences!).

  6. I knew that gratitude was important, but I did not realized it was linked with a huge decrease in impatience. That is very interesting.

    Gratitude is something that I have been working on a lot lately. Every few weeks I will try a complaint-free day. They are not easy, but nothing brings to light how often you complain (usually about things that don’t matter) like noticing each time you do it. It really helps build in a mindset shift.

    1. Thanks, Matt! I’ve done the same with complaining, Matt. It’s not easy, but once you start to take notice and catch yourself doing it, it becomes less frequent (not non-existent, though!).

  7. I’ve been waiting for this post ever since you shared that video with me!

    This is such a great post! If I could just be grateful for what I have, rather than constantly trying to chase what I don’t have (like more money, or FIRE, or a new car, house, vacation, or whatever), then I know that I’d be sooo much happier and content. But that’s easier said than done. I think we all struggle with it.

    I love the little girl’s take on live. About getting away from the TV and exploring the world around you and letting your curiosity take over and lead you to beautiful things. Great advice little girl!

    and thanks for the link, Amanda. I’m grateful for it 🙂

    1. Thanks, Ty! Yeah, the post has been in the making for a while…glad it finally got published! And your post was a great inspiration to move on it. Happy to share!

      It’s interesting that you mention FIRE as one of the things you are after, but don’t have. If I covet anything, it’s definitely FIRE. I’m happy and grateful in day to day life, but I don’t feel like I am getting to FI fast enough! I’m glad you brought that up, as it is something I need to work on!

      The little girl is so wise, isn’t she!?

  8. Love the powerful and positive post, Amanda. It’s so important to have a positive and grateful attitude throughout life, my unscientific approach would eating it to add 5 to 10 years to your life 🙂 how about that for another reason!

    I think it’s a great idea to print and post the sign on my fridge for a daily reminder. And I’m sure having that positively enforced message for my growing boy will help build good habits and a truly optimistic, grateful, and empathetic outlook on life.

    Thanks for the wonderful post!

    1. Thanks a bunch, GS! Gratitude can positively affect our lives in so many different ways! I have the poster hanging on my fridge, which is the perfect place to remind everyone in the family how fortunate we really are.

  9. Really great post! I don’t think I go into my day with a mindset of gratitude often enough. I think I definitely would have a whole different approach to my day if I was more intentional about going into it with a gratitude mindset.

    1. Thanks, DC! I’ve started my day with the video in the post a few times and, wow, did that ever get the gratitude flowing! It’s a great way to start out.

  10. Beautiful post Amanda. Ironically I was already feeling grateful today, taking pleasure in the small achievements and joys for the day – the sun is shining, windows open, simple sounds of the birds and the breeze.

    At some very hard times in my life I have had to really force myself to find the smallest of joys in the smallest of places each and everyday. Our infertility has brought me those hard times more than once, thankfully I’m in a pretty good place with it for now – but it can always change. I definitely believe we’ve learned and grown huge amounts through our sorrow and struggle.

    Thanks for sharing the video, will have to get Tristan to watch it 🙂


    1. Thanks, Jasmin! So great that you had such a wonderful start to your day. I woke up early this morning and listened for a time to the birds singing – the sun isn’t up yet, but I’ll certainly enjoy the sunrise as well. What a perfect way to start the day!

      During the hard times, it can be difficult find a reason to be grateful. Like you said, I think one has to almost force the appreciation of the small joys during those low times. Going through tough times with a partner, though it is tough, can lead to a deeper relationship as well as individual growth. Thanks for sharing your joys and sorrows, Jasmin.

  11. ‘People who are grateful and happy in their own lives have a way of spreading their energy. If you are bombarded with negativity from your friends that happen to be unhappy in their own life, it’s going to bring you down too.’

    ^^ this!! I love. It’s so true. Surrounding yourself with happy, like-minded people is incredibly important because it has such a huge difference in your mindset. My husband has a toxic ‘friend’ that he works with and I always know when he’s seen him because he’s so down in the dumps.

    1. Yes, Francesca! I’ve found it to be so true in my own life. It’s amazing how that energy (negative or positive) can really spread and affect us.

      One of the reasons I absolutely love the personal finance blogging community is the positive comments and continual support of one another!

  12. I like your idea of vowing not to complain for a week. I did something similar several years ago: I vowed not to gossip. It was amazing what surfaced when I refused to get caught up in gossip. I found that gossip was like any other kind of self-medicating bad habit (like eating, drinking or watching too much TV) – it distracts you from dealing with what you actually can effectively handle. I believe the same is true of complaining – another form of self-medication that accomplishes nothing. Sincere gratitude (not the sugary kind) does great things!

    1. Thanks, Ruth! Gossip is a great thing to cut back on too! It is truly distracting and, often, negative as well. Both gossip and complaining are completely unproductive and pointless. Yet, most of us do more of both than we are consciously aware; becoming mindful and noticing when it happens can go a long way toward cutting back.

  13. The infographic is so true, if we live in a developed world, we hit the jackpot! No matter how bad our lives are in the present, we need to be thankful. Your post comes at a great time cause I haven’t been feeling the best lately and know that it was going to pass with time and this was just the kick I needed to get over it faster!

    1. We all have our days when we just aren’t feeling grateful. Sometimes we just need a little reminder to help us out of that feeling. A long walk does wonders for me when I’m feeling that way. I’m glad this helped you, FS!

  14. This is great stuff! Its easy for our happiness to settle out regardless of how great we have it. Instead of spending money to try and make ourselves happier its cheaper and more effective to just be grateful and stay positive. And the happiness from something like sharing a smile spreads fast 🙂

    1. Thanks, Mr. CK! YES! Spending doesn’t lead to happiness at all. I love to smile at people and get those smiles right back (and I always wonder what must be going on in the lives of those who don’t!). 🙂

  15. I can definitely see where being grateful will play into getting through the Keeping Up With the Jones disease. If you start with your heart and evaluate what you want and why you want it, the answers may surprise you and you end up realizing how meaningless those temporary wants are.

    1. Exactly, Latoya! I love how you put that…start with your heart. Recognizing what’s really, truly important starts with taking a good, hard look at what’s in our heart.

  16. I have heard that several times how people who give routinely to charities or church are normally more financially responsible than those that do not. Even if they have 10% less income because that’s what was donated.

    Gratitude comes in many forms as you mentioned. My biggest challenge is being unselfish, although my 15-month old daughter has helped with that a little bit.

  17. Yeah, I like this one. Trying to develop a gratitude habit myself. I’ve read a lot of self-help/self-improvement books and they always say that you get what you think about. Be grateful for the blessings you receive, and then you’ll receive more.

    1. Gratitude is so important in so many ways, but also easy to forget in the busyness of our daily lives. Developing it as a habit is really helpful in this respect.

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