There are many reasons why we make purchases, especially those that could be classified as impulsive.
We could be feeling particularly emotional over external circumstances and hope for the burst of satisfaction that comes from spending money. We could be swayed by advertising that convinces us we need what retailers are selling. We could see a friend or neighbor with something and suddenly we want the exact same thing.
These subtle, or not so subtle, messages that influence spending are everywhere. In fact, they are so prevalent, we often don’t notice how often we must make a decision whether we will fight them or give in to them.
Regardless of why I’m feeling tempted to make an unnecessary purchase, I have one specific way of cutting off the urge and moving on.
It boils down to this question:
Would I rather have this or X,Y,Z? (Insert any big picture goal I have been planning for.)
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It’s all about choices, not deprivation.
Growing up, I never heard the words, “We can’t afford that.” Since I was prone to worrying about everything – even the family finances – I’m extremely grateful for this. Instead, my parents would steer my sister and I away from certain “wants” with the explanation that we were choosing to spend our money in other ways.
It wasn’t about approaching money from a place of lack, instead it was about making an either, or choice. We could afford a lot – if we didn’t squander it on impulse purchases along the way.
Notice the difference in feeling from these two approaches. By steering clear of the deprivation aspect, it doesn’t feel like a punishment to stop yourself from making a certain purchase.
It emphasizes the importance of setting big goals.
Making impulse purchases becomes the default for your money when you have no other vision or place for it to funnel into. Therefore, one of the best ways to combat the urge to spend is to have a bigger plan for your money. This could be anything from going on a vacation to getting out of debt – anything that gets you excited and motivated to keep working towards that goal.
Impulse purchases can quickly make you a slave to your money by sparking the never-ending debt cycle. Goals, on the other hand, put you in charge of your money by telling your money where to go instead of asking where it went.
It takes you out of the emotionally charged moment.
When I’m confronted with a craving for junk food and I’m not even particularly hungry to begin with, I know that distracting myself with something else for ten minutes will either make me forget about the craving, or will significantly lessen the intensity of the craving.
Spending is much the same way.
If I stop and mentally remove myself from the situation by asking if this purchase is worth putting my hard earned money towards (and removing it from somewhere else), I can adjust the emotional intensity of the moment.
It helps you to see how trivial that one purchase might be.
When a purchase is isolated, it can seem logical, or at least explainable.
Now try filling in the blank with that purchase: “I am choosing to make purchasing ___________ a priority because it is currently more important than [paying off debt, buying a house, saving for vacation.]”
If that statement sits well with you, then consider the purchase. But often times, putting it in this context will suddenly make you see how trivial that one purchase is in the grand scheme of things. And fighting the impulse might just become a piece of cake.
It lessens the reliance on willpower.
Willpower is almost never a reliable ally. One day you might be able to stick to a spending plan like nobody’s business, but the next day trouble at work or a fight at home might make willpower take a back seat to the urge to pacify your emotions with spending.
Instead of relying on willpower, this question allows you to rely on logic – “I can’t have X if I’ve spent money on Y.” And, if you are already goal oriented, you can lean on the motivation sparked by reaching money milestones.
We’re rarely pushed to do something by the sheer fact that it’s the responsible thing to do. So if we can attach an action to something larger than that, it’s a great place to start.
What’s your spending roadblock?
If this either/or proposition doesn’t work for you, find one that does. Is there a motivating factor that would get you to rethink handing over your credit card next time the desire to make an impulse purchase hits?
Find your spending roadblock and you might see your financial picture shift in the process.