So, you’re ready to stop buying things you don’t need. Fantastic! Easy right? Ha! You and I both know that’s not true. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this.
Now, I don’t proclaim to be a minimalist in any way. I’m also not one would consider a shopaholic. I like to believe that I, generally, stick to buying what I need. My main weakness though…SKINCARE and MAKEUP. Healthy, glowing, clear skin has been an absolute obsession of mine since I was a teenager. When I see any new product touting to be the next radiant, glowy, smoothing whatever…my eyes light up like a kid in a candy store, my body fills with excitement, and this primal sense of desire is unleashed.
My biggest goal at the time (and still is) was to pay off my huge student loan. But with COVID and layoffs, how long would I have my job for? The future seemed so uncertain and seeing how much money I was spending on beauty products, my bathroom cabinets overflowing with things I hadn’t touched in months, made me feel awful.
Enough was enough. The guilt and shame were real. I knew I had to start exercising more self-control and figure out how to stop buying things that I didn’t need.
It only took a pandemic to put things into perspective.
So, here are the tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way and I hope that you find them helpful on your journey to understanding your buying habits and being more intentional with your purchases.
(As a disclaimer, I’m not a psychologist providing any medical advice. This information is based on my own experiences.)
WHY DO YOU BUY SO MUCH?
The most fundamental step to creating long-lasting change is to first identify your triggers and when you are most vulnerable to give in and spend.
When do you find yourself shelling out that hard-earned cash? Think about social situations, the people in your life, and specific events or holidays throughout the year. Is there a pattern? I’m pretty sure that there is. For me, it’s usually when I see ten YouTubers all talking about the launch of a new miracle cream that will make my skin look like a baby’s bottom.
Once you have identified your pattern, you now have to dig in deep and think about why you have a habit of spending money in those situations.
Money is full of symbolism. Cultivated at a young age, money comes to represent reward, punishment, and power. Do your chores or get all A’s at the end of the semester, your parents give you an allowance or buy you that new video game you’ve been eyeing. As an adult, you do a good job at work and you will be rewarded with praise, a promotion, and a raise. Or, the opposite. If you don’t meet your deadlines, execution is poor, or if somebody doesn’t approve of your behavior, you get written up, demoted, ostracized or even fired.
As the strength of this symbolism grows and is reinforced, so does its effects on our emotions. For those of us who love to shop beyond our basic needs, it’s usually because of some kind of guilt, sadness, stress, anxiety, disappointment, anger, loneliness, or an overall sense of emptiness.
Common Reasons Why You Keeping Spending
To cope with your emotions. This is the obvious one. As just mentioned, feeling angry, sad, bored, stressed, etc. can lead us to do some very impulsive things as a quick fix. For many, shopping provides comfort, relief, and a sense of control of the chaos around us. It represents an escape from all things bringing us down.
To hide your insecurities. Shopping can also be an escape of a different kind. A new pair of heels, a little black dress, a $100 bottle of perfume…ladies, you know what I’m talking about.
Sometimes, we go into a store as one person and come out completely different. We are somehow transformed into mythical creatures and superheroes. We feel younger, thinner, prettier, sexier. When we aren’t feeling the best about ourselves, we simply pop into the store, find a beautiful piece of clothing and we instantly feel more confident, more powerful, and more successful.
Somehow, our strength is determined by that one item (probably more than one) that we just purchased.
To impress others. If you don’t care what other people think of you and you have absolutely no desire to have others like you, then you’re basically a unicorn. Most of us care…even if it’s just one or two people.
Human beings are not meant to be alone and so our nature is to find ways to create a sense of community. In some circles, this means keeping up with the latest fashion trends, treating people to dinner, buying a round of drinks at the bar, or buying season tickets to the ballet.
Even if you don’t necessarily want to spend the money, you do it because that’s what you believe is expected in order to stay a part of the group. You do it to show that you have the means to do it. It’s peer pressure.
