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8 Ways to Overcome Impulsive Spending

8 Ways to Overcome Impulsive Spending

Back in 2007, with the economic recession looming, President George W. Bush offered questionable advice to his fellow Americans: “Go shopping more.”

There are plenty of behaviors we all should engage in more often—exercising, volunteering, showing kindness—but clicking “Buy now” is not among them.

And yet many of us follow that “go shopping more” advice all too readily. We shop recreationally, habitually, impulsively, and, in many cases, uncontrollably. In fact, 6 to 7 percent of Americans qualify as “compulsive buyers,” according to a 20-year review of studies published in the American Journal on Addictions.

“We may feel a temporary high when we make impulsive purchases, but there are serious long-term consequences,” says Koorosh Ostowari, author of The Money Anxiety Cure.

The financial perils of impulsive spending are obvious: major debt, an empty college fund, a plundered retirement account, perhaps the loss of your home, possessions, or dream vacation. As demonstrated by lottery-winners and celebrities alike, how much money you make doesn’t guarantee financial freedom—it all comes down to what you spend.

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But impulse buying endangers more than your bank account. Even if you’re well off, mindless spending clutters your home and your mind while costing you energy and time.

Spending on impulse may feel good temporarily, but it often triggers residual stress and anxiety, which can even lead to more spending. “Impulsive shoppers sometimes fall into a vicious cycle of buying, feeling bad about it, and then buying more to feel better,” says Koorosh.

Are you ready to stop making hasty, mindless purchases? The first step is to figure out why you’re doing it.

Have you ever purchased a $200 black sweater in spite of a) not having $200 to spend, b) already owning three blacker sweaters or c) having no room for it in your closet?

Koorosh points to four possible reasons you said, “I’ll take it!”

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  1. To fill an emotional void. “Some people use shopping to counteract a sense of emptiness, fear, guilt, stress, or boredom,” says Koorosh.
  2. Because you’re in the habit. Maybe you have an affinity for black sweaters and buy them on autopilot. “Sometimes we’re just not present during a purchase and don’t give it any thought.”
  3. To boost your self-image or social status. A fashion-forward purchase here and there is fine, but unconsciously purchasing each season’s new styles for the sake of social status can feel like an unforgiving obligation.
  4. To score a “deal”—and prove how business-savvy you are. Of course, where’s the “value” if you don’t need or can’t afford the sweater?

Whether you shop at Costco or at Tiffany, the strategies for putting a halt to impulsive spending are the same:

1. Browse Your Favorite Store—Without Buying

Notice what thoughts and emotions bubble up as you scan the shelves. Do you have that “wanting, craving, grasping” feeling? Then notice how you feel after you exit the store empty-handed.

“Saying no is an empowering feeling,” says Koorosh. “You think, ‘Oh my gosh, I caught myself,’ and you remember that feeling next time you go shopping.”

2. Scrutinize the Stuff in Your House

Take a hard look inside your drawers, cabinets, and closets. Are they crowded with items you never use? What prompted you to buy those items, and how did you feel when you brought them home? Did the purchases satisfy your needs?

How will it feel to own even more gadgets, earrings, or vintage salt-and-pepper shakers?

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3. Don’t Shop Unless You Feel Centered and Relaxed

Hitting the stores when you’re sad, mad, or stressed is like walking into a bakery when you’re famished: a ticket to overindulgence and remorse.

Look for other ways to nurture your emotional needs. When you feel blue, call a friend. When you feel bored, start a new book. When you feel angry, go for a power walk.

4. Pause Before Each Purchase and Check-In With Yourself

Ask: Do I really need this or do I just want it? Can I afford it? How many hours will I have to work to cover this purchase? How will I feel if I bring it home? Does my home have space for this?

We are constantly under pressure—from social media, from advertisers, and even our friends—to buy without thinking, so it’s critical to step back and reflect. “Unless we practice building that muscle of inquiry,” says Koorosh, “it stays weak. Just taking that little pause can make a huge difference.”

For major purchases, make it a bigger pause before you commit—for a few weeks at least. Then see if buying that kayak, TV, or mini-van still seems like a good idea.

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5. Shop With a List, and Don’t Buy Anything That’s Not On It

If you truly need new athletic shoes, fine, head to the store and buy a pair. But don’t walk into a store or go online without an agenda that passes your muster (see #4).

6. For Two Weeks, Buy Nothing but Groceries and Essentials

“It’s like doing a cleanse, like seeing what it feels like to eliminate donuts from your diet,” says Koorosh. “Just explore and see what happens.”

This practice is more of a commitment but will prove to you that you can live without that afternoon Frappuccino or a new cosmetic. Afterward, this can help you feel more satisfied with future purchases.

7. Make Gratitude a Daily Practice

Each day, list three things you dearly appreciate, whether it’s your daughter’s piano playing, your daily yoga practice, or the hummingbird outside your window. “When you remember what you are grateful for, you need less stuff to feel happy and satisfied,” says Koorosh. “Practicing gratitude opens up neurological pathways, taking us out of fight-or-flight survival mode into feelings of love and satisfaction.”

8. Track Your Spending

Taking a few minutes each day to monitor and think about where your money is going is a powerful, enlightening habit. In a recent survey conducted by Tiller Money, 79% of people said that tracking their spending with a simple spreadsheet has led to less impulsive spending.

If you find any of these strategies too difficult to implement and you think you may have a serious shopping addiction, consider seeking help from an experienced therapist or joining Debtors Anonymous.

Featured photo credit: Clark Street Mercantile via Unsplash.com

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Sharen Ross

Marketing Strategy Consultant

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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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