We all make purchases we regret. Exhibit A: Repeats of items we already have plenty of (our fifteenth pair of yoga pants). Exhibit B: Gadgets (large and small) that sit idle after a couple of uses (Cappuccino or photo scanner, anyone?). Exhibit C: The super-deluxe version of anything (Cable package, pedicure, business class tickets), that in hindsight was completely frivolous.
As a professional organizer, who works with the detritus (and hang-dog shame) of these lamentable decisions–here is my take on what drives us to drop cash on the unnecessary. And what, pray tell, we can do to resist temptation before it burns a hole in our wallet.
Step 1: Identify Your Spending Traps
An irrational purchase is an emotional purchase—filling a need that is only represented by the item (but will not actually scratch the itch). Study your patterns of overspending–what items do you collect in excess: cookbooks, picture frames, gadgets, jewelry, home décor? Then, identify the WHY behind the buy. Ask yourself what you’re really craving.
Too much exercise garb? Maybe with each new pair of yoga pants you hope to get the motivation to workout. Can’t resist gadgets? Perhaps you are feeling time starved. Constantly dropping dough on $250 designer T-Shirts when a $20 department store version will do? What you might really need is a little pampering.
By identifying the real desire behind your spending habits, you can find a way to meet those needs for less or no money. Instead of trying to will yourself to yoga with new duds, take a class with a friend or switch to biking.
Step 2: Pause before Purchasing
Give yourself a policy of taking a minimum of 24 hours to think about any unplanned purchase. If you still want to buy the item after taking some distance, go back for it. Here are three questions to ask yourself before handing over your credit card:
- Where will I put it? Before adding any new item to your life, be sure you know where it will go. Do you have space for this item? How much time will it take to setup or install? If you can’t figure out where it’s going to live, you probably don’t have room for it in your life.
- Do I need this, or do I want it?< A simple, but powerful question–which put the brakes on mindless spending. It jolts you out of the moment into the reality of everyday life….can you picture a moment when you actually needed this very item, and didn’t have it? If so, hit go.
- Is there a better use for these funds? If you are ready to part with $299 for a mobile phone – when your service contract isn’t up for six months and your current phone works fine – stop and identify other ways to use the money. Redirect the $299 to your retirement account, order the new air conditioner you really DO need, or make an appointment to get your car aligned. It can feel good to move that money toward something more meaningful.
Occasionally, we are just itching to spend money, on anything, no matter what it is (aka: retail therapy), in those moments, I think what we are craving is a sense of freedom: I can spend whatever I want, whenever I want to! To prevent a purchase you will regret, try to remember: having money in the bank–and the security that goes with it–provides more freedom and is more exhilarating than any purchase.