Our support group (titled “I Hate Budgeting (But I Like Having Money)” and “The Joy of Budgeting” – depending on which side of the argument you stand) met last Saturday to discuss impulse buys, gift buying and those wonderful romantics in our lives who live in the moment (and don’t give a hoot about the financial consequences).
Prior to the meeting I had two revelations:
1. We buy things to define ourselves (okay, not so much of a revelation because I’ve blogged about that here, and here and also here (and pretty much everywhere) but it’s never been so concise a thought).
2. I don’t have to own everything I like.
This thought was reiterated to me by a close friend who has an incredibly green thumb. There was a time when she bought all kinds of plants – without limit – but then she realized: She doesn’t have to own all of them just because she likes them.
Our group discussion went in many wonderful directions including: replacing versus repairing appliances, clothing purchases, store sales, online marketing strategies, stockpiling, rationalizing, the desire for the novel/the new/change, the hunt for an item and/or a bargain, food shopping, but most importantly, the antidotes to these financially destructive behaviors.
Let’s take these one by one.
1. Appliances: Replace or Repair?
Some attendees mentioned that their methodology was to replace an appliance, pre-emptively, mainly to avoid the stress of having to deal with a repair or the potential breakdown in the future. The purchase was seen as prudent and a means of providing security. Plus the new appliances are more energy-efficient, right? Well, maybe.
The cost of some appliance repairs are insignificant when compared to buying a new item. Plus, consider that we have become largely a disposable society, and projects like The Story of Stuff bring that problem to light. Read Consumer Reports. Services such as Angie’s List can be very helpful in finding reputable service providers, and you’d be perpetuating a market for repair instead of succumbing to the lifestyle of landfill.
You can find many repair videos on You Tube. I came across this one on fixing the agitator on your wash machine.
I also understand that marrying an engineer is a great option to mitigate this type of impulse buying. 😉
2. Clothing/the desire for change/something new
My friend, a hair stylist, says that, at this time of year, “Women call me and say ‘Shave my head and paint it blue.’ ” The drudgery of the winter can certainly give us the blahs and what better way to beat them than with a spiffy new outfit?
Sometimes changes to our weight, the season, occasion etc. may prompt us to make purchases but the key is being mindful about them. Carefully choose the colors, cut and styles that look best on you. Buy quality. Avoid the mall. For a Year. Throw out the store coupons & catalogs as soon as they come in. Freeze your store credit card in ice. Go to a thrift store if you feel the urge to shop; you’ll find great deals and you’re usually helping a non-profit provide services. Realize what you already have. This last one is easier when you merchandise your closet. Take a look at some examples of what I’ve done. Now when I go to my closet, I realize, “Wow, I have lots of great outfits!” (and it saves a lot of time and decision making in the morning).
You can do it with your refrigerator, too. Look at all of those fresh fruits and veggies to eat! Less chance of waste. More chance of eating healthy.
In a similar vein, try moving the furniture around, or the pictures, or the knickknacks. Your desire for change can be satisfied without spending a dime.
Books are an impulse buy for some people, and don’t even get me started on the importance of supporting local bookstores (there’s a reason why I host my group meetings at Dog Ears Bookstore & Cafe).
But aside from local bookstores, it’s easier to just download something on your Kindle rather than trying to figure out how to borrow one electronically from the library. Of course it’s easier! Do you know how strategic retail (brick-and-mortar as well as online) companies are? Read Shoptimism by Lee Eisenberg. The deck is definitely stacked against us and we are most assuredly being manipulated. We have very little defense against them except our decision not to participate. Put your blinders on. Protect yourself. Know what your “financial kryptonite” is.
Gifts are another tricky area for impulse buying because they’re purchases that are laden with so much emotion. Probably the best antidote to this particular buying pattern can be found towards the end of this post (spoiler alert: have experiences, not things).
This behavior usually makes the person feel secure, that they’re preparing for the future. I say that my husband likes to save for a rainy day as if he’s Noah.
But seriously, knowing that you have plenty of shampoo, bottled water, toilet paper, and coffee etc. can be comforting (should you need them, and living in Buffalo, it’s not unlikely that you’ll be snowed in for several days) .
“I won’t have to rely on anyone else. I will have enough.” That is, of course, until you realize you have too much and you have to hire a professional organizer to help you get rid of things.
Stockpiling can be a fear-based behavior. Only you can determine if you’re doing things out of prudence or out of fear.
4. Rationalizing (“I deserve it,” “It’s a great deal!” “I know I’ll use this someday,” etc.)
Here’s a dose of reality shared by one of the participants: “Buying the diet book won’t make you skinny.”
A 40% off sale means that you’re still spending 60%.
If you’re rationalizing, you are trying to convince yourself.
Challenge that impulse brain disguised as a rational brain. “Do I need it or want it? Do I need it now? What’s the absolutely worst thing that will happen if I don’t buy it?”
5. Food shopping
I have a tried-and-true strategy to avoid overspending on food:
1st: Look at your week’s schedule & what you will be doing. Consider what types of meals that can realistically be prepared and when you may need to order take out.
2nd: Go to your fridge and pantry and see what you can cobble together and call a meal.
3rd: Search for recipes/ideas using what you already have.
4th: Make a shopping list of only those items you will need to complete the week’s meals. If you’re really on the ball, check the store sales and coupons.
5th: Estimate the total cost of your shopping trip and take that much (plus maybe $10) in cash to the store. Leave your credit/debit cards at home.
By and large, the following strategies were found to be the best ways to reduce impulse buying:
- Be grateful (it’s even a whole chapter in my book). One of my many sisters posts 5 things she is grateful for on Facebook each day. The focus on what’s good helps change the energy of your thoughts.
- Invest in relationships & experiences, not stuff. Cook dinner with a friend, volunteer with your spouse and/or children, take a nature walk with someone special, hand out cookies to people on the street with a fun sister (no, you can’t have one of mine).
- Focus on your values and priorities (for inspiration check out Mr. Money Mustache, Ditch The Joneses & Dave Ramsey). Instead of focusing on denying yourself, focus on allowing yourself to have the most important things in life (which aren’t things, anyway).
Take care of yourself. Buy yourself some good chocolate. There’s always room in the budget for chocolate.
If you’re available for the March 7th meeting, our topic will be “Gentle discipline: Saying ‘Yes’ and saying ‘No.’ ” Come find a comfy seat and have a scone!
And remember, I always offer a complimentary initial consultation if you’re ready to take charge of your finances.