Ever wish you could ask others how they spend their money? We’re going there. In our “Cash Confessions” series, LearnVest breaks down the numbers to show how real people spend their paychecks, and whether their habits are financially on track — or off the rails.
Here, a frequent shopper tests her willpower with the ultimate 30-day challenge.
I love to shop. It’s a way for me to socialize with friends, relieve stress and just have fun. However, I've realized lately I shop a lot — at least once a week — and it's adding up.
So, I implemented a 30-day shopping ban for the month of June, not only to test my willpower, but also to learn more about the motivation behind my behavior — and to see if I noticed a difference in my bank account.
Before my month of no spending started, I established some ground rules. I would spend on groceries, restaurants, activities and gifts for others, but I was not going to shop for myself. I created a list on my phone called “Things I Want,” so I could keep track of all the items I was tempted to buy.
After 30 days, here are the four most important things I learned about my purchasing patterns.
1. I’m surrounded by shopping stimuli.
I initially thought this experiment would be easy. I told myself I’d just avoid malls and I wouldn’t have a problem. I learned it’s not that simple. From Instagram shops and targeted ads in my Facebook feed, to email newsletters and digital coupons, I was being tempted every time I looked at my phone. While I wasn’t physically in a mall, I was still inadvertently window shopping.
During my 30 days, I unsubscribed from five email newsletters and unfollowed at least three social media accounts. While I still subscribe to some, I want my shopping experiences to be intentional, and I’m making a conscious effort to avoid shopping stimuli.
2. There’s a difference between 'want' and 'need.'
Once my bills are paid and I have some extra money for discretionary spending, my first impulse is to go shopping. I realized how easily I can convince myself that I need new black sandals for summer or a new swimsuit for an upcoming vacation.
While I did not buy anything for myself in June, I made a list of all the things I felt I needed to buy come July. This included:
- Black sandals
- Swimsuit for Mexico
- Phone case
- Lululemon workout pants
- Jean jacket
- Black heels
Do I actually need all of these things? Absolutely not. And this brings me to my next realization: Why I wanted them.
3. Shopping makes me feel good.
Retail therapy is a very real experience for me. Shopping makes me feel happy and excited. So I took some time to clearly define what was really behind my to-buy-in-July list.
I wanted new shoes to feel more professional at work. I wanted a new workout outfit to motivate me to, well, work out more. And, I wanted a new phone case because mine was cracked. That analysis helped me decide what I should actually buy.
I plan to continue this strategy. If I want something, I’ll write it down first and take some time before making a decision.
4. I’m a sucker for a sale.
Nothing feels quite as satisfying as knowing I scored a great deal. During my shopping hiatus, it was particularly hard for me not to buy something at a discount. "If I buy it now, I’ll save so much money!" I told myself. I said that a lot in June — which ended right in time for Fourth of July sales. But the new me doesn't get suckered into buying something I don't truly need.
After 30 days, I had more money in my checking account but also learned four valuable lessons. And even though I’ve lifted the ban, I'm making my future shopping more intentional and less impulsive.