For better or worse, we live in a culture deeply engrained in consumerism. Sure, acquiring and selling goods and services is fundamental to how we operate as a society. For groceries, healthcare, medications, education, and many other essentials, shopping and spending to care for ourselves and our loved ones is part of daily life.
Then, there’s everything that’s not essential. Tens of thousands of companies worldwide spend billions of dollars in advertising each year to treat you as a consumer so that you spend more money.
It can feel harmless, but overspending is harmful. To you, those around you, and the security of your financial future. Luckily, there are ways you can focus on treating yourself like the human you are, make it harder for companies to target you as a consumer, and set yourself up for greater financial control and less desire to overspend.
It’s not you, it’s your brain
For lots of folks, shopping and spending money feels good. If you’re thinking, “yeah, that’s me - why aren’t we hitting the mall right now?” then it’s not something you’re imagining. Clinical research supports the idea that retail therapy works because it feels therapeutic!
This can be a good thing if you can afford it in small doses and under control. If you can’t, or if shopping becomes compulsive, those can be signs of a deeper problem. If you relate to any of these situations, then the tips below can help you, but it could also be time to explore the underlying causes of why you feel the way you do about shopping:
● Financial difficulties caused by overspending and uncontrolled shopping
● Difficulty resisting buying unneeded items
● Preoccupation with thoughts of shopping
● Excessive research or price watching
● Problems at home, school or work caused by spending or financial crises
Skip the sale
The shiny, irresistible idea of sale prices can make it harder not to spend away. After all, you’re not spending money — you’re saving it. Right? Except you’re not. You’re definitely spending money, and potentially on items you didn’t really want until you saw they were on sale.
● Flip the math
Say you’re in a store and see a $100 item for 20% off. Your first thought might be, “I’m saving $20.” That’s precisely what stores want you to think. Instead, any time you see a sale price or think of how much a discount saves you, switch the math to what you’re spending. In this case, you’re actually paying $80. Focus on the reality of spending $80 over saving $20 and see if that deal still feels so attractive.
● Wait for the next sale
Still hooked on the idea of sales? The good news is that there’s always going to be another sale. Keep a list of items you’ve got your eye on, especially if they’re on sale. If you still want them the next time they’re on sale, that’s an indication it could be a worthwhile purchase.
● Unsubscribe from sales and discount emails
One of the most precious resources you fully control is your time and attention. Your email inbox and social media feeds should feel sacred — special places where you’re choosing to give your valuable focus. If you’re feeling inundated, or maybe even dependent on, discount emails and sales messages, you’re surrendering your attention in ways that might lead you to overspend. Unsubscribe, block, or, at the very least, change your email preferences to reduce the frequency that companies email you.
Give it a week
Retailers are experts at using FOMO and other user experience cues to make you feel the need to buy something instantly. From limited-all offers to countdown discount clocks and pop-ups showing someone “just like you” simultaneously purchasing the thing you’re looking at right now, all of these features are designed to drive you to buy right now.
There are a few easy hacks to give yourself time to decide if you need to buy something at your own pace and on your own time:
● Follow the one week rule
For extraneous purchases, set a rule that you must wait a week before buying — just seven days. If you’re still thinking about it after that time, consider buying it.
● Add items to the cart or make a list
If you’re worried that you’ll forget about the item and this pushes you to buy it now, add it to the cart and abandon it, add it to a notes app or keep a list. This can give you the psychological satisfaction of having tracked something you desired without having to actually buy it.
Get your tech on your side
The less friction there is to spending, the easier it will be to continue doing it. Particularly for online shopping, sites and payment platforms are increasingly designed to help you purchase as quickly as possible — even with a single click.
These features work great for companies who want to sell you stuff, but they can make it much harder for you to avoid impulse buying. You can take back the reins with a few quick digital hacks that will make it take those few extra seconds longer for you to buy. From a mindset perspective, that can make all the difference in giving you a few spare moments to realize if you need what you’re about to acquire and make a more thoughtful, informed decision.
● Turn off one-click buying
Nobody needs the ultra-convenience of buying in one click, especially if that convenience adds to overspending. Turn it off in the site settings of the companies you shop with.
● Remove saved credit card numbers
The extra time to manually (gasp!) type in your credit card or banking info is also the breathing room you need to re-consider your purchase or avoid it altogether.
● Shop signed out or as a guest
Sure, there are benefits to shopping logged into an account. But with all of your information instantly filled in, it reduces the number of clicks and overall time to buy, making it easier for you to shop on impulse. Go through all the steps, add in all your info, and if you still want to make a purchase by the end of all that, you’ll be in a more aware state of mind.
Jeremy Elder is a Toronto-based content marketer and copywriter with over a decade’s experience telling stories for some of the world’s biggest brands. He’s an expert at finding WiFi wherever you least expect it.
Jeremy Elder is a paid Sonnet spokesperson.