How to Win the Battle Over Temptation

How to Win the Battle Over Temptation
Mary Hunt offers advice for how to overcome the shopping temptations that do us more harm than good. (My Agency/Shutterstock)

If you’ve ever stopped by the store to pick up milk and walked out with a week’s worth of snacks to go with it, you know something about the power of temptation.

Experts say adults are, on average, exposed to 3,500 commercial ads per person per day. These hidden persuaders are designed to manipulate our behaviors. With consumer debt at an all-time high, it would appear that as a nation of consumers, we’ve been losing a lot of battles with temptation.

But it is possible to learn how to face down temptation and win.

Identify the Weakness

Fess up. What are your areas of temptation? Clothes, shoes, collectibles? Movies, food, gadgets? Electronics, crafts, plants? Figure it out, name it, claim it.

Stop Flirting With Danger

If you’re ever going to win over temptation, you must stop cozying up to the very thing that causes you to stumble. If you are easily tempted by clothes, don’t spend hours cruising the mall. In fact, don’t even go there unless you have a specific need and a reasonable plan to fulfill it.

Don’t Open Mail-Order Catalogs

Even as many print publications have switched to digital, they’re still out. I know. I get them! And I take them to the garbage and push them way down to the bottom to head off a middle-of-the-night retrieval.

Develop a Diversion

Temptation is usually fueled by emotion, rarely by reason. It comes and goes depending on our moods and thoughts and can come quite unexpectedly. When it whispers in your ear, divert your attention to something equally enjoyable but less injurious to your financial health. For me, it’s ironing. You might be more drawn to a book or crossword puzzle. Or a nap.

Identify True Needs

Here’s the difference between a need and a temptation: Needs are never realized while standing in the aisle of a store, flipping through the pages of a catalog, surfing eBay, or watching the Home Shopping Network. Those sudden desires are temptations. You, not retailers or advertisers, should set your own agenda. And if you don’t have a need, don’t go shopping. You'll only set yourself up for a fall.

Assess the True Cost

When you spend compulsively, you’re doing more than giving into temptation. If you’re paying with credit that you cannot repay fully in the month you make the purchase, you’re building debt. That $30 item is going to cost you more like $60 or $75 by the time you finally pay for it depending on your interest rate. If you pay with cash, you’re also giving up the opportunity to put that money to work for you for the rest of your life. The money you spend plus the foregone interest earnings—the opportunity cost—represents the real cost of spending.

Seek Accountability

It takes a great deal of courage and character to be accountable to another person for your actions and behaviors, but it’s one of the best ways to win over temptation. Make a pact with your spouse or a friend. Set an amount above that you will not spend without first discussing it. Set boundaries and then ask for help to stay within them.

Winning the battle over temptation is as rewarding as it is difficult. It takes commitment, tenacity, and for some a great steam iron.

Dear Readers: We would love to hear from you. What topics would you like to read about? Please send your feedback and tips to [email protected].
Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” COPYRIGHT 2022 CREATORS.COM
Related Topics