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Friday, November 22, 2019  
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How to Resist a Spending Urge

Scott Bilker Scott Bilker is the founder of DebtSmart.com and author of the best-selling books, Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card DebtCredit Card and Debt Management, and How to be more Credit Card and Debt Smart. Receive the 5-Year Loan Spreadsheet when you subscribe to his email newsletter.

Deep down, there’s a part of us all that wants to exercise frugality in our day-to-day spending. But in our age of on-demand services and smartphone-purchasing conveniences, even those of us with the best intentions and willpower can suffer a breakdown.

There’s no one way to embolden your willpower. To the contrary, how to resist a spending urge ultimately comes down to the strategy that works best for you.

Take a Deep Breath

Meditation improves our self-awareness, concentration and happiness while reducing stress. While taking long, deep breaths isn’t exactly meditation, it can still provide a small dose of similar benefits and give you the strength you need to resist the spending urge.

Think About How Much the Habit Is Costing You

If your weakness is everyday unnecessary small purchases — like cigarettes, coffee drinks or alcohol — instead of random large spending, consider what this regular habit is costing you annually. When you realize that the simple pleasure of buying a six pack after work three times a week costs you over $1,500 per year, or that the cost of your smoking habit amounts to half of your car loan, you should have an easier time suppressing your habitual urges.

Conversely, if your kryptonite is spontaneous expensive purchases, calculate how your true hourly wage of what it took to be able to afford the item. When you associate 30 hours of your life with one possession, you’ll quickly realize how much you really want it.

Make Lists and Plan Your Purchases

Ever grocery shop while hungry? Your bill probably ended up being considerably more than usual. Or what about shopping for new clothes—do you start browsing without clear intentions of what you need? These are two small, but common examples where people spend a lot more than they should, merely because they didn’t outline their consumer intentions beforehand. Creating lists and planning out our purchases gives us added armor when an urge surfaces to buy something random. Instead of letting our ‘why not’ side take over and push us to buy, we resort back our list of things we actually need.

Review Your Short- and Long-Term Goals

Many people have money issues. Between mortgages, student loans, credit cards, hospital bills and more, approximately 80 percent of Americans are in debt. A significant factor of careless, urge-prone spending is a lack of an overall life plan. When we don’t have an idea of where we want to go, we can’t understand how frivolous purchases are keeping us from achieving that goal. Creating short- and long-term life goals is an evergreen piece of advice that financial entrepreneur Andrew Housser swears by. Having incremental goals that we’re continuously striving toward serves as a compass for making prudent buying decisions.

Quality the Purchase

If you want to be a frugal spender, you have to bring a scrupulous mindset to every purchase you make. To avoid making purchases you’ll later regret, qualify every spending urge you have to determine whether it’s truly in your best interest. Develop a checkbox of questions you can easily run through when you’re feeling weak. Instead of asking black-and-white questions like “Do I need this?” — dig into how the purchase will affect your life. Analyze whether the purchase will improve your quality of life, allow you to meet a goal, make you feel better, or simplify your life. When you take the time to think critically about how purchases play into your life, you’ll have an easier time resisting hollow impulse buys. 

Remove Purchase Temptations

People enjoy more convenience and options than ever before, but the downsides aren’t minuscule. From targeted ads and re-engagement emails to push notifications from shopping apps and even an old-fashioned trip to the mall, temptations are rampant. Do yourself a favor and cleanse your daily routine of mindless consumer behavior. Delete your shopping apps, don’t go to the mall, block your favorite online stores with a website-blocking software or browser extension. Whatever you have to do to minimize the number of urges you have to subdue will slowly form the frugal habits you’ve been seeking.

Stick with Classic Defense Mechanisms

Be it resisting a spending urge or trying to quit smoking, all urges have commonalities. Practicing tried-and-true psychological methods for making better choices is bound to help your spending issues. According to Psychology Today, the DEADS strategy is effective in successfully withstanding a spending urge. Here’s a brief breakdown of the step-by-step process: 

  • Delay – Don’t react or give in to the craving when it emerges. In time, even five or 10 minutes, the urge will pass. Your experience suppressing the emotion and seeing yourself succeed could make you better equipped to handle the next one.
  • Escape Remove yourself from what’s triggering your urge. Focus on something else.
  • Avoid – Know your triggers and do your best to avoid them moving forward. 
  • Distract – You can always seize power over your urge by distracting yourself. Sitting there thinking about the urge means your surrender is inevitable. Anything can be a distraction; exercising, listening to music, taking your dog for a walk or cooking a meal. 
  • Substitute – This is the most important step to changing your long-term behavior. Whatever you’re struggling with, you can change it by replacing it with an alternative habit. A popular example would be people trying to quit smoking cigarettes who take imaginary puffs from a straw or toothpick.

Resisting any kind of urge is never easy, but when money is a part of the equation, it can be especially tricky. Whatever strategies you use to combat your spending urge, be sure to remain calm, think critically about the purchase, and learn how you can better avoid putting yourself in a tempting situation going forward.

This entry was posted in Budgets, Shopping. Bookmark the permalink. Read more articles by Scott Bilker. (Also see articles by all authors and articles in all categories.)

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