Now, you might be saying, “I never spend money on myself. I only buy things for other people because I’m generous and I want to help. What’s wrong with that?”
Generosity by itself is awesome! Incredible gifts every birthday and holiday…those people are so lucky to have you! However, the situation is usually a little more complicated than that because, oftentimes, we actually don’t have the means to be as generous as we are but we do it anyways out of some subconscious guilt or expectation.
What would a friend a family member think if you said that you couldn’t afford it or that you had other priorities and goals? Honestly, it’s pretty daunting to think about so we usually just stick to the status quo.
It’s all you’ve ever known. Sometimes it’s tricky to uncover the true reason for your spending habits. It could be just what you’re used to based on how you grew up. Whether you came from money or not, regular shopping trips to the mall was the routine. Your parents did it and now that you’re an adult, you do the same thing without much thought.
I challenge you to consider all of these reasons and see if any of them resonate with your situation. Even if you say that you just like shiny new things, there’s a why behind that.
Whatever you’re feeling or hoping to feel, know that constantly buying things is not going to fix it. Spending won’t get people to genuinely like you or respect you. If you are financially strapped, buying things will only make your situation worse and add more stress to your life.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO STOP BUYING THINGS?
After identifying why you tend to overshop, now it’s time to think about why you want to stop. Exploring your why is the deepest form of motivation that will be there as a constant reminder to push you forward and support you if you find yourself falling off the bandwagon. This is not an easy habit to change so it’s crucial to have a clear and meaningful reason for doing it.
For me, it’s all about taking control of my finances. I want to prove to myself that I am in charge and I have the power to manage my money, pay off my debt, save for the future, and spend it intentionally in a way that my husband and I can both enjoy. Giving my hard-earned extra dollars to the government and credit card companies as interest is the absolute worst!
Your why may relate to a desire to improve the environment, to explore minimalism, to improve your sense of self-worth, or to improve your relationships with others. Your reason and your purpose will be completely unique to you. Write it down, keep it close, and remember the bigger picture.
Willpower and self-control do not come naturally to many of us anymore. We have been trained to see, to want, and to cave into all of our cravings. Along with your why, a great tip to think about when you’re standing on the precipice of throwing some random thing in your cart is to consider the value proposition and work towards being more intentional with your spending habits.
Is this going to add value to your life? If so, how?
Is this required for your basic safety and dignity?
How often will you use it?
How likely are you to finish it or wear it until there are holes?
Would you spend money on it even if you lost your job?
Could you live without this purchase for 6 months?
THE POWER OF BELIEF
Motivation, willpower and self control also come from knowing your worth and believing that your situation and habits can change. This type of faith and mindset shift, of course, takes time. It reaches into experiences of your past and your emotions but it’s an important factor of this journey.
You don’t need possessions to give you confidence.
You don’t need to buy or give things to show others what a kind and generous person you are.
Your worth, goals, and beliefs are not dictated by others.
Discover your authentic self, what you want your life to mean, plan for the future, and make sure that whatever you spend your money on benefits one of those three things.
Dig through your closet. Search through all of your cupboards and drawers. What do you actually have? How many of the same things do you have? Taking inventory of all of your possessions gives you some perspective into your spending habits and what you may or not actually need.
If you find yourself saying, “I don’t have anything to wear,” take a good look. Most likely, that’s not true. You probably already have enough clothes for at least a week and an outfit for every occasion.
Me, I’m a back-ups gal. So, if you’re like me and notice a drawer full of duplicate products (because they were on sale or maybe because you think they’ll get discontinued), don’t replace it until you’ve actually used it all up.
Be grateful for everything that you own. Don’t take anything for granted and use what you have. Otherwise, it could end up being a waste of your hard-earned money sitting untouched at the bottom of the drawer.
LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS
Once you have taken stock of your current possessions, another crucial way to gain some perspective is by creating a budget. Most people avoid this step because they are scared to be honest with themselves and see exactly how they are spending their money. I am completely guilty of this. It took me years to find the courage to even just write down my income versus debt ratio.
