What is your biggest money challenge?
I’ve been asking this question of my readers for the past month or so and the results are in…
They’re all on the list. In fact, the responses were split evenly between these three financial challenges – not too surprising considering my millennial reader base.
What did surprise me though was that none of these three major monetary struggles took top spot. What did, by a significant margin, was something far simpler, something we all know to do, but struggle to execute – live within our means. i.e. How to stop buying stuff we don’t need.
Overspending, budgeting, impulse buying and the general overconsumption of unnecessary crap was by far and away the most commonly cited financial struggle among my readers.
So today, I’m offering my top tips for addressing it….
If you know you have a tendency to splurge on non-essentials, don’t tempt yourself with window-shopping or trips to the mall for leisure.
Aimless wandering leads to aimless spending. Avoid it by choosing alternate, non-budget-threatening ways to unwind – a walk in the park, a visit to the library, a potluck with friends, etc.
The easiest way to stop yourself from buying stuff you don’t need is to avoid temptation altogether.
If you have to walk across town for an errand, take the residential route rather than the main street lined with cute boutiques.
If you have to make a trip to Target, make a list and stay laser focused on it. Better yet, use your list to search each item online and have it delivered straight to your doorstop, no walking through aisles of temptation or aimless internet browsing.
If and when you must pop into your local Bed, Bath & Beyond, Anthropologie or other store environment, remember that retailers are professional spending seducers.
Every piece of the shopping environment, from layout to lighting is constructed to maximize your spending – that’s why random things you’d never voluntarily put on your shopping list suddenly become so appealing.
Who in their right mind needs a $30 coaster or $60 throw pillow until they see it perfectly positioned in a display at Anthropologie?
Avoid retail seduction by staying mindful of its existence.
Visualize any item you’re tempted to buy in isolation, removed from the intoxicating environment of the store to stay grounded.
Better yet, imagine the item buried in the clearance bin at a thrift store. Would you still want it then?
I donate multiple boxes of books, clothes and other household items throughout the year. The space limitations of my shared one bedroom NYC apartment keeps my accumulation of stuff in check. Even so, I marvel at how much I manage to squeeze into this small space, and when I stop to take stock of it all, it strikes me how little I truly need.
When you have so much, it’s hard to tell what you already have.
Make an assessment of what’s in all those drawers and cabinets and piles of crap shoved into the back corners of your life.
If you pause to inventory and literally make a list of everything you own, your mind will eventually catch up with how wealthy you already are and help you stop buying stuff you don’t need.
If you pause to take inventory of everything you already own, your mind will eventually catch up with how wealthy you already are and help you stop buying stuff you don't need.Click To Tweet
Practice mindfulness and gratitude for everything in your life – experiences, relationships, opportunities, etc.
Taking the time to recognize and say thank you for simple pleasures, from a sunny day to a delicious cup of home brew, can go a long way in creating an abundant mindset, which is a powerful antidote to impulse buys and overspending.
A mindset of gratitude is a powerful antidote to impulse buys and overspending.Click To Tweet
When you feel full with gratitude, you’re less likely to rely on spending as a tool to fill emotional voids. It’s hard to feel empty when you’re in touch with how much you already have.
Speaking of emotions…. does this sound familiar?
It’s easy for emotional justifications to become pervasive and derail your diligent budgeting efforts.
Instead of getting wrapped up in those feelings, stay grounded in the numbers.
Take a moment to detach from whatever you’re feeling and practice gratitude for what you already have, then take a look at your budget and see how the reality of your spending stacks up against your monthly plan.
Stripping away the emotions and distilling decisions down to the black and white of the numbers can save you from a whole lot of spending regret later on.
If your tendency is to overspend, do you really think weekly emails advertising the latest discounts to your favorite stores and travel destinations are working in favor of your smarter spending goals?
Unsubscribe from those newsletters and replace messages of consumption with positive, inspiring alternatives.
Align your inbox with what you want to achieve as much you align your budget with those goals.
You know that feeling you get mid-binge watch of your favorite TV series? The temptation to roll right into the next episode is overwhelming.
If you miraculously manage to tear yourself away from the screen though, you notice how quickly that urge evaporates. Within a matter of hours, you’re consumed by another task entirely.
Remember that feeling the next time you’re facing overwhelming purchase temptation. If you can tear yourself away from that in the moment urge to buy, you may be surprised at how quickly the temptation fades away.
By instituting a 24 hour hold policy on purchases, much of what feels like a must-have in the moment will likely fade away too.
The key is to hold off on pulling the purchase trigger until you’ve had the time and space to make that assessment.
This has always been one of my most sobering and effective strategies to stop buying stuff I don’t need. When I see the cost of an item, I calculate how many hours of work it would take to earn that amount.
This was particularly effective when I was making $10-15 an hour waiting tables, babysitting and other jobs I hated.
Instead of asking, is this pair of jeans worth $100? I’d ask, is this pair of jeans worth an entire shift at my soul sucking restaurant job?
Even now, I frame costs in terms of the time it would take me to earn as much. After all, time is a non-renewable resource.
Imagine having a tiny handheld scale in your pocket while working towards a fitness goal and being able to use it in moments of temptation – when considering a second glass of wine or an oversized piece of chocolate cake maybe.
If you stepped on the scale in that moment of decision and found yourself already teetering on the edge of your target weight, you’d probably have an easier time saying no to the extra indulgence. The scale would keep you accountable to your long-term bikini body goal.
An app that tracks your spending can offer that same kind of accountability for your budget.
In that moment of purchase temptation, you can quickly check-in on your smartphone to assess whether the spending you’re considering is going to bring you closer to or push you further away from what you really want to achieve.
Check out You Need a Budget with a free 34-day trial to take the guess work out of your day to day budgeting and keep you accountable to your big picture goals.
Speaking of big picture goals, that’s what this is all about – making financial decisions in the day-to-day that are in alignment with the big picture lifestyle you want to live.
The problem is it’s easy to lose touch with that big picture when it exists only in your imagination.
To keep the big picture top of mind and make daily spending decisions that align with those goals and priorities, create tangible reminders of what your big picture looks like and strategically place them around your life.
For example, an image of your dream home as your desktop background as you’re saving up for a down payment, or a picture of your children wrapped around your credit cards as you work to build their college cash reserves.
Whatever resonates with you and motivates you to save, make it visual and put that reminder some place where you have to check-in with it regularly, particularly in moments of temptation.
With all these smarter spending strategies in mind, let me add that I’m not against the occasional indulgence or splurge.
I firmly believe you can enjoy your day-to-day lifestyle while making spending decisions that serve your big picture priorities.
That’s why none of these tactics call for an automatic denial of every non-necessity purchase. Rather, these strategies are designed to help you make spending choices more mindfully.
Sometimes you may choose to indulge, other times not, it’s all okay as long as you’re making those choices consciously and in a way you won’t regret when you check your account balances at the end of the month.
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