Monday, September 24, 2018

How to Stop Spending (and Fill the Spending Void)

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On Friday I posted about my fall seasonal goals, which I can work on right up until Christmas.  But I mentioned that I specifically wanted to do a pantry challenge for the month of October - in order to save money, better track my finances, declutter the kitchen, and be less wasteful, I plan on eating only from the fridge, freezer, and pantry during the month of October.  Yes, that means no grocery shopping, not even for fresh produce (I'm not going to die without fresh produce for 2 weeks guys, relax.)  And it definitely means that I won't be ordering any food for delivery, which is where we really overspend.  Since I don't spend much on other things, this will essentially be a no spend month for me, which is perfect since it's right before the holidays, a traditionally high spend time.

I learned from posting that, and from reading the goals lists of the other people who linked up, that we all feel the 'do I have enough in savings' time crunch before November and a lot of people are planning something financially frugal for fall, and specifically the month of October.  So whether you're joining me on a pantry challenge, doing a full no spend month of your own, or a different variation of one, I have a few tips regarding the mental aspect of finances to help you stop spending this month.

Because there are two very different aspects of controlling your spending.  The first is practical, of course - budgeting, automatically moving money into savings, couponing, using less of a product - and I have a ton of those 'saving money' posts on this blog.  I even have a previous post on how to survive a no spend month, if you struggle with the practicality of the whole thing.  But the other aspect of money saving is all about controlling your mindset and your emotions as they relate to spending and acquiring new items.  That's what you really need to work on to (a) spend less in general while still having a great month and, possibly more importantly, (b) not run out on November 1st and buy everything you thought about in the month of October.

How to Stop Spending

Tip #1 - Look at what you own in a new light.  Some part of the enjoyment we get from buying things has to do with that level of 'newness.'  New makeup and clothes and books are exciting, but you can get a similar sense of excitement from the things you already have, if you look at them differently.  As long as you're not going out and spending money anyway, you might want to try staying in and trying on different clothing items together to make new looks, playing with an eyeshadow palette you haven't touched in a few months, or hosting a book swap with some friends.  For me, it's going to be going into the pantry and figuring out some totally new dishes I can make from the things I already have on hand.  You can easily achieve that same rush of 'new.'

Tip #2 - Keep some form of a gratitude journal.  Whether you write it down or not, just start or end every day by being mindful and grateful for what you have.  We spend because we think what we have isn't enough, but it almost always is.  If your spending is out of control related to clothes and books, then start by being grateful in those areas - grateful that you live in a country where libraries are plentiful and uncensored and free, grateful for the ability to read at all, grateful for the bookshelf which houses your own mini library, grateful for a closet full of clothes and events to wear them to, and friends who love you no matter what you're wearing, even if you wore it 2 days ago.  You have much more than you think you do, and it's enough.

Tip #3 - Identify your spending triggers.  What situations, items, or people make you want to spend money?  You probably know a lot of them off the top of your head, like knowing that you eat expensive last minute lunches at work when you didn't take the time to meal prep.  Take the time to prepare for those before starting a strict challenge.  Once you commit to not spending and start the process, though, you'll find a lot more you didn't realize you had, like that one Instagram account that you follow whose beautiful home makes you want to buy a totally impractical glass or acrylic table that your family will leave finger prints all over constantly.  Start keeping track of these triggers both before and during your challenge and then come up with solutions for each, such as taking the time to prep on Sundays or keeping emergency snacks stocked in your desk, and unfollowing social media accounts, at least for the duration of the no spend month.  I have a whole post on my own spending triggers, and what I do instead.

Tip #4 - Take the time to sort through your 'I want to buy this right now' feelings.  Yes, you can identify the trigger and unfollow the Instagram account, but how does that help you in the long run?  How does that stop you from buying the silly acrylic table on November 1?  What you really need to do then is get to the root of the spending impulse.  What is it that you feel, and what is it that you're trying to feel?  Obviously this is easy with the last minute lunch example - you feel hungry, you feel lazy, and you're unprepared for that.  Technically, you have to eat.  So I don't mean that - I'm talking more about things you don't need.  Home decor, makeup, an ice cream bar after lunch, anything that you see in the moment that you absolutely did not have any need or desire for before seeing the item.  So what is it that you're trying to achieve by acquiring it?

How to Address the Spending Void

Let me explain this by throwing my own blog and shares under the bus.  Organizational items.  I always share photos of my well organized spaces and the products I love and use to keep those spaces looking that way.  Yes, that makes you want to buy them and I want to offer useful opinions on things so you know it's a good product.  But if it's not something you need or use, why did you buy it, or want to buy it?  Many times, it's because you see that and think 'Stephanie is organized, she has her shit together, if I buy that jewelry tray or makeup storage then I'll be organized too, I'll have my shit together.'  This feeling of wanting to spend, wanting to acquire that item, is stemming from the thoughts you have about my life.  You feel that if you buy that organizer, your life will become organized.  And ultimately, you want to feel organized.

And that's the feeling - you feel chaotic, and you want to feel organized.  You don't really want or need that exact item.  But a lot of times we take action on how we feel today, without thinking through that process at all, and just go ahead and buy all the things. We try to fill that void, that feeling of not being organized enough, by buying something based on how we think we'll feel in the future (like we'll have all our shit together.)  Almost every single time, the things that you buy do not make you feel this certain way, and since you don't achieve it, the next time a similar item comes along that evokes the same feeling of not being enough and desire to be that way, you buy that too.

So how do you fill that void?  Instead of hitting the order button, figure out what actually will make you feel that way, without spending any money.  In terms of being organized, it's not an item - cleaning your house, decluttering things that are stressing you out, and storing like items together and in a logical place will make you feel organized.  Telling yourself that you are an organized person will motivate you to be one, rather than just telling yourself it's impossible and giving up.  For me, I can overspend on makeup because I think a new product will make things easier or make me better at eyeliner.  But what would actually be easier is wearing less makeup (I do do this now, by the way) and getting better at eyeliner comes with practice and maybe watching tutorials, not buying a new eyeliner every month.  And ultimately, I can just tell myself that (a) I am good at makeup and (b) being 'great' at it isn't something I really care that much about, after all.

I'm all about addressing issues not symptoms lately, and this is just another version of that.  Breaking my shopping ban by buying eyeliner isn't the issue, it's just the symptom of a feeling that I need to address.  That's what a no or low spend month should be about - changing habits, or at least changing them enough that you don't have a $400 Amazon bill in November.  And it's hard to change habits if you don't take the time to address what feelings made those habits form in the first place.  So I'm hopeful at least one of these tips will save you money this month, but mostly the last one. 

Do you struggle with this less tangible aspect of money?  Are you setting a frugal goal for yourself for October (or the rest of 2018 in general?)

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