There are so many different reasons to enter a spending ban, all of them exciting in their own right. Sometimes we’re saving up for a big vacation that consists of border-hopping train tickets and expensive French pastries that just have to be eaten. Because who in their right mind would say no to a Napoleon cake? Other times we’re putting some extra money away for a small weekend splurge, where you can finally go to that one trendy uptown bar and order blood orange martinis and crab dishes without a lick of guilt. And then sometimes we just want to see a little extra sitting in our savings account, for no other reason than knowing it’s there.
Whatever the reason, you’re choosing to take something out of your life in order to make room for something new. Which means that the new substitute is something that would make you a titch happier than a new dress. You're making the conscious decision to make little tweaks to be a lot happier.
You see, shopping is not a content experience. Sure it’s fun with the lattes in your hand and the possibility of finding just the right color or just the right hemline that’ll change how you feel that day, but the rush is a fleeting sort of happiness. It melts in your mouth like spun sugar. Just as soon as you slip the dress off of your shoulders in the changing room, you want another one. You find the perfect sweater that just about hugs you with its sleeves, and after a beat or two you’re focusing on the next thing. The next move. The next need. The next hole.
It doesn’t bring attention to a void inside of us, it creates it. It’ll always invite a little bit of discontent into your life, because there’ll always be something that you can get to make your life fuller. But the question to really look at is: Will it actually make it fuller?
Earl Nightingale said, “We become what we think about.” What preoccupies your mind controls your life, and when you enter a spending ban you’re trying to shift what your life is going to be about for that month, whether the reason is eating those pastries on cobblestone patios with a passport in your back pocket, or just taking a break from cramming your life with "more." You’re realizing, on whatever level, that the act of bringing more into your life doesn’t necessarily give you more.
But, that doesn’t mean that the urge won’t still be there. Sometimes you’re innocently walking to work and a party dress catches your eye in a store window. And it’s like it all but plasters itself to the glass, urging you to come in. To come get it. And it can be hard to say no. It’s like turning down a cupcake: You know it won’t do anything positive for you in the long run, but who cares about the long run? You want that red velvet and you want it now.
During moments like these, we’d like to think of a long list of tricks on how to fight the urge. But instead of that, why don’t you try something simpler? Forget the clever tactics and the five-step schemes to back away from the florals, and instead ask yourself this in an honest and frank way: Will this make me happiest? Not "will this make me happy,” not “will this make me happier,” because I’m sure it will. But “will this make me happiest?”
Would a new dress make you happier than putting the same money down to rent a car and go for an impromptu road trip over the weekend to Nashville, just to eat some barbeque? Would it make you happier to swing that shopping bag in your hand rather than meeting up with friends in a corner booth and going all-in with fizzy drinks and an embarrassing amount of dishes from the menu? Will an extra sleeve in your bursting closet really trump an experience?
If the answer is an honest no, then allow yourself to choose the latter. Trade in the tangible for the intangible. And really allow yourself to choose it and be content with the choice. Stress to yourself you're not losing something by walking away, you're gaining. Make a conscious decision that this is the option that’ll make you feel fuller, that this is the option that you would rather think about and become.
Then to fight the urge to go back on your decision, swap the activity of shopping with something else that would make you happy. Go call up a friend or take a quiet walk in a favorite spot, choosing to let experience, and not things, fill you up.
Like anything else in life, breaking the habit of relying on things will take practice. But the next time something tests the strength of your spending ban, try and follow this advice. Ask yourself, is this what will make me happiest? Is this something I’ll look back on and remember months from now, because that full feeling will be hard to shake? If not, then allow yourself to move on. Choose to let yourself be happy.
Images: Fotolia; Giphy