I challenge you to exercise restraint when shopping--or don't go shopping at all (except for food!) for one month. But how? Below are some helpful tips to get you in shape for saving money so you can live simply.
The great American pastime.
On average, we consumers visit shopping centers six to seven times a week, according to ICSC.org. And a third of us are buying stuff online at least once a week, says The Washington Post.
No wonder we all have a clutter problem.
It’s so easy to stroll the aisles of our favorite stores or scroll through a flashy website and find something irresistibly cute.
Somehow it’s even easier to convince ourselves we need that thing, and we chuck it into our carts without a hesitation.
Getting new stuff gives us a rush. Excitement over novelty causes our brains’ motivation and reward centers to light up, stimulating dopamine to surge like a roller coaster while we swipe our credit cards at the checkout.
But if you’re like me, when you get home (or open that delivery box), a few minutes later the novelty wears off, and you wonder what in god’s name you were thinking when you handed over your hard-earned money to pay for that useless doodad.
Exhibit A: A certain pair of jelly sandals I purchased on a whim for my daughter, knowing full well they’d probably hurt her little feet, and that their hard plastic bottoms might cause her to slip ‘n slide all over the place. But I ignored my conscience and bought ‘em anyway.
The first time she wore them, she took a header off the porch steps, and at once I regretted that buying decision.
If only I’d been able to restrain myself in that moment of consumer ecstasy while I’d been shopping, I wouldn’t have had to deal with a crying, wounded six-year-old. But I was caught up in how cute those sandals were! Plus, I was reminiscing over the pair I’d once owned as a little girl. I’d gone all nostalgic.
Something about that excursion put me in the mindset to buy, even when I knew it was against my better judgment.
It turned out to be a loss for me and my daughter, but a ten-dollar victory for Industry.
Companies spend millions to tap into the average consumer’s psyche so they can alter our shopping experiences, forcing us to buy without stopping to think about it.
“The majority of people out there have fairly short attention spans,” explains Subastral Inc., a company that offers display tips to retail businesses so they can sell more stuff.
They elaborate: “When customers see rows and rows of merchandise, they’ll tend to breeze right through them, assuming everything on the shelves is the same.”
We don’t want that, now do we?!
So they recommend this: “You need to physically break up aisles to signal to customers where there are different types of merchandise and ensure they see everything that you have to offer in your store.”
They also suggest that retailers put their best-selling products, highest-value merchandise and leading brands at eye level—because those are the items we attention-span-lacking sheep will spend our money on most.
We all know Target is ace at using these tactics.
“You walk into Target, and the lighting, the colors, even the smell really capture you because it feels great,” Mabel Yiu, a licensed marriage and family therapist and mother of twins, told HuffPost writer Caroline Bologna in this March 2018 article. “It’s like it increases the dopamine in the brain. You see that everything is really well-organized and even color-coded. As a mom, my home doesn’t look like that. So you walk in and think, ‘This is really great.’”
She’s 100 percent spot on, but we don’t have to fall for those tricks. We’re smarter than they realize. We can focus for longer than two seconds.
We just have to exercise a new muscle when it comes to spending so we can limit clutter and save money. It’s called the Restraint Muscle, and it’s located somewhere between our consciousness and the go-go-gadget spring-arm that pops outta nowhere and punches us in the face if we try to buy anything we don’t absolutely need.
Because many of us have out-of-shape Restraint Muscles, I offer some tips on how to exercise it. As the first Reductionist Challenge in this new monthly series, I challenge you throughout October to start by asking yourself these 8 questions the next time you’re feeling the urge to make an impulse buy:
1. Do I really need this?
95% of the time your answer is probably going to be no, but it’s worth asking yourself as a warmup before your real Restraint Muscle workout.
2. How badly do I want this thing right now?
Rate your level of desire in that moment. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not-really-all-that-much and 10 being oh-my-god-this-is-exactly-what-I’ve-always-dreamed-of!, see if you can put a figure on how badly you want this thing right now, in this moment. If it’s 7 or less, put it back and walk away immediately. 8 or above, try visualizing yourself using said thing tomorrow or even next month. If there’s a small chance you might lose interest by then, skip it for now. You can always come back to it and see how you feel later.
3. Where will I put this thing if I take it home today?
If you visualize the available closet, cupboard, shelf or display space that exists in your home and come up with a goose-egg, or tell yourself, "Oh, I'll figure out somewhere to put it when I get there," that's a red flag telling you you're out of room and you shouldn't make this purchase.
4. How will this thing improve my life if I buy it right now?
While a tube of yeast infection cream WILL bring a gal immediate relief, a new pair of pumps can probably wait. Of course, new shoes can have the potential to contribute to our sense of self-worth by making us feel sexy or pretty, but they won’t bring us family harmony, joyous laughter, meaningful friendship or a fulfilling sex life. For any of those things, we’re gonna need to dig a little deeper. In other words, lack of shoes ain’t the problem.
5. What would happen if I wait to buy it until my next trip to the store?
If the store is liquidating, your coupon is about to expire, or you’ll lose your chance to win a prize if you don’t run to the checkout right this second, fine, don’t hold off. But a little delayed gratification never hurt anyone. Imagine visiting this store next week and waiting to purchase said item until then. Does that change how you feel about it? Perhaps you’ll see it’s just the rush of something new you’re chasing and not the thing itself. As an alternate reward, walk yourself outta the store and head to the nearest park. Take a stroll among the trees or take in a little sunshine while you wait out your shopping urge.
6. Do I already own something similar to this, and is that thing still usable?
The answer is likely yes and yes. We Americans are known for living in a throw-away culture. Products aren’t necessarily made to last, to be sure. But we’re also guilty of claiming to need two drawers full of tea towels, or six flavors of smelly candles when we know half that much will do. If you already have one or several things like the one you’re considering buying, put it down and leave the store.
7. Can I find it anywhere else for cheaper?
If you absolutely must have this item you just encountered on a whim, at the very least, do yourself a favor and find out if it’s available someplace else for less. Even just the act of investigating options nixes your impulse to buy, which could save you money in the long run.
8. What fossil fuel resources or human power did it take to manufacture this product, and am I okay with the answer?
Whip out your smart phone in the store aisle and look up what the item’s ingredients or fibers are made of, where they come from and who produces them. If the object of your desire is made by eight-year-olds who work twelve-hour shifts without lunch breaks in a hundred-degree factory for 38 cents an hour, maybe pass on that thing and look for a similar item made by a reputable company that pays its employees a living wage. Conversely, if it uses recycled plastics combed off the shores of the oceans by solar-powered litter-gitters, and if a good chunk of the company’s proceeds go to a worthy cause, by all means, support that company!
Keep these questions in mind and see what arises over the next month as you shop. Let me know what you’ve restrained yourself from buying and how that’s making you feel along the way. I’m here for moral support if you need it!
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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