Following the holidays is always the most ideal time to consider ways to break your shopping habit, in my opinion. Why? Because, if you’re anything like me, the holiday dug you in just a bit of a financial hole, leaving you with likely very little to spend freely on yourself in these early months of 2016. (My closet is also stocked with gifts I haven’t used yet, so there’s no logical reason for me to “need” new clothes.) If funds are tight in your accounts, yet you’re frequenting the mall every day after work, I’m here to provide a little bit of guidance to you, my friend.
None of us can say we aren’t aware that spending beyond our means shopping every month can ultimately be a major problem — I’d say it’s safe to call that common knowledge. A lot of times the issue is whether we’re ready to admit to ourselves that we have a problem with spending. Before we get into it, you should first come to terms with whether you really have a spending problem or not. According to financial coach Adam Hagerman, “If your budget is still functioning properly and you’re meeting all of your goals, overspending in that category isn’t a problem for you.” However, if this is not the case for you and you find you’re regularly dipping into your allocated rent money or diminishing your savings account, it might be time for you to come face-to-face with your spending dilemma. If you’re admittedly addicted to shopping and know it needs to end, here are seven simple ways to help break your shopping habit.
1. Outline A Spending Plan
As with many aspects of life, a solid plan is the foundation for success. Attempting to break you shopping habit should not be any different. When coming up with your spending plan, remember to be both specific and realistic, according to U.S. News & World Report. The outlet talked to Shelly Smith-Acuna, dean of the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver — who treats many people with money problems. Smith-Acuna said a primary reason people fail to change habits is because they fail to set realistic goals, “A lot of people set themselves up for failure because they have a mindset of either indulgence or deprivation. So if you try to deprive yourself of too much, where you spend almost nothing, then you end up giving up, and you indulge, and then you overspend.”
With that in mind, don’t set a plan that holds you accountable to things like, “I won’t buy a single new item of clothing for a year.” If you don’t think you’ll be able to actually stick to something, don’t make it out of your plan.
2. Track Your Spending Consistently
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors, an informational website about planning and paying for college, spoke to U.S. News & World Report about the importance of tracking your spending if you want to break poor spending habits. Kantrowitz suggested starting by diligently tracking your spending for an entire month — this means getting a receipt for everything you purchase. If you’re unable to get a receipt, write the exact amount down in a notebook. Then he suggested that every night you enter your spending into a spreadsheet, and break it down by category (e.g., food, clothing, housing, etc.). Also label each as either a “need” or “want.” At the end of the month, total up each category to see how you’re actually spending your money, and where you can cut back more.
3. Enlist Someone To Help You Stay On Track
You know how you have a workout buddy to keep you motivated? Well, this works the same way. If you’re married or living with someone who you share expenses with, this might be a great person to enlist in helping you fight the shopping temptation. If not, try bringing a friend or relative along with you when you’re out shopping. According to Today, this trusted individual could assist by helping you stick to your shopping list.
4. Try The ‘Leave And Come Back’ Method
I’ve used this method on many an occasion, and I’d say it works 9 out of 10 times for me personally. The idea is that if you see something you like at the store or when shopping online, but are contemplating whether you actually need to have it or not, give yourself some time to consider it. According to Hagerman, put the item in consideration back and force yourself to let it sink in and give yourself time to think about it. This will give you a much better sense of whether it’s something you need and can afford.
5. Don’t Go Shopping When You’re Emotions Are Peaked
I am the first to admit it — there was a long stretch there when any time I was really upset or really stressed I tended to end my day with a completely unnecessary shopping spree. That was until the day I realized that while buying the cheetah print shoes I wanted made me feel a little better in the moment, they ultimately were worn twice, collected dust in the back of my closet, and didn’t prevent me from the next breakdown I had a week later.
Economists have long discussed the validity behind the notion of retail therapy as medicine, according to The Atlantic. Are you someone who’s guilty of using this form of therapy? According to Today, by taking time to understand the emotional triggers that cause you to shop, you can best come up with other means of coping that do not involve shopping.
6. Find An Alternative Hobby
I vividly recall filling out a questionnaire freshman year of college that asked about my hobbies. At the time I genuinely had no clue what to write down, so I wrote, “Hanging out with friends,” and “Shopping.” Yes, those are the only two hobbies I had, and while it seems ridiculous, it was true. It took me a while to realize shopping shouldn’t — if only for financial reasons alone — be one of my only hobbies (at least until I win the lottery one day or something). I’m not exaggerating when I say there are so, so many hobbies out there for you too. Reading, writing, painting, volunteering, sewing, fishing, exercising… the list could go on forever. If you’re looking for some suggestions on ways to productively spend your downtime, I’ve got you covered in this article.
7. Control Your Urge To Shop All At Once
Consider this similarly to when you’re on a strict diet. If you’re too restrictive on yourself, you could end up craving unhealthy food even more. The key to preventing a shopping binge is making sure your spending plan discussed earlier is realistic, as we talked about. Then, if you feel an overwhelming sense that you’re going to have a “relapse,” let’s call it, Today suggested finding ways to occupy yourself from the urge to shop until it passes. You might find it’s as simple as just walking it off.
For those shopaholics out there, using these simple tips might just be the trick you need to push the brakes on that unnecessary spending you’ve been doing. Of course, if you feel your problem with shopping is even more serious than this, you can get professional help in many ways, including therapy or attending a Debtors Anonymous meeting near you.