Think before you buy

Much like food, we consume things in the same mindless way and must learn how to control spending.

Much like food, we consume things in the same mindless way and must learn how to control spending.

Do you tend to think before you buy things? An article on PsychologyToday.com got me thinking about some of my mindless buying habits. If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you’ve probably already keyed into the fact that I’m a frequent reader of their many blogs. They make me think – about myself, my family, my work and my money.

The post by Susan Albers, Psy. D. got me going on the latter. This, despite the fact that she didn’t write about money at all. She wrote about food, specifically about mindless eating. However, there are clear correlations between the two. Much like food, we consume things in the same mindless way and must learn how to control spending. “Clinical studies have examined the effectiveness of awareness and eating,” she blogged. “For example, Timmerman and Brown (2012) conducted a study on middle aged women who frequently ate out at restaurants. The intervention was just teaching the women how to be more ‘aware’ of their choices, hunger, fullness and mindless eating behavior. The result? The women ate 300 calories less each day.”

The point is that small mindless eating adds up. Just like small, mindless spending. If you’ve ever tried to track spending, you know that the little purchases add up. And just like many, many people have no idea how many calories they put into their mouths each day, many, many people have no idea how much money they pull out of their wallets or swipe on their cards. I did the math. Eating 300 fewer calories each day is akin to eating 2,100 fewer calories each week, 9,100 fewer calories each month and 109,200 fewer calories each year. Stick with that for 12 months and you’d drop 31 pounds. (Not that you need to.)

First – I just want you to be mindful before you buy. Note that the idea of being mindful, being conscious, is not about being the calorie – or the shopping – police. It’s about knowing what you’re doing when you make an active decision to eat that donut or buy that sweater. It’s not wrong. It’s not evil. It’s a choice. And because you’ve made it thoughtfully you should be able to enjoy it all the more.

Finally – there are many ways to get a grip on your spending behavior. Expense tracking – writing down what you spend as you spend it – works very well because it forces you to stop and think as you act. Some banks even have online tools that you can use. Tracking expenses and setting up a self-enforced purchasing pause – making yourself walk away from the cash register or the online checkout before you buy – is also surprisingly effective. Dr. James Roberts, professor of marketing at Baylor University and author of Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have In Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy notes that some people even use “credit card condoms.” Laugh if you must. I’d never heard of them either. Essentially they’re covers (often self-made) you put over your credit cards that say things like, “Do I Really Need This?”

Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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