Mindful Shopping: Get What You Really Want
Whether it’s the holidays, birthdays, fashion week, or just everyday life, we can all become victims of the shopping bug. There’s always something new and exciting to buy.
But while great stuff is…well…great, we also know that a healthy savings account feels pretty great too – and so does feeling content with what we have.
When FOX5 called to ask me for tips on why we sometimes buy more stuff than what we need (or even actually want!), and for ideas on how to stay centered when impulse buys are tempting, I offered the two sets of tips below.
The first set, called SAFE, offers some background on why we over-shop, since it’s always helpful to have insight about why we do the things we do.
[Related: Four Steps to Your Emergency Fund]
People often shop to get a temporary feeling that they’re more like the people they see with certain items. Picture a mountain climber raising his hand in victory as he scales Mount Everest while wearing an expensive watch, or a model whose airbrushed lips look beautiful in a new shade of luxury lipstick.
We sometimes feel drawn to buy things that play to a part of ourselves (even a small, quiet part!) that feels pulled into engagement or identification with an image offered by an advertiser – even if we know it’s actually totally unrelated to being that way in real life (like liquor ads featuring fitness models doing shots).
Shopping can give us a sense of accomplishment. Even if it doesn’t really make sense, we can sometimes feel like we’ve accomplished something with a tangible result by sorting through three dozen tan handbags in order to find the perfect one.
(Okay, that one was me!)
With all the turbulence in today’s world, it’s understandable that some of us feel drawn to buy another portable generator or go into overdrive mode when filling up our pantry.
Or maybe we grew up poor and there’s a part of ourselves that can never have enough and somehow finds security in more of anything, even if it’s our fifteenth pair of simple gray trousers.
Whatever the reason, some people confuse security with shopping.
When we’ve had a bad day, or are just feeling lonely, retail therapy can offer a boost.
While a little pick-me-up never hurt anyone, some of us head to the store to escape stress a little too frequently for our own good, letting our stressors remain unresolved.
Now that you have insight into why you sometimes over-shop, here are some tricks to help create structure when wanted. The second set of tips, SCRAM, offers help with keeping your eye on your real financial goals when rabbit holes beckon.
[Related: How to Eliminate Aspirational Spending]
Once you know why you’re prone to over-shopping, craft a simple statement that will keep you on-track when temptation calls.
For example, someone who spends money they don’t have on luxury goods in order to get a temporary feeling of glamour might say to themselves, “Debt is not glamorous” when tempted to over-spend.
Or a person who purchases because chummy salespeople cajole and flatter could silently remind themselves, “My real friends don’t make a commission off my purchases.”
One last example is that a person who gets swept into exciting impulse buys could think of making an extra deposit into their 401k and tell themselves, “A fat retirement fund would be really exciting.”
Carry only cash.
This tried and true tip is on the list because it’s just so good. Carrying only cash may actually add an exciting feeling of drama to a shopping trip – remember the old days when people didn’t always have a credit card "just in case?"
While carrying only cash can have a fun 007-like quality to it, there’s actually an added bonus of security: Knowing in advance that there’s no way for you to go over-budget can actually be very calming.
Return items you don't need.
Made a mistake and went a little overboard? Return it! This keeps you accountable (literally) when you get swept away.
It also prevents spirals (“I already went overboard this week, why not a little more?"), and takes the headiness out of binges, because deep down you know you’ll just be returning it shortly.
While it may feel like a bummer the first time or two, it will quickly help you to build awareness and stay peacefully grounded in that awareness.
In case you didn’t know, Amazon has a wishlist feature where you can create as many lists as you want (one for books you’d like to read, one for car trip toys for kids, one for gifts for your neighbors' housewarming party – the options are endless).
This allows you to “stroll the aisles” to your heart’s content, storing all of your choices and options. The biggest value add is the game-changing ability to wait and see if you even remember you want to purchase whatever random item seemed so important or dazzling onscreen during a particular moment of impulse when you felt like clicking “add.”
Plus, you of course know that if the item really does still seem super great the next day, it’s just a click away.
Whether it’s the Mint app, or an app that connects directly to your bank or credit card, make it quick and easy to eyeball your credit card and bank balances – especially if there’s a shopping or savings goal in your life.
Seeing these figures regularly keeps you focused on your progress (or the gap you want to close), which adds a healthy sense of immediacy to finances that can otherwise feel abstract. Just like people who own a scale and weigh themselves often are generally better at weight control, people who know their financial balances tend to be more balanced financially.
I hope you have enjoyed these tips!
[Related: Seven Life-Changing Money Lessons]
Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, known as Dr. Chloe, who heads a successful private practice with multiple offices in New York City focusing primarily on relationship issues, stress management, and career coaching. Serving more than 1,000 patients in Manhattan, Carmichael leverages technology with psychology to expand her counseling services across the country through online private and group sessions.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Long Island University. Her private practice focuses on stress management, relationship issues, self esteem, and coaching. Dr. Carmichael sees clients in her Manhattan office or via video. She is the author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety (in press, Macmillan, 2021) Dr. Carmichael attended Columbia University for a BA in Psychology, and graduated summa cum laude with Departmental Honors in Psychology. She completed... Continue Reading
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