I’m a “live-life-to-the-fullest” kind of person. Most of my regrets come from things I wish I had done, rather than things I’ve actually done. The person I should have hugged one final time, the blog I should have started before letting the domain expire, those times I should just stop working to play with my kids. (Fortunately, it’s not too late for that!) Except when it comes to finances. Impulse spending is my downfall. According to a new poll released by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, I’m not alone.
The online survey revealed that 53 percent of respondent regret “habitually overspending.” This regret ranked far ahead of other concerns:
- Inadequately saving – 18 percent
- Insufficiently preparing for retirement – 14 percent
- Not having bought a house – 10 percent
- Having bought a house – 5 percent
What can you do about habitually overspending, often caused by impulse purchases? Here are some tips to get in to the habit of saving instead of spending.
1. Talk a walk
Spotted a fabulous pair of shoes or the perfect jeans? Try them on first. Often, you’ll realize what looked great on the rack doesn’t work for you. Money saved. If you still love it, put it back where you found it, (don’t ask the salesclerk to put it on hold!) and take a walk. Around the mall. Around the block. Whatever it takes. Spend at least 20 minutes away and, here’s the key, think about everything but the item. Often, you’ll forget you even wanted it, and go home empty-handed and happy. If you’re still obsessing, go back and — providing you have the money and the item is still on the shelf — buy it. But save the receipt, because if it stays in your closet longer than a week with the tags still on, it’s going back to the store!
2. Put your credit cards on ice
This time-tested tip really works. Place your credit card in a large, freezable bowl or plastic storage container. Fill the container with water. Put it in your freezer. It’s amazing what you won’t buy when you actually have to part with cash.
3. Identify what (or who) makes you buy – and avoid it
Many people have friends who are “spending enablers.” That person encourages you to buy everything you see. Maybe they are living vicariously through you because they can’t afford to buy it. Or maybe they think they are acting in your best interests. Next time you get together, do anything except shopping. Go to the beach. See a movie. Just don’t shop.
On the other hand, maybe you only buy when you’re depressed and shopping by yourself. Find another, more constructive outlet to lift your spirits, whether it’s calling an old friend, getting immersed in a good book, or exercise.
4. Make a “sale” list
Often, we buy things we don’t really need or want just because they are on sale. Before you go out to the mall or any store, make a list of items you really need or have wanted for a long time, along with the price you’re willing to spend for them. If you see that item, at that price or lower, buy it. But if it’s not on your list, skip it. You’ll avoid buying anything just because it’s on sale.
5. Don’t clip coupons
Certain retail stores that send hefty discount coupons weekly wreak havoc on my budget. Why? I can’t resist getting 20 or 30 percent off — even if I don’t need anything. These coupons entice you in to a store with a promise of substantial savings. Newsflash: If you’re buying things you don’t need — and wouldn’t buy if you didn’t have the coupon — you’re not saving any money. I’ve cut my impulse spending in half since I started tossing these coupons like the junk mail they are. If I really need something from one of these stores, I can usually find a friend willing to give me a coupon, or I wait until the next one comes in the mail. They always do.
It takes 30 days before a new mindset or activity becomes a habit. Give yourself four weeks to practice these five tips, then come back and tell us how they worked for you. I’ll do the same!