Budgeting is probably the biggest wake up call in all of this to motivate you to live more within your means. You don’t have to go through some extravagant process of itemizing every single thing that you buy. Just start by writing down how much you spend by category, consider if it’s essential to your basic needs as a human being, and see what percentage of your total income it takes up.
PUT A NUMBER ON IT
To hit this reality home even further, think about it relative to how much you work. Crunch the numbers. How many hours of work does it cost to buy that item? Let’s say you hate your $15/hr job, is that item worth the struggle, stress, and pain or would you rather put it towards continuing education classes that would allow you to qualify for better opportunities?
SET A GOAL
It’s important to set long-term and short-term goals for yourself. This is the most important way to turn this idea into a reality, create a plan of attack, and hold yourself accountable.
Yes, goal setting can be a challenge. I’ve certainly failed a few times. However, the process is not as scary as you might think because you should be focusing on milestones that are realistic and attainable.
If you need some help with that, feel free to check out my post about SMART goals. Only you know your habits, your personality, and what you’re capable of so if you want to stop buying things, it will be up to you to determine if you want to start small by unsubscribing from that monthly subscription box or if you want to go cold turkey and cut off all fun purchases.
ELIMINATE THE TEMPTATION
The phrase, “out of sight out of mind,” is very real. You don’t check your credit card statements, you never know how much debt you owe. You toss out all of the junk food in the house, there’s no way to get your late-night quick fix. The same applies to that desire to keep on buying.
Get rid of as much temptation as you can…whatever you have control over.
The most drastic measure, of course, would be to cut up your credit cards and pay all cash. I’m not going to sit here and push you on that because…well…THAT’S INTENSE. If you are going to be that person and go all in, I seriously applaud you! If you aren’t, there are still ways to eliminate the temptation.
Take 30 minutes out of your day to sift through your email inbox and unsubscribe from all of those marketing emails and each time you get a new one just click that unsubscribe link immediately.
If you have shopping apps on your phone, uninstall them. When you’re not looking at social media, chances are you’re checking out a store’s latest product releases or sales. I would scroll the Sephora app every chance I could get during my downtime. It wasn’t even necessarily a conscious decision. I just opened it out of habit because it was there.
Look at what temptations are around you and bid them farewell.
Now, when you have to buy actual necessities, you’re automatically going to be distracted by shiny things and amazing deals.
In order to avoid these temptations, the first thing to remember is to make a plan and get in and out as quickly as possible. Don’t walk into any other stores that may be next door and avoid doddling around random aisles that don’t actually have what you need.
Personally, grocery shopping can be a fun and extravagant experience for me. I do have a tendency to go overboard because I love trying out new recipes and I get inspired by what I see while perusing the aisles. Now, to make sure that I don’t burn through my entire food budget, I make a list and stick to it. I stay focused. I don’t touch or pick up any items that aren’t on my list because that will tempt me to drop it in my cart. And, of course, the big one that applies to food shopping, is to never go in hungry or thirsty. It always ends up being a recipe for disaster.
If you only need a few things, take a small basket instead of a shopping cart. Seeing a nice empty cart somehow creates the subconscious need to fill it up.
Bring cash instead of a credit or debit card whenever you can. It will help you stick to your list and grab only the items that you need since, after all, you literally wouldn’t have any extra money for the fun stuff.
When in doubt and struggling to avoid the temptation, always go back to your why. I would even suggest creating wallpaper for the lock screen on your phone or taping your financial goal to your wallet for a quick reminder.
DON’T FALL INTO MARKETING TRAPS
Yes, marketing is big business and the minds behind all of those ad campaigns and deals that you see work with years of data and research on human behavior and spending habits. You could say that they probably know you better than you know yourself when it comes to buying. They are master manipulators.
Avoid their tricks as much as you can and don’t give in!
