Mindful Spending: Strategies for Resisting Impulse Buying
Spending money mindlessly is easy to do — not to mention fun! Between one-click purchases, instant downloads of new movies and music, quick stops for something to eat, and impulse purchases in stores, it’s entirely possible to spend an entire paycheck in a day without even realizing.
But just because it’s easy to spend money without thinking doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to it. The following mindful spending strategies can help you resist impulse buys long enough to help you remember what you truly value.
Thinking in Terms of Hours
While money is replaceable, time can only be spent, not earned. That’s why it’s helpful to start thinking of prices in terms of hours, rather than dollars. Remembering that you’ve already traded your time for the money you plan to spend on whatever has caught your fancy can be enough to help you keep your cash in your wallet. Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez popularized this strategy in their book “Your Money or Your Life”, where they make the case that your time is literally money, since you trade your time away in order to get money. When you calculate costs in hours spent, you determine the amount of money you net per hour, and compare that number to the cost of goods and services to buy. With your calculation in hand, you have a better sense of how much time any one purchase costs you.
To put this strategy into action, start with your monthly income. Check your pay stubs to see how much you make per month. Multiply your monthly net income by 12 to get your annual income, then divide it by 2,000 (the typical number of hours worked in a year) to get your hourly wage. For example, if your monthly income is $3,100, your hourly wage would be around $18.60. Having that number in your head can re-contextualize prices, and help you determine if a purchase is worth the time it would take to earn the money.
Asking Thoughtful Questions
Eating and shopping can both feel very good in the moment, to the point where you ignore any signals that tell you that you’ve had enough. Like eating, we often spend money because we want to change our emotional state. To combat this, it’s important to check in with yourself and understand why you’re consuming. To do this, get several blank index cards and place them where you’ll see them anytime you might spend money. On each card, write thoughtful questions for yourself, such as:
- Why do I want to buy this?
- What problem do I expect this purchase to solve?
- How do I expect to feel after making this purchase?
- How long do I expect to own this item/use this service?
- Do I already own something similar?
- Can I recreate the feeling of buying this without spending money?
- Can I recreate the feeling of buying this by spending less money?
By asking yourself these questions before making a purchase, you can better understand your motivations and determine if the purchase aligns with your values and needs.
Creating a Purchase Wish List
Waiting before making any purchases is a classic personal finance tip, but it can be difficult to resist the urge to buy something immediately. One method to calm the impulse to buy is to keep a purchase wish list. When you find something you want to buy, quickly write down the details, including what it is, where and when you found it, and how much it costs. Set a date in the future, anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days, to revisit the list and decide if you still want to make the purchase. This allows you to acknowledge your desire for the item without immediately giving in to the impulse.
By creating a purchase wish list and giving yourself time to consider the purchase, you can spend less on impulse buys and make more intentional spending decisions that truly enrich your life.
Pausing Between Desire and Purchase
Parting with money is incredibly easy, especially in our cashless society. To resist the urge to spend, it’s important to recognize the time cost of purchases, ask yourself why you’re buying, and honor your impulses by creating a purchase wish list. By incorporating mindful spending strategies into your life, you can develop a healthier relationship with money and make sure your spending aligns with your values and goals.