Ever find yourself coming home from the shops with an extra shopping bag? A tub of ice-cream that definitely wasn’t on your shopping list, or a new t-shirt you didn’t really need to go with the pair of sneakers you actually did need? Or maybe you just strolled past Kmart on your way out. #takemymoney.
We’ve all been there. Shopping (particularly shopping for wants rather than needs) releases endorphins and dopamine. All that excitement and the anticipation of a ‘reward’ creates feelings of pleasure; it just makes us feel good.
Feeling low? Treat yoself. Feeling good? Treat yoself! It’s an addictive high and it trips many of us – and our money goals – up.
Did you know the most common impulse purchase is food? Which may not seem like a big deal, but consistently spend an extra $20 on groceries each week and you’ve blown $1,000 in a year.
How to control your impulses and shop smarter
It is possible. In this article we’ll discuss some of our favourite strategies, including:
- The unsubscribe
- The pleasure vs pain principle
- The delayed gratification practice
- The return to ‘why’
And of course, remember spending reduces your savings and your chances of achieving your savings objective.
You might have spent hours formulating your saving objectives and locking in a figure, but one irresistible sale or cheeky discount code later and it was all a big waste of time.
Shopping apps and email newsletters – or as I prefer to call them, the devils – are designed to encourage the very thing we’re fighting here. The brains behind your favourite brands know exactly why, when and what you’re most likely to buy. Sucking you in is even easier than you think.
Take away the temptation. Take half an hour one night to run through your inbox and unsubscribe from the lot. Delete the apps, or at the very least, switch off the notifications.
The pleasure vs pain principle
Let’s delve a little deeper into the psychology of spending. When we’re planning to buy something our brain is automatically weighing up the pleasure of the purchase against the pain of parting with our hard-earned cash.
When we buy things on credit or through a Buy Now Pay Later service, we feel the ‘pain’ of the purchase less in the moment, if at all.
But here’s the thing: you can defer the pain, but you can’t avoid it forever. It will catch up with you sooner or later and if you’re adding interest charges, it’s gonna end up hurting a whole lot more.
Make sure you’re actively considering the pain before you hit the checkout. Ask yourself, ‘is the pleasure of this purchase worth the pain of missing my savings goal this month and pushing back my travel/car/home plans?’
The delayed gratification practice
Unfortunately, the ‘pleasure’ usually outweighs the pain in the moment. It’s hard to say no when it’s staring you right in the face, isn’t it?
Give yourself a cooling off period. Walk away and hold off on the purchase for a minimum of 48 hours.
During this time ask yourself: is this something I really need? Will I actually use or wear it? Do I have something else at home that serves the same purpose, or looks just as good? And, most importantly, can I really afford it? If I’ll need to put it on credit or dip into savings to buy it, is it worth it?
After 48 hours, revisit the ‘want’ and you’ll be able to make a much more conscious decision.
The return to ‘why’
Keep your long-term goal front of mind and your chances of falling victim to a short-term pleasure will lessen dramatically.
Saving for a deposit on a new home? Put a picture of your dream home on your fridge and the screen saver on your phone. Set an alarm on your phone that flashes your goal at you every day.
And when you do find yourself falling for a moment of weakness, stop before you hit the checkout and go back to your why. Is this purchase going to get you closer or further from it? Need help finding out what your ‘why’ is? Read this.
We all know the pleasure of a material item is never going to last. Because you can’t regulate the inside with something from the outside. That’s why the dopamine hit shopping gives us disappears so soon.
But dopamine doesn’t have to cost a damn thing.
Here’s what you can try instead:
- Remove the temptation. Unsubscribe, silence, and delete.
- Have a go at strategies 2, 3 or 4 above.
- Try another source of dopamine. Get out in the sun, listen to music, laugh with your friends or dance like nobody’s watching. And guess what? They’re all pleasure, no pain.