SALES…FREE SHIPPING…LIMITED TIME OFFER….LIMITED QUANTITIES!
Those buzzwords sure stir up some feelings.
Stop and think for a moment. Why are they offering these good deals? Who comes out on top here? Is that actually going to change your life if you spend $100 on it? You’ll be out a precious $100 and it’ll be in the pockets of a multi-million dollar company who probably isn’t giving it to the employees at the store you’re shopping at.
If you love following “trend” setters and salivate at the idea of the hot new item, always remember that trends change. Companies want to keep you on your toes. They work incredibly hard to build up hype. They want you to want the next big thing. Marketing and publicity will never stop. Remember, there will always be a hot new item that’s all the rage.
Monthly subscriptions and memberships are also a marketing ploy that is important to consider. You will inevitably end up accumulating a ton of unnecessary things that you won’t use. But, most importantly, companies are banking on your laziness or forgetfulness to manually “skip” months or to cancel subscriptions that are on auto-renewal.
And, if there is a contract involved, watch out! Gym memberships or subscriptions to online services will reel you in with a deal that sounds like you’re saving money.
PAY THE YEAR IN FULL AND YOUR FIRST MONTH IS FREE!
Sure, but what happens if you don’t actually end up going to the gym and realize 3 months later that you’re just wasting your money?
SORRY, NO REFUNDS. YOU ACCEPTED OUR TERMS & CONDITIONS AND PAID IN FULL.
Be strong. When you see any buzzwords, stop for a moment and think before you buy.
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
I am definitely all for treating oneself. Knowing that rewards come after reaching certain milestones is an amazing motivator to keep going. But, you don’t want to take a thousand steps backwards and just go wild.
In order to get around the desire to pick up anything and everything, make a list and, based on the other tips above about meaning and intention, choose your battles.
Treat yourself to the item that will have the most meaning or value and bring you the most joy.
The new $100 eyeshadow palette or the new $200 winter boots? I’d pick the winter boots. They are much more practical.
PUT IT ON HOLD
To reduce the temptation to make impulsive purchases, trying putting items on hold. Yes, this is nothing revolutionary but it absolutely works!
I do this a lot when I browse online. I can spend about an hour on a website searching for fun new things and I can easily end up with 10 items in my cart. If I bought everything in my cart…well, that would just be entirely excessive and misaligned with my financial goals.
So, what do I do? I add it to a wish list and I leave it for at least 24 hours. 95% of the time, I end up forgetting about it or feel exhausted just thinking about the process of elimination to choose just 1 and I don’t buy anything…no joke.
When in doubt, just put it on hold and see how you feel the next day.
PHONE A FRIEND
When you are truly desperate or worried, turn to a friend or family member. They should have full transparency of your goal and be supportive of your journey. Most importantly, they would hold you accountable and talk you down from making impulsive purchases.
If you need to refill necessities, your shopping buddy should never be that person who always says, “Yeah I love that. That’d be perfect for you. You should get it.” Instead, turn towards the person who will remind you of your mission and give you perspective when you need it.
WHAT CAN YOU DO INSTEAD OF BUYING STUFF?
As with any habit that you are trying to break, finding healthy distractions is often the best way forward.
Spend some time outside exploring nature or find a free activity. Your local community will usually have a great list of things that are easily accessible to you. You may also want to consider a free meetup or free live online streaming events.
Focusing on your physical and mental well-being are also great journeys to embark on while you work on curbing your buying habits. Exercising more, cleaning up your diet, improving your sleep are amazing ways to alleviate the stress that leads to impulsive shopping.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU STOP BUYING STUFF?
When you’re deep in the weeds of finding the power to resist delicious deals, think about how you’re going to feel by the end of all of this and when you reach certain milestones.
You will feel relief.
You will be stronger, more confident, and empowered.
You will know what it means to be successful.
You will know that you are in control of your own destiny.
You will have money for what matters most.
Are you ready for this incredible journey? Leave me a comment.