When you spend money, do you ever think about why? I’m not talking about regular bills like groceries and other needs, but about the “fun” buys – things you want but don’t necessarily need. If you’ve been spending more than you’d like but don’t know how to cut down to tighten up your budget, you might benefit from discovering the “why” behind your spending. Read on to learn how discovering the “why” helped me change my habits and create a brighter financial future.
Usually when someone moves to a big city, their spending overall goes way up. Ironically, that wasn’t the case for me. My spending went down. WAY down. So what happened? How did I go from being a shopaholic to breaking my habits by moving to the big city?
It all started sometime around college. After having gone to an all-girls high school and wearing a uniform daily, I was excited to get to choose my outfits and showcase my personality every single day. Plus, I bought a car and got a serving job that gave me some extra income and a way to get around. No, it wasn’t much extra income, but I worked a lot of hours so I did well for a typical college student. I’d like to say that I put that extra money towards my student loans, but instead it went to creating a wardrobe that didn’t consist of oxford button downs and ugly plaid skirts.
At this point I still wasn’t a huge shopper. I only bought clothing about once or twice per year and never spent much. But the desire for clothes that showed off my personality was born and that grew as the years went on. By the time I graduated, I was working at a bank (pure torture for an English major) and making even less money than my serving job. I only took the job because it was the only career-oriented job I could seem to get after graduation. I needed nice clothing fast in order to look the part of a banker and fit the dress code. On top of that, I was living and working only a few blocks from a mall chock full of clothing stores, accessory stores, and a bookstore that always seemed to have a buy 2 get the 3rd free table. This was the first turning point.
I made up for my misery at work by taking walks on my lunch break. I never seemed to spend that much money at one time. A purse here, a book (or three) there. The problem wasn’t spending, it was the fact that I didn’t have any extra money to spend at all. Period. I was barely making ends meet on that budget and that extra money could have been put towards other things. Unfortunately, when you make so little, saving anything almost seems pointless. And I could make up for feeling bad about myself by the temporary thrill of a new item.
Cut to a few years later. I obtained a job that allowed me to actually save money and build up to my dream of moving to New York. I put every dime away and in a few months had enough to live in New York without a job for three months. My plan was to get a temporary apartment and hit the ground running so that I could settle there permanently. And – it worked out! I arrived before the economic crash and found a great job in only 11 days (we won’t even discuss the insane amount of jobs I applied for). I wasn’t making a ton of money, but I shared a bedroom and rarely ate out so was able to save a good amount of money each month. And something really interesting happened – my desire to shop literally nearly disappeared.
What’s that you say? You moved to the fashion capital of the US and stopped shopping?? Yup. I no longer felt bad about where I was in my career and could spend my weekends exploring my new city rather than buying something new to satiate boredom. Then I found my newest love – coffee shops and fiction writing. I’d always wanted to be a writer but never tried fiction before, thinking I just couldn’t do it. I tried so many times to start a book before and had no good ideas. It turns out I just wasn’t in the right environment. After discovering my all-time favorite coffee shop in the East Village, I forced myself to go there and write. I brought my wallet and a legal pad – nothing else – and told myself if I’m going to pay for coffee rather than brew it, then I can’t leave until I have a chapter written.
Three years and two books later, I have completely forgotten about my love for shopping. No, I didn’t stop noticing nice things. I’ll still drool over a great bag or pair of boots and I’ll still want to go to a bookstore and buy a whole stack that will no doubt be read in a week (yeah, I’m a dork – that never changed). But the urge never goes to the next level where I get a thrill from buying new things. Rather, I get a thrill from writing another chapter, from a new character, or from doing a book reading. Now, buying things just makes me feel guilty because now that I have money saved, I don’t want to give it up for temporary pleasure.
It’s amazing how I changed when I wasn’t even trying! It turned out that shopping was only an answer to a problem in my head – I used it to make me feel better about myself rather than trying to figure out what was really missing from my life. So if you find that you’re spending more than you make, I would say now’s a great time to try to understand why. Are you unhappy in your career? Your love life? In your city? Do you feel insecure about the way you look or where you are in life? We all suffer from these things from time to time – but ignoring the problem only makes things worse and can negatively impact your finances. So take a minute to think about this and make a plan of action for things that you can do that will both answer these questions and solve the problem. Your future self will thank you! I sure wish I had figured it out sooner!
Image credit: andresr