Which is more important in your life?
a.) A shopping list of things to buy, or
b.) A bucket list of things to do?
When asked this question most people would say that experiences, rather than things, were more important in their lives.
We all unintentionally buy things from time to time that we don't really need and spend money that we don't really have. It's ok to give in to your wants every once in a while, but when the money and energy spent shopping on things that we don't really need starts to have a negative impact, preventing us from being able to have those life experiences that contribute to our long-term happiness, we need to rethink our purchases.
If you want to reduce clutter and debt, impulse buys and buyers remorse, here are some tips to help rethink our spending habits.
How much does it really cost?
"The price of anything is the amount of life that you exchange for it."
~ Henry David Thoreau.
Too often when we buy something, we only look at the price tag, but this is rarely the full cost.
Every Little Thing that we bring into our lives has more than a financial cost. It also takes up our space, time, energy and focus.
Do some quick maths as a reality check - a simple division or multiplication to see how much of your time and effort is taken up by a potential purchase. The thought that it took you 3 hours to pay for a top that you'll probably hardly wear may make you rethink its importance.
If you're trying to keep better control of your spending - don't use credit cards. Spending with cash feels more like you are spending real money that requires your real-time, hard work and effort to earn.
Create your own habits and rules
Challenge yourself to reduce spending on unnecessary items.
Play the waiting game.
When you're tempted to buy something on a whim, wait at least 20 minutes before taking it to the till. Instead, of thinking just about whether to have it or not, think about how and why you'll actually use it, where it will live, and its real cost. Try and think of at least 5 legitimate reasons why you need it now. I'll often frustrate my family and friends who I'm shopping with by picking things up and wandering around the shop with them, only to then put them down and leave with nothing.
What else is more important than that item? The freedom of having less debt or a more significant purchase or experience that you need to save for? Every time you want to spend unplanned, think of taking money away from that goal.
Try adding items that you want to a 'Wish List' for a couple of weeks. If after that time you feel that the purchase is still needed, necessary for your happiness or health, and you can afford it, Go and get it. If you no longer feel that 'I need it' urge, cross it off your list.
If you really feel that you can't leave the store without it - try taking a photo of it on your phone so that you can look back at it and add it to your wish list. It will help you to walk away without entirely leaving it behind.
Buy only what you need now.
Part of what makes shopping so appealing is the mental escape that comes with imagining how an item can be used to change your life. But most homes are cluttered with unused items purchased for imagined situations that have never happened. Don't let your imagination divert attention from the cost and the practicality, or from reality.
Before making a purchase, ask yourself if you'll be using or wearing it now or in the near future. If the answer is no, or not likely - leave it. Use what you have and when it's gone, or nearly gone, replace it.
If you do enjoy shopping splurges - plan them. You won't feel as bad if you have already budgeted the money that you are going to spend on impulse items. Also, remember that it's ok not to buy anything. You may have the money and time ready to spend, and it can feel wasted if you don't go home with anything, but buying things you don't need only creates more waste.
By creating shopping habit and rules, you will break the cycle of impulse buying in the short term and hopefully develop better habits for the long term.
Create awareness and focus on abundance
It's not uncommon for people to buy new things because they have so much that they can't see what they already own. If you create awareness by reconnecting with what you already have, your buying compulsions are less likely to come out. For example, before you go shopping for new shoes, get out all of your shoes. Organise them into types and colours and make a mental (or physical) note.
The same organising exercise works for almost anything - clothes, cosmetics, toys, stationery - and done regularly can lessen the desire to buy more.
As you get more used to thinking about what you have, rather than what you haven't, you will begin to change your habits and question whether something is genuinely needed before you buy.
Be grateful for what you have in your life - not just for possessions, but also for people, places and simple pleasures - it's good for you! Gratitude is also a proven antidote to impulse buying because it creates a sense of abundance. When you are feeling this way, you are less likely to subconsciously try to fill emotional holes by treating yourself with gifts or accumulating more stuff.
Be yourself and do more of what makes you happy.
"Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like."
~ Will Rogers
It's a vicious circle where unhappiness, stress and anxiety can cause us to shop unintentionally.
But buying things we don't need can lead to more stress and debt, and in the long-term, create less happiness, not more.
We care too much about what other people think and what the current trend is. "If I buy this, it will make me be more like [insert name]". Looking through magazines, watching movies or TV there are always perfected images that you want to imitate, but nothing to you can buy will ever make you that person. And you shouldn't make it your goal to be someone else anyway!
Think about the things that make YOU truly happy and spend more of your time and money on them.
Just because other people are buying things to create a particular lifestyle for themselves doesn't mean that you need to as well. Take yourself out of the competition, you'll never win - there will always be more, bigger, better, flashier and faster.
Ask yourself if the desired item is needed and necessary for your happiness and contributes to your life goals. Can you make lifestyle changes instead of placing the importance on the things that you buy?
Do you ever go to the supermarket for a few essentials and then half an hour later end up with armfuls of 'stuff' that you suddenly realised that you couldn't live without?
Plan ahead. Always make a shopping list before you hit the shops. A lot of clutter is created from buying things on impulse. Things that when you arrive home you realise that are not right, don't fit, are the wrong colour, you don't really need and you never get round to returning.
If you can't trust yourself to buy only the things you need while looking around the shops - shop online. This also makes it easier to find the best prices and give you more information and time to think and plan. If certain shops, products, brands or sales always seem to trigger unnecessary purchases - try and avoid them wherever possible.
Try not to get seduced by sales - something is only a bargain if you need and were genuinely prepared to pay full price.
Hearing about offers puts you in a position of considering purchases you might not otherwise have noticed. Unsubscribe from any email subscriptions, newsletters and catalogues from retailers. Forget the idea that they save you money. If you're trying to reduce your spending, you're better off not receiving them at all.
Understand your motivation, weaknesses and triggers
Research has shown that we can think we're hungry when we're actually thirsty, think we're tired when were actually bored and so on. In other words, we're pretty good at identifying when we need something, just not so good at identifying precisely what it is we need. The concept translates directly to shopping and buying. People often buy things to fill a variety of other physiological needs.
Advertisements are no longer based on communicating facts about a product. Instead, they promise that buying this something new will transform your life, make you happier, a better person, healthier, more beautiful, more fulfilled...etc.
Retail therapy makes us think that we can fix our emotions. Our shopping habits can sometimes be used as a form of escape from pain or emotion, or to fill a hole. Are you more likely to impulse buy when you feel certain emotions? When you are feeling tired or stressed? Are you buying too many toys for your children because of a feeling of guilt that you are work too hard and think that you aren't able to give them enough of your time and attention, or buying decorative items for your disorganised home to try and make it feel calmer?
Are you confusing wants with needs to try and balance the areas of your life that you are the least content with?
Switch your habits - try going for a walk or meeting friends instead of shopping to make you feel better and create a distraction.
To buy less don't confuse the real reasons for your shopping. The tips above about practising gratitude and waiting for a specified time period should help to boost your awareness of what it is you really need.
Do you find yourself buying things that you don't need?
What are the reasons that you give yourself, and how do you hope to avoid these in future?