But just because it’s easy to spend money without thinking doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to it. The following mindful spending strategies can help you resist impulse buys long enough to help you remember what you truly value.
Calculate costs in hours spent
While money is replaceable, time can only be spent, not earned. That’s why it’s helpful to start thinking of prices in terms of hours, rather than dollars. Remembering that you’ve already traded your time for the money you plan to spend on whatever has caught your fancy can be enough to help you keep your cash in your wallet.
Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez popularized this strategy in their book Your Money or Your Life, where they make the case that your time is literally money, since you trade your time away in order to get money. When you calculate costs in hours spent, you determine the amount of money you net per hour, and compare that number to the cost of goods and services to buy. With your calculation in hand, you have a better sense of how much time any one purchase costs you.
To put this strategy into action, start with your monthly income. Check your pay stubs to see how much you make per month. Multiply your monthly net income by 12 to get your annual income, then divide it by 2,000 (the typical number of hours worked in a year) to get your hourly wage.
Let’s say your monthly income is $3,100. If you multiply that by 12, you get $37,200. Divided by 2,000, you get an hourly wage of $18.60.
Having that number in your head can re-contextualize prices, because it gives you a concrete value of your hours. When you’re tempted by a home assistant device that’s on sale for $150, the price may seem like no big deal. But is it worth 8.06 hours of your work time?
You may ultimately decide that having a home assistant device is worth just over a day of work — and that’s absolutely fine. Calculating prices in hours worked means that you’re actually clear on what the true costs are.
Know why you’re shopping
Eating and shopping can both feel very good in the moment, to the point where you ignore any signals that tell you that you’ve had enough. Like eating, we often spend money because we want to change our emotional state. And in both cases, there’s a huge industry in place trying to keep us mindless, continuing to ignore signals and consume in order to avoid emotions.
To combat this, get several blank index cards. Place these where you’ll see them anytime you might spend money. For instance, put one in front of your credit cards in your wallet, one on your laptop, and one taped to the back of your phone. On each card, write the following questions for yourself:
- Why do I want to buy this?
- What problem do I expect this purchase to solve?
- How do I expect to feel after making this purchase?
- How long do I expect to own this item/use this service?
- Do I already own something similar?
- Can I recreate the feeling of buying this without spending money?
- Can I recreate the feeling of buying this by spending less money?
It’s important to check in with yourself to understand why you’re consuming so you can stop if it’s not what you really want, or engage mindfully so you can truly enjoy the process if it is what you want. (See also: 8 Ways to Save Money When You Can’t Really Afford To)
Create a purchase wish list
There is an excellent reason why “wait before making any purchases” is a classic personal finance tip. Forcing yourself to wait to decide if you actually want to spend money on an item can help mitigate the emotional element of spending decisions.
However, if you’ve ever tried to institute such a rule for yourself, you’ll remember the “I don’t wanna wait!” reaction that can derail the entire process. Even though you might be aware of these impulse-driven moments, it can still be tough to stand up to that foot-stomping part of yourself insisting on making the purchase right now.
One method of both calming and honoring the little Veruca Salt inside you is to keep a purchase wish list. When you find something you absolutely want to buy, quickly write down what it is, where and when you found it, and how much it costs. Once you’ve written it down, set a date anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days in the future when you may come back to make the purchase, if you still want it.
There are two benefits to this list:
You create self-awareness
You’re recognizing the part of yourself that wants to give in to the impulse purchase. It does feel good to buy things on a whim. It would be fun to have whatever cool thingamajig you’re pining for. Writing down all the details about the potential purchase is a way to honor the reality of your spending desires. You’re not wrong for wanting the item, and making this list can help you feel more at peace with leaving it behind at the store or in your digital cart because you’ve honored your emotional reaction to it.
You train yourself to resist impulse buys
The second benefit is that by creating this list and letting it age, you learn to spend less on impulse buys, while still being open to making spending decisions that truly enrich your life. True impulse buys won’t tempt you to return, since the inconvenience of going back will be stronger than the impulse to buy. The purchases you actually care about will be worth the wait, and allowing yourself to go back for such buys will ensure you don’t feel deprived.
Keep your mind on your money
Parting with money is incredibly easy, especially in our increasingly cashless society — which makes it very hard to resist the siren song of spending. But recognizing the time cost of purchases, asking yourself why you’re buying, and honoring your impulses by creating a purchase wish list can all help you to pause between your desire and your purchase.