Feb 6, 2019
“Why Did I Buy That?” How to Curb Your Junk Spending
By Sara Benincasa
Tips on how to stop dropping cash on things you don’t need.
Recently, I asked my Twitter followers to describe the silliest objects they’ve purchased in recent memory.
One woman obtained an asparagus storage container although she did not even particularly like asparagus. A comedian I’ve long admired admitted that she bought a pricey food spiralizer (but has yet to spiralize a damn thing).
A writer I enjoy, bought a vintage anatomical model of the female pelvis simply because she grew irritated by a fellow shopper dithering over whether to make the purchase.
In nearly every case—the shoppers expressed regret. Except for the lady who bought the anatomical pelvis model, who was quite pleased.
When it comes to wasting money on things I don’t really need, I can relate to the struggle. Boy, can I relate.
What is junk spending?
And there’s a term for this kind of purchasing behavior: junk spending. I first heard it used when I encountered Allen Carr’s “Get Out Of Debt Now” book, but I’ve since seen it used elsewhere.
It’s like junk food, really—you get a quick hit of pleasure, followed by intense remorse. And since we’re still in the early part of 2019, it’s a good time to toss junk spending in the trash once and for all.
Here are some of my time-tested money saving tips.
Track everything you spend via an app
I can’t overemphasize the psychological benefit of looking at your financial records every single day.
I use the Mint* website to keep track of my expenditures and many of my bills. I like the way Mint clearly shows how much I’m spending in such categories as rent, utilities, car insurance, and gifts, and compiles it into easy-to-read lists and pie graphs displaying my spending.
For example, I set a rather insanely high restaurant budget of $300 for January. I include takeout and delivery in this category, although the app allows me to break it down into more specific categories like “fast food.” Surprise, surprise—by January 17th I was already over my “any food I don’t cook at home” budget by $133. Want to know why? Because I’d been logging into Mint weekly rather than daily to keep abreast of my progress.
Needless to say, I’m back to my daily reviews. I can’t overemphasize the psychological benefit of looking at your financial records every single day.
Track everything you spend manually
An app will log things automatically, and that’s great. But the physical act of writing down every dollar you spend every single day? You can’t beat that when it comes to getting clear on where your money goes.
At the end of every day, review what you purchased. How many times did you eat fast food or order delivery? If you’d planned ahead, could you have made one of those meals yourself?
Did you buy clothes? Did you actually need those clothes? Could you have purchased something of equal quality for less money if you’d gone to a different store or ordered online?
Don’t forget to acknowledge the useful purchases you made, investments that increased your health and happiness. Spend ten minutes on this daily review every evening, and you’ll get into the habit of hesitating before making that impulse buy.
When it comes to overcoming your impulses, meditation has been a lifesaver. If you train the mind to slow down and focus on bodily sensations, perhaps even just on the breath, you will find that you are better able to control your impulses.
For the past two years, I’ve meditated at least ten minutes a day, on most days. As a recovering alcoholic, I have found meditation to be an invaluable asset to slowing my proverbial roll when it comes to plenty of addictive behaviors, including junk spending.
Take a breath before you buy
When you’re shopping online, don’t be afraid to abandon your cart and take a walk around the block or do some household chores before hitting “purchase.” A cooling off period is a good thing!
You’ll probably get a follow-up email (seriously, in digital marketing it’s called an “abandoned cart email”) telling you, “You’re almost done buying those glitter bath bombs!” That’s a psychological technique meant to encourage (read: guilt) you into making the purchase.
But if your pause has shown you that you don’t really want or need that stuff, just walk away.
Treat yourself (once in a while.)
Human beings find it difficult to maintain extreme austere solutions in the long term. You have to have fun and enjoy yourself along the way. And denying oneself little joys now and again seems to lead to an inevitable binge, whether we’re talking about food or spending.
Treat spending is not necessarily junk spending. Treat spending could be an ice cream cone once a month at the fancy overpriced ice cream shop because dammit, you love their Rocky Road. Treat spending could also be a great pair of shoes that you can buy with cash without overdrawing your account, and that you know you will wear many times in the next few years.
If you budget for things that make you feel good, you’re way less likely to feel a “hangover” the next day.
Be kind to yourself
Remember, you are not meant to be perfect! You’re not stupid, or lazy, or greedy. You are human. Stop comparing yourself to your financial whiz father or super-frugal cousin. You can come up with your own money saving tips based on your own impulse buying. There are no hard and fast rules for resisting temptation.
Don’t waste precious time beating yourself up. Instead, give yourself a hug—yes, I mean this literally—or look in the mirror and say, “I love you and I believe in you. You can do this.”
Then put systems in place to help you achieve your goals.
Stash it instead
Use the extra cash to pay down your credit card or student loan debts, and if you don’t have much of that to worry about, you can consider starting or making a greater contribution to your retirement fund.