A few weekends ago, as I awoke to a day that was blissfully void of deadlines to meet and projects to produce, my first thought was what I needed to buy and what stores I could visit to fill my time. Given the newfound breathing room in my budget, this would be relatively okay — except I had acted on that thought the previous three weekends in a row. (Or maybe four. Okay, possibly five.)
In the wake of work pressure and moving stress, I had somehow shifted from a shopping only when necessary type of a person to shopping when induced by any type of uncomfortable emotion type of person.
And that, as many of us know, can quickly spiral out of control – without any of those feel-good endorphins you hope to experience when you whip out your credit card and purchase the latest _______ (enter your vice here).
So, I’ve been working on returning to a mindset where saving takes center stage and spending takes a seat in the back row. Here’s how I’m making it happen.
One of four emotions pop up any time I’m tempted to spend: boredom, anger, stress, or sadness. Here’s my thought process:
Boredom: Being bored triggers my fear of missing out which in turn makes me think that I need to spend in order to participate in all the awesome things the world has to offer.
Anger: I generally try to limit my spending and save as much as possible, so when something triggers my anger, I suddenly start sporting a “screw it” attitude and feel entitled to spend anything I want (even though I pay for it in the end).
Stress: Stress makes me want to make my life as easy as possible, so I’ll resort to anything that can make that happen – regardless of the price and exorbitant nature of the purchase.
Sadness: Sadness creates an overwhelming feeling of emptiness, which in turn pushes me to fill the void in a wide variety of unhealthy ways. Spending and eating seem to be the quickest remedies (even though the relief is short-lived).
What emotional triggers do you have when it comes to spending? Take some time to really sort through each and every one. Reflect on the past few times that you went overboard with your spending – what was going on in your life at the time and what emotions did it bring up?
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Replacing the Habit
After working in the past to get rid of bad habits, I’ve learned that stopping cold turkey only ensures that the journey ahead will be entirely uphill. Instead, bad habits must be replaced – not just abolished.
Since you already know what your spending triggers are, it’s time to decide what action will now serve as a remedy in place of shopping. And no, simply deciding to talk yourself out of it isn’t enough of a replacement. After all, it’s clear that willpower is already taking a snooze on this one.
Here are my replacements (and this is still a work in progress):
Boredom: I notice that I feel particularly bored when I’m experiencing a lack of human connection. I generally always feel more alive after spending time with, or even just talking to, friends or family.
Anger: Anger tends to make me feel very trapped, so getting away somewhere out of my normal environment is key for me. Going for a drive and blasting angry music is far more productive and less guilt inducing than shopping.
Stress: Stress is something I need to confront head on with people that can help lighten my load. Once the conversation is had, meditation serves as a reset button that always makes me feel better (without fail).
Sadness: For me, sadness dissipates with gratitude. So, depending on the depth of my sadness, I start with a mental list of what I have to be grateful for and move towards something more tangible (journaling, etc.) until I feel better.
Start Getting Excited About the Bigger Picture
Saving is not something most of us naturally do. If we find that we are rockstars at socking away money at specific points in our lives, it’s generally because we were working towards something we were particularly pumped about. Even working to pay off debt can spark a certain type of excitement if we think of freedom as the end goal.
So if you aren’t hitting your savings benchmarks, it might just be because you find spending more thrilling than some nameless or somewhat boring financial goal you feel like you should be reaching.
Now is the time to either establish or reevaluate your money goals. Paint such a vivid, exciting picture in your mind that, even if it doesn’t completely stop your urge to spend, it at least makes you think twice before you do so. Better yet, announce them to those closest to you so falling short no longer seems like an option.
Image credit: Gemma Stiles