This article is by Kassondra Cloos, an Earnest client and freelance writer.
Last year, we spent $3.2 trillion shopping from our cell phones. And a good chunk of that was spent on impulse buys: nearly half of all online shoppers buy more than they mean to when their shopping cart is digital.
Shopping can be super-addictive, especially as we are more exposed than ever to exactly what we want, often when we’re feeling most vulnerable. We see ads targeted directly toward us while we’re scrolling through all our friends’ selfies and photos with the brand-new backpack they bought for their expensive trip to Europe, and we get marketing emails every day. It’s even tougher to resist when you’re a member of a “free” shipping service like Amazon Prime: Prime members spend an average of $1,300 on their site each year, while non-Prime members spend about $700.
But even the most die-hard shopper can quit. If you find yourself constantly regretting purchases, try these methods of reining in your spending and refocus your finances to pay off your loans faster.
Identify your problem
Create a spreadsheet of your past few months of expenses and categorize items as wants vs. needs. What brought you happiness, and what led to guilt? Try to identify trends and find solutions for each problem. If most of your spending is happening in the same store, avoid entering that shop at all. If you’re spending tons of money on books or magazines, consider subscribing to a digital magazine service that will cost less, or get a library card.
Delete all shopping and FOMO-inducing apps off your phone
The less convenient it is to spend money, the less likely you are to regret a purchase. Unsubscribe from promotional emails so your inbox becomes less tempting, and get rid of Instagram and Pinterest while you’re at it, if you often find yourself hunting down styles or gear you’ve seen while scrolling. Ditching Pinterest is one of the ways blogger Cait Flanders helped kick her online shopping habit. “The more times we look at a product/offer, the more times we think about buying it,” she writes on her blog. “The more we see/hear about something, the more we believe we either really need it or might get value from it, and then we will ultimately make the purchase.”
Set a goal to stay on track
If you’re trying to quit shopping because you want to shift your spending elsewhere, it may help to set a financial goal. Put a visual reminder up on your fridge or bulletin board, and think about it often. Next time you go to spend $100 on a new jacket, you’ll have to think about it in the context of getting closer to or further away from your goal. It could be a trip, a down payment on a house or new car, or a savings safety net to help you quit the job you hate for a new venture of your own. Whatever it is, make it something you will actively want to work toward. Every time you avoid spending money frivolously, you can funnel that cash toward your goal instead.
Set a timer and wait before buying
Author and blogger Colin Wright, who travels the world full-time thanks to wise spending strategies, has a formula for making decisions on purchases. For every $10 an item costs, he recommends waiting an hour before punching in your credit card numbers and hitting submit.
Write down every single purchase
No cheating: Don’t keep a notes tab on your phone, and don’t make a mental note to write down your purchase later. The physical act of writing down your morning coffee cost, the pack of gum you bought at the gas station, and the salad and kombucha you bought for $14.97 at the shop near work will grate on you quickly. If you stick to it, you’ll likely find yourself avoiding purchases to avoid having to write them down.
Quit shopping cold-turkey
Flanders challenged herself to quit shopping for a year, and liked it so much she continued on for another. She set rules for herself about what was an OK purchase (a new mattress and new boots, for example), and what wasn’t, and worked hard to stick to it. She saved thousands of dollars over the course of a year.
The envelope budget method is as old as time (or at least as old as cash), and effective for one main reason: You can’t spend what you don’t have. If you leave your credit cards at home and separate your money out into spending, saving, and necessities envelopes at the beginning of each week or month, you can force yourself to stay within a constrained budget.
Find a new hobby
Think about the last thing you regretted buying. How much did it cost, and what else could you have done with the money? If it was an expensive pair of shoes, think about funneling that cost into something like art supplies to unwind after a long day, or a pottery class (many cities have recreation departments that offer such things fairly inexpensively). At the end, you’ll have spent both your money and time much more wisely, and created something.
Find an accountability buddy
Even with student debt as common as it is, talking about money is still pretty taboo. Find a close friend or family member you trust. What shopping habits are you struggling with alone that you can get through together? Make a pact to call or text each other when you find yourself scrolling through online sales, or to meet up for free activities on the weekends when you might otherwise find yourself at the mall or downtown shopping district.
Turn it into a game
Set rules and goals for yourself, with small rewards, and see how long you can go without spending money on non-necessities. Compete with your accountability buddy. Prizes could include home-cooked dinners, a free night of babysitting or a weekend of dog- or house-sitting, or a few hours to teach a skill the winner covets, like photography, website development, extreme organization, painting, or playing an instrument.
When shopping is unavoidable, strategize
If you need to replace something worn out, like a pair of work shoes or a coat, don’t head out without a plan. Think about exactly what it is you need, set a hard cap for what you’re able to spend, and don’t even bother wandering to other sections of the stores you visit. Bring your accountability buddy if needed. Think about quality and long-term use. You’re much better off setting a slightly higher budget for one amazing thing than going cheap and having to make several more shopping trips in the near future to replace the less durable item you bought to save $20 in the short term.