When I think about impulse spending, I think about those moments when I’m teetering
on the edge of buying something I know I shouldn’t buy. There is that build-up of tension that comes from the indecision, that see-saw feeling of “Will I? Won’t I?” and then sudden relief when I let go and just spend the money. There’s the swell of pleasure and gratification followed shortly by mortification. Anger and guilt take over, I think that I’ve made yet another stupid spending decision and now I must drown in my sea of “consequences”.
Sounds a bit like an addiction? That’s because it was an addiction. As an example, I bought a car as an impulse purchase. I had a job that required a vehicle, my then-car died, and I was in a big bind. So, I panicked, ran to my parents to co-sign a loan I could never afford and became the proud owner of $18,000 car loan within a week. There was no analysis of what the problem really was; there was no process of working through what the viable options were; and no exploratory discussion about the pros and cons for said options.
Somewhat tragically, spending the money on the car was the final straw that broke my already overloaded financial camel’s back. This is what led to my needing to enroll in the Orderly Payment of Debt program. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Anyway, what does this have to do with today’s post? It’s about what you can do when you’re feeling that urge to spend.
Andrea over at So Over This wrote a great article about an email she received from a reader who used to struggle with impulse spending and debt. She talked about her reader’s experience with blog writers who seemed to possess a discipline she did not have to achieve financial goals she never could. This reader shared that she felt alone in her struggle and that her efforts were never good enough – Andrea points out that despite a lot of people’s opinions of “debt bloggers”, there’s a shared experience that remains valuable for a lot of readers. Knowing that there is someone else out there who has been there, and sometimes done that can be the difference between feeling hopeless and/or hopeful for her future.
I know this was one of the core reasons I wanted to start a personal finance blog. I wasn’t interested in putting out a shiny product full of “can do” tips and tricks on saving money/spending money/paying down debt. Honestly, if the difference between success and failure was a list of tips and tricks, why would any of us be here? Success is an important message – but so is failure. It keeps us honest and it keeps us tolerant when other people trip and fall.
Soooo…I’ll step down off my soap box now.
When I am in the throes of whatever crisis that I feel requires a spending solution, especially for a larger purchase, I try to slow myself down. When I’m stressed, I feel like I’m in an emotional whirlwind and it’s hard to think straight when you’re in the middle of a gale storm. Sometimes I need to create * space * between me and my feelings (Is that even proper grammar?) so I have time to calm down. One of the ways I would do this is use a “Distraction List”. I would promise myself to do the ten things on my list before I could make a spending decision. As follows, here is my list of tips. 😉
Before I go out and start spending money on ________ , I will do these:
- I will call a friend – it’s better if you have a specific friend named, or even list a few friends.
- I will go for a fifteen minute walk.
- I will paint my nails.
- I will read a chapter in my book or a few articles in a magazine.
- I will listen to four songs that relax me (list them).
- I will look at my favourite pictures – have them on your smartphone.
- I will write everything I’m thinking at this moment in my journal.
- I will focus on my breathing for ten minutes, I will practice being mindful.
- I will got to a Zumba class or hot yoga (if available), or practice yoga at home
- I will count backwards from 100 in Spanish/French.
This is just a sample list; the idea is that you fill your own list with things that will help you when you’re feeling the urge to spend. Pick as many things as you can that you can do anywhere or any time and have back up plans for those items that require certain conditions, like being at home. This will not solve all your spending problems but it can help you get through that crucial 30 minutes when you are most likely to act on your impulse. What do you do when you still feel the urge after you’ve worked through the list? You start at the beginning again. This won’t make the feeling go away but it will help you weather the feeling without acting on it. It will take practice so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work the first time, or the second time…
What works for you when you’re feeling the urge to spend?