Habitual over-spenders often say that they spend money — often too much money — with the same natural feeling that they would pour a glass of water or serve themselves at dinner. When spending — or not saving—becomes an unconscious habit rather than something that you deliberate upon, you may be able to change your habits by beginning to practice mindfulness.
The first step to mindfulness is allowing yourself to let some time pass before you make a decision. This is true whether you’re teaching yourself to save more money, stop overeating, calm anxiety or change any other habit. Our world is full of split-second decisions, and when we push ourselves to rush through transactions, those decisions might turn out to be poor ones.
By asking yourself “Do I want this?” and then “Do I need this?” you’ll give yourself two chances to halt a purchase before the sale is final. It’s perfectly acceptable to not know the answers to those questions — telling yourself “I don’t know if I want or need this thing” is a good indicator you shouldn’t buy it. If possible, sleep on your decision to see if something else changes your mind. In situations where you must make a decision faster than overnight — if there’s a sale on, for example — then you might try to ask yourself out loud if you want or need it or write down the question. Seeing them in black and white or hearing your voice form the words may help you to come to a realistic decision.
Keep a Record
Even if you’re not the type of person who keeps a journal, spending a week or two documenting your daily expenditures will teach you about yourself and your spending habits. It can also show you where you’re spending your money and what things you can stop buying. For example, if you work long hours and find yourself going to a coffee shop for expensive drinks every afternoon, you will see that there’s an underlying problem here. Perhaps, you should find a way to make your schedule less onerous or your workload less stressful. If that were the case, then you might not feel as compelled to buy yourself caffeinated treats every day.
Keeping a record can also help keep you honest. If you tell yourself to write down every transaction, then you might be able to resist some of the smaller ones that, up to this point, you’ve been writing off mentally as “no big deal.”
Play a Game
Can you make saving money into a game for yourself or your household? Though it may sound a little silly at first, generating a strategy of motivation may help you save more than you realize, especially if it’s a family effort. Try creating a challenge — if you can stick to your budget a certain number of days, then you can treat yourself one day. Or, better yet, you can take some of the money you saved and donate it to a good cause.
Playing a game won’t work for everyone. It’s true good spending habits are like a sport — they need to be practiced. Even if someone was once a great athlete, if they cheat the training schedule, they’ll find it more difficult to get back in shape.
As is explained in Reader’s Digest, mindfulness is best achieved when you give your brain a little space to relax. The current preoccupation with multitasking in our society fills our hours with thousands of small responsibilities, many of which are piled on us at the same moment.
To spend money mindfully, you should only be thinking of the act of spending when you do it. So, turn off any apps or toolbars on your computer that let you instantly purchase something online; leave your credit card home for the day and deal with cash only; ignore phone calls and text messages while at the grocery store. Spend your time — and your money — mindfully, and reap the rewards of less stress and more money.
Kim Brandeis is a meditation and yoga teacher. She works with many clients who are practicing mindfulness in order to live a happier and more stress-free lifestyle.