How to Break Your Shopping Habit with a Purchase Pause

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Tired of impulse shopping, buyer’s remorse, or that super draining cycle of buy-regret-return (not to mention the dreaded chore of breaking down all of those cardboard boxes that have accumulated by the front door)? In addition to saving a boatload of money, taking a purchase pause can help you to clarify your values, appreciate all that you already have, reduce your environmental footprint, and inspire you to be more creative and resourceful. Sound good? Here’s how to set yourself up for success:

purchase pauseStep One: Clarify Your Motivation

As with any goal, it’s always helpful to clarify your why and make sure you like your reasons for doing something. My major motivations for trying a spending freeze is to reduce the amount of time and energy I spend on frivolous purchases, and to see how much money I can save just by being more mindful and creative. What are yours?

Step Two: Separate Needs from Wants

The next order of business is to jot down all of your basic and necessary expenses. This may include rent or mortgage, utilities, phone and internet, food and household supplies, prescriptions, etc. Make a list that includes all of your needs. Next, make a new list of your wants. This list could include yoga classes or a gym membership, coffee or meals out, home decor, or anything else that makes your life enjoyable and comfortable. Now that you have a clear picture of your wants versus your needs you get to thoughtfully decide how you want to approach your spending freeze.

Step Three: Define Your Rules

I am a big believer that one size does not fit all when it comes to behavior changes, and you’ll have to define the parameters of your spending freeze in a way that will work for you. Some people opt to skip all extraneous purchases (including coffee, snacks, and meals out) for months, or even a full year. Anyone who knows me knows that those parameters would make me feel very, very sad. I typically opt to forgo buying any material objects that are not totally necessary, but choose to still invest in food and experiences which enhance my life. Take some time to reflect on your values and decide what you want to invest in, and what you want to include in your spending freeze. Make sure your decision aligns with your values, feels good, and feels doable. Write down your rules, and your timeframe, so you can stay on track. You’re in charge!

Step Four: Plan Ahead + Get Creative

Depending on when you decide to try a purchase pause, you may choose to make exceptions for events, holidays, or children’s birthday parties. By creating a clear plan and budget for each event, or opting to give homemade or secondhand gifts, you can still eliminate impulse buys and overspending. A spending break is also a great opportunity to get creative and resourceful. For example, instead of paying for a babysitter and splurging on a pricey meal out, you could invite friends over and cook a simple meal or host a potluck. Instead of buying a gift for a kid birthday you could gift a coupon for a movie night with ice cream sundaes. You get the picture.

Step Five: Keep a Spending Journal

You know how people keep a food journal when they’re trying to be more mindful of what they eat? The same holds true for your finances. By writing down items you spend money on, you will become much more aware of your spending habits and shopping triggers. You can also use a notebook to write down all the things you want while you’re doing your freeze. You can always revisit the list in a month and see if you still want any of those things, or if the desire has waned. Make sure to be curious about your habits instead of judging yourself. This is all a learning experience and a chance to be more intentional in the future.

So, who’s in? A purchase pause experiment is a great opportunity to learn about your shopping triggers and habits, save money, and live more intentionally.

Photography: Vivian Johnson

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