Savings What’s Your Spending Profile? Find Out and Grow Your Savings.

by Rebecca Lake | April 10, 2023

If you’ve ever tried to finally get organized, or to become more of a morning person, you know the first step is figuring out why you avoid putting papers away or getting to bed at a decent hour. Changing spending habits is similar — it helps to understand why they started in the first place.

Their origin can vary, according to Sarah Newcomb, a behavioral scientist and author of “Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to get Ahead Without Leaving Your Values Behind.” “Some things related to money management are part of our personality,” she says. “Others are inherited or absorbed from our surroundings as we grow up — and the same circumstances can produce very different results, depending on the person.”

Which is to say, each person’s perspective on money has been shaped by a unique mix of factors including family attitudes, peer influence, individual experiences, historical forces and our own always-evolving approach to decision making. If you want to improve your spending habits, it’s useful to think about the influences guiding your financial decisions, Newcomb suggests.

“The why is often just as important as the what.”

Each of us can identify with a particular spending profile, she believes, and once you determine what yours is, you’re better equipped to improve your money habits. Read on to find the one that suits you best — and the advice that fits your financial personality.

Selfless spender

Defined by: A tendency to spend generously on others.

What it means for your money: Spreading the financial love is noble, but it may leave you stretched thin when it comes to your savings.

If you're a selfless spender, try to: give more time and less money. If being generous is your goal, consider helping your friends and family by babysitting for free or running errands instead. Give yourself spending limits for gifts. (And nobody has to know something was on sale; the thought, not the price tag, is what counts.)

man with beard being kissed on cheek

Status spender

Defined by: Spending driven by a desire to keep up with the latest trends.

What it means for your money: The focus on right now can potentially leave you unprepared for emergencies or longer-term goals such as retirement. 

If you're a status spender, try to: institute a 48-hour rule before you buy. Delaying gratification gives you a cooling-off period to ensure this isn’t an impulsive purchase you don’t actually need. Take inventory as well. Look around at the objects in your home, paying special attention to pricey or status-driven purchases, and ask yourself whether you still use each. Recognizing the amount you’ve accumulated may help you curb the tendency in the future.

Spontaneous spender

Defined by: Buying smaller items you don’t necessarily need, on impulse.

What it means for your money: Small purchases can add up to one big shortfall in your savings plan.

If you're a spontaneous spender, try to: Keep a financial diary. Each evening (or as regularly as you can), write down everything you bought that day; it’s a simple act of accountability that can make you more mindful when shopping.

Free spirit spender

Defined by: A hands-off approach to money management (i.e. no budgeting or number-crunching).

What it means for your money: It’s tough to save when it’s unclear how much money is coming in and going out each month.

If you're a free spirit, try to: do one thing — big or small — to improve your finances each week. Create a budget, shop around for a better deal on your car insurance, pay an extra $10 to your credit card debt or round up your loose change and put it into savings. And consider letting an app do the saving for you. Some digital tools will link your checking account to enable no-fuss automatic savings deposits; this may help give you freedom to be a guilt-free spirit spender with some “fun” money left over.

A woman gazes at items in a shop window.

Planned spender

Defined by: A watertight budget, with savings included.

What it means for your money: You’re saving regularly but may not be taking time out to enjoy the benefits of your efforts.

If you're a planned spender, try to: Add a line item to your budget for fun. Give yourself some money every week or month to spend on whatever you want. (If you don’t ever feel like you enjoy your money, you may sour on the idea of saving.) Make sure you’re reserving funds for wants, and not only needs, too — think annual vacation or new electronics, and not just emergencies and retirement.

Now, help your new habits stick

Uncovering your spending personality is the easy part. Altering your habits is more involved, so don’t be discouraged if you face some setbacks or if your self-improvement journey takes a while. “There’s a lot of research that shows humans don’t like to change,” says Stacy Mastrolia, an associate professor of accounting at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. “We are creatures of habit — even habits that we acknowledge are not in our best interests,” she says.

One thing to keep in mind is timing. People often are motivated to shift financial habits when a big positive or negative life change happens, Mastrolia says, so if you’re expecting a child or moving into a new home, for instance, your odds of success in changing your spending style are good.

Beyond that, it takes a deliberate approach to retrain your brain. “If you want to become a better saver, you need to make saving feel great,” Newcomb says. Think about what motivates you and use that as a reward to maintain your savings momentum.


— With additional reporting from Geoff Williams and the Life and Money editors

If you want to become a better saver, you need to make saving feel great
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Rebecca Lake

has never met a budgeting spreadsheet she didn't like. Her work has appeared online at U.S. News & World Report, The Balance and Investopedia.