Raise your hand if you have ever bought something stupid. Come on, don’t lie, it’s okay. I’m raising my hand too *glances nervously at that cardigan I wore zero times and I'm about to sell* There’s just something about shopping that messes up our normally rational human minds. We are just pre-programmed to want more. When we see stuff, our primal instinct is to obtain it.
But not you, right? ;) YOU, my friend, recognize that you have control over your money decisions. Maybe you just need a little help to harness it. And I’m here to help you with that!
I made this blog post ASAP (As Simple As Possible) by breaking it down not only into steps, but into a HANDY DANDY FLOWCHART for you. You can grab the free download at the end of the post! I always find that I stress less when I have something written down in a clear step-by-step process. So let’s get started and learn how to keep our hard-earned money in our bank accounts. You’ll be rolling in cash in no time (no guarantees, restrictions may apply).
First, start with a 50-30-20 ratio to make a budget.
You simply need a budget before you start because how are you going to know if you can afford something if you don’t even know how much money you’ve set aside for that spending category? This step is very important.
A popular budget that is a great starting point for beginners is the 50-30-20 rule. Spend 50% on your needs, 30% on your wants, and save the rest. Obviously you can adjust the percentages how you see fit. You can get down into the nitty gritty beyond the basics, portioning off things like rent, insurance, groceries, social outings, gym memberships, etc. But for our purposes, you’ll be fine with simply splitting your monthly income into the 50-30-30 ratio.
You can do this the old school way with pen and paper or there are also plenty of good budgeting apps and software out there like Mint.com, which is what I personally use. Many of these tools are free, so do some research and figure out what works for you!
Take a minute to practice gratitude.
You might be groaning right now. Geez, Beatrice, why do you have to stick mindfulness everywhere? Well, while you were groaning, you could have gotten this done already. So think of 5 things that you are grateful right now. Writing them down helps. They don’t have to be deep and introspective, feel free to include material things that you enjoy having.
Why am I having you do this? To get you out of the “wanting” mood that you are currently in and push you towards the “having” mood. By taking some time to recognize all of the things/opportunities/people/etc. that you already have, you’ll be better equipped to saying no to this new thing you want to buy. This is mindful spending in a nutshell!
Is it a necessity?
Alright, now we’re getting into the bread and butter here. I’m sure you learned about wants and needs in grade school, but I do think that it can still be confusing. Things like insurance and rent are necessities, for sure. But what about groceries? You do need food, but do you need the fancy schmancy expensive chocolate cashew butter?
It’s really up to you to be honest here. So yes, you do need a lunch right now, but do you need to go to this expensive restaurant? Yes, you do need clothing, but do you need a third handbag? So on and so forth.
Can you borrow it from someone?
I think this is a step we often forget about, and it’s especially important for things like tools or products that come in bulk. Want to try making sushi tonight? Maybe your neighbors have a sushi rolling mat that they’ll let you use so you don't have to buy one, use it one time, and then throw it in the bottom kitchen drawer for five years.
If you can’t easily borrow the item, consider splitting the cost of the purchase with a friend and sharing it. There are many things that you can do this with (like a ladder, a cookbook, an ice cream maker), and hey, sharing is caring! Just make sure to agree on the terms of your sharing beforehand.
Is it in your budget?
If it’s a necessity, will you have enough to cover your other necessities? If yes, great. But if you don’t, then you’ll have to dip into your 30% for wants. If you can make that work, sounds good! If the item is a want, then just make sure that you have money in your 30% wants category and look ahead to the month to anticipate other things you might want to buy even more. All set? Awesome.
Oh, and if the item is a want and you don’t have room in your budget, STOP right there. Discontinue flowchart. Abort mission.
Now ask yourself a couple of questions.
It’s basically time to interrogate yourself. Go through this list of questions that is designed to make you reconsider your purchase:
- Is the quality worth the price? In other words, could I buy a more expensive alternative that won’t have to be replaced as often?
- How often will I use this? Resist spending oodles of money on one-time things like prom dresses. Sure, you can wear it again, but when? Be honest.
- How happy will it really make me? Have you bought something similar to this in the past and tired of it quickly? Consider the value of experiences that make memories over things that lose their luster.
- How will you have to get rid of it? Almost everything you buy has to exit your life at some point. Are you ready for dealing with that work? For example, clothes that you buy will need to be sorted out, washed, and taken to a donation center or posted for sale.
- How much work will you need to do to make this money back? Say you're a college student working a part-time job and earning $10 per hour. You see a cute backpack for $100 and think about the (more than) 10 hours of work that it will take for you to pay for it... Still want it?
- How else could I use this money if I don’t spend it now? Consider your long-term money goals. For example, I'm saving up for my gap year. Remember that a penny saved is a penny earned, and any money you don’t spend now is basically earned towards that big purchase.
If you still want it, it’s time to make yourself wait.
Personally, I recommend waiting 3 days if it’s under $100 and a week if it’s over $100. It varies for everyone, based on how strong your shopping instinct is, how tight your budget is, etc. But the idea is always the same: you need to give yourself time to process the purchase, re-evaluate if it still would bring value to your life, and let the “wanting feeling” fade.
I like to use this website called Shoptagr to save clothes that I like, and then a Pinterest board for everything else. By simply capturing that idea somewhere I almost feel like I’ve already bought the item. This will allow you to think more rationally as you go through your waiting period.
Time to buy (or save).
Still want it? Buy it! You’ve considered your wants and needs, your budget, and your priorities. You’ve answered all of the big questions and you’ve waited for this. Now you are ready to buy :)
At this point you might also want to try and get the price down. Tools like Shoptagr can track prices for you so you can get an alert when the price has gotten low enough for you. Look for sales. Is there a big savings season coming up? Perhaps you could hold off on the purchase until then.
Congrats! Look at you being a savvy shopper. And they said you couldn't bring mindfulness into something like shopping. We just did *mic drop*.
When I start one one topic I like to think about it a lot, so on Friday I'll have my very first thrift haul video ready for ya! Since thrifting is one of the most important ways (I think) to save money, I've paired it with a few more tips for spending wisely that I think you'll find useful. So keep an eye out for that!
What item have you bought recently that you have found to be a useful purchase? I bought a 4-pack of white-out tape, because it was way cheaper than buying one at a time, which is what I've been doing for like the past year!
Until next time,