As we get deeper into budgeting this year, the thrill of the new has worn off and I’m finding myself falling victim to my old spending habits. For me, much of the work of learning to spend less has been on changing my mindset. My day-to-day habits, I’m realizing, have a lot to do with self-indulgence and immediate gratification (not surprising, I suppose, as I am your typical American consumer). Giving myself alternatives to shopping and thinking hard about what I want vs. what I need has helped curb my impulses. Again, I partnered with Personal Capital for this post; check out their free financial tools to help keep you on track this winter.
1. Stay home
In my early days of dating Chris I would get disproportionately stressed when he wouldn’t call when I thought he would. Instead of moping around my apartment, I made a list of twenty things I could do at home to keep my mind off of him—and to help me remember that just mere weeks before, I was single and had not been worrying AT ALL about how I was spending my time! For times when it’s tempting to go out and shop, or go out to eat, or do anything else that requires you to spend money, think about how you could accomplish the same feeling you’re after by going out, at home. Want to feel pampered? Take a bubble bath. Want to feel relaxed? Make yourself a cup of coffee and hole up with a book for an hour. Want to feel like you accomplished something (a feeling I have when I run a bunch of errands)? Clean out your junk drawer, bathroom cabinets, that corner of your office that attracts clutter—anything that’s been bothering you but that you can finish work on in an hour or less. Discouraging yourself from spending money does not mean taking on a monstrous task. It’s about occupying your mind while keeping the end goal of feeling better at the forefront.
2. Treat yourself—but only when you truly need it
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when both kids are in school, I have three and a half hours all to myself. On Tuesdays I give myself a break and usually take a nap (the week just started! Stress levels are high!) but on Thursdays I either grocery shop or run errands. This week, Target is on my errand list, and people, going to Target alone is WAY high up on the list of treats I let myself have, right next to peppermint mochas and watching Friends reruns while my husband puts the kids to bed. But, grocery shopping is less of a thrill for me. MUCH less of a thrill. I actually dread it. So, to psych myself up for the grueling 90-minute marathon of ingredient searching, price matching, and self-checkout that is a trip to Wal-Mart, I motivate myself with a coffee from Starbucks. Not that I couldn’t grocery shop if I didn’t have this treat, but frankly knowing I can have it helps me get out of bed in the morning. Plus, by planning for take-out coffee ahead of time I know I’ll have money in the budget to cover it. Win-win, right?
3. Be thoughtful about new purchases
Did you read that the third Monday of January is the saddest day of the year? It was for me this winter, and when I feel sad, I want to shop. I recently bought some new dishes and containers to help organize our bathroom clutter, but last week, I decided I should redecorate my living room. Because winter blues. And also, I got a new print and while it matched some of my stuff, I thought I could do better. While I immediately jumped online to research all the new things I wanted to buy, I knew I would take the time to go through my existing décor first, keep what I could, and be mindful about anything I decided to purchase.
Here’s a look at one of my revamped shelves:
Have you read Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple? You should. It’s an interesting, fast-paced novel that explores various concepts of human thinking, including the following:
“Have you ever heard that the brain is a discounting mechanism?”
“Let’s say you get a present and open it and it’s a fabulous diamond necklace. Initially, you’re delirious with happiness, jumping up and down, you’re so excited. The next day, the necklace still makes you happy, but less so. After a year, you see the necklace, and you think, Oh, that old thing.”
It’s the same with anything else that comes into your life. Any new “stuff.” The lesson for me is, try to only buy what you love. Unless you can look at it day after day with positive feelings, your brain will discount that pricey new candleholder to the point that you’ll be selling it in next year’s garage sale. Creating the perfect vignette is one of those design sweet spots you can only reach when you curate a collection that’s uniquely you. Choose pieces you can appreciate for years to come and if they don’t work in your space, don’t hesitate to take them back to the store (this applies to clothing too). Give yourself permission to purchase new things but don’t do so on a whim. Instead, think hard about what you bring into your home and don’t buy it unless you see it having lasting appeal.
How are you curbing your spending this winter?