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10 Ways to Shop Less

Photo by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash.

If I had a dime for every time I had to have something, and another dime for every time I looked at that something later like, “nah,”—or worse, forgot about it to the depths of a drawer or cabinet, only to later be purged and discarded… Well, you know the drill. There’d be a lot of dimes. 

Buyers remorse is the worst. Every time I experience it, I try to pinpoint what could have helped me to avoid it altogether. How can we buy only that which we truly need and love? And what about when tastes change? How can we account for that?  

We live in a capitalist society. We have to shop. We have to buy things we need in addition to those we simply want. And increasingly it seems like more and more money has to go to those necessities, leaving us to decide where we can responsibly spend elsewhere. The key is in discerning our own sweet spot of spending so we can have what we need and feel good about where our money is going.

With that in mind, here are ten ways to shop less and shop smarter.

1. AVOID THE SCENE OF THE “CRIME” & REPLACE THE HABIT

There’s nothing wrong with shopping, per se, but like anything else, it can become a problem when it becomes a compulsion. I know that shopping for me can be a stress reliever—a trip to Marshalls growing up was the highlight of my month or sometimes week, and later became a way to lighten a day’s depression. However, long-term, shopping can cause even more stress if it leads to credit card debt or is used to fill a void where we really need something else, like love or healing.

If you find yourself needing or wanting to spend or shop less, a good first step would be to avoid the places you feel compelled to shop. If you, too, like to peruse the aisles of your favorite stores to leave with things you didn’t know you wanted or needed, simply don’t go into the store. You can’t buy anything if you never set foot in the place. Same goes for online shopping; avoid the sites that quickly lure you into filling up your cart and have you eager to place an order.

This may feel hard at first if you’re accustomed to using shopping as a way to feel happy or better, but like anything else, the best way around this is to focus on what you can do instead. Replace the habit. What does shopping do for you? Is it stress relief? Try reading a book or taking up a creative hobby. Is it for the exercise or activity? Try a home workout or find to friend to go on a walk with you. Whatever shopping gives you, find a healthy way to replace it.

Photo by Carl Raw on Unsplash 

2. GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS BUT SKIP THE SPENDING

Perhaps it’s the act of shopping that gives you a nice mood-boost and a fun escape from the day-to-day. In this case, I say keep the therapeutic perusing and picking, just be sure that you do not actually buy anything. Sometimes I’ll allow myself to “go nuts” on a website, adding item after item to my cart until the total makes my eyes bug out. Would I love to buy a new wardrobe from time to time? Absolutely. Is it practical and aligned with my current financial goals? No, not at all.

So in these cases, it’s nice to fantasize about new clothes or toys I could buy myself, but I let it be just that: a fantasy. I enjoy the act of shopping, edit my shopping cart down to my favorites, perhaps even begin the checkout process, and then when I get to the point of entering my payment information, I simply close the browser and step away from the computer. It takes willpower, but I can tell you it works. The same concept works in person if you decide you’re window-shopping only. In this case, I suggest leaving your credit and debit cards at home so you aren’t tempted to actually spend.

Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

3. SAVE A PICTURE INSTEAD

Pinterest taught me a great lesson when I first started using it. For one, it’s a dangerous way to lose hours as a visual person, scouring and saving pins. But, more constructively, I noticed that saving an image of something I admired or wanted often times was enough. This especially helps with buyer’s remorse when it comes to buying things over and over again that you know you shouldn’t.

For example, I am always falling in love with pink clothes. Hot pink jackets, bright pink dresses… I’m attracted to the color, but when it comes to wearing it, I am reminded time and time again that pink is decidedly not my color. I almost always get rid of these pink clothes after a wear or two, or without ever wearing them out at all. Now I know that admiring a picture of these items can be enough, especially when I’m regularly disappointed looking in the mirror at the real things.

If you find yourself loving something and wanting to buy it, pause and consider that you may be content to simply look at it, instead of own it. I enjoy looking at fancy fashions on Pinterest, but when it comes to actually owning them, well… I don’t really have an occasion to wear these gorgeous garments. They’re better off as images on a board whilst my bank account remains intact. The next time you think you really want something, save of picture of it instead. In time, you’ll know if that’s enough or you really want to buy it, which brings me to my next point…

Photo by Fahim R. on Unsplash

4. WAIT

Wait to see if you really want something before buying it. A good rule of thumb is to at least sleep on it. Do you still want that thing in the morning? Or have you totally forgotten about it by the next day? You’d be amazed at how removing the urgency of a purchase can make you realize you no longer want or need something you felt desperate to own the day before. Or in turn, you may discover that you truly do want or need something after sleeping on it, which makes for a much more confident purchase and less risk of the dreaded buyer’s remorse.

Another great aspect of waiting to buy is you can often times wait for a sale. So many times I’ve found something(s) I wanted or needed, got on a store’s mailing list, waited, and soon received a coupon to buy the item(s) at a significant discount. This way, when I make a purchase, I know I truly want to and save money in the process. That’s a win-win in my book.

Of course, there are times when I haven’t wanted to risk an item going out of stock, when I knew I truly wanted something because I was gladly willing to pay full price and shipping for it. I read once that a person should never buy anything they aren’t willing to pay full price for. I’m not sure if that’s entirely true or always applicable, but I do think it’s a great concept to remember when perusing a sale rack or clearance section. A cheaper price can be tempting, but waiting may help you realize that you didn’t really want that thing in the first place, and only fell for the alluring idea of a bargain.

Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

5. MAKE A LIST

You’ve heard this before, no doubt, but making and sticking to a list is crucial when it comes to avoiding impulse purchases and overspending. I find this especially true when it comes to food shopping, because I absolutely hate wasting food. This is why I tend to shop twice a week, so I only buy what I know will last for a few days, and don’t end up throwing away rotting, uneaten produce. The best way to make a list for food shopping is to plan your meals around what you already have, and then buy only what you need.

The same concept can be applied to any spending. Before you go clothes shopping, make a list of the staple pieces you really need. That way you won’t come home with seven lovely tops but nothing to wear with them on the bottom. Before buying anything, make a list of everything you want or need, and then decide accordingly what you can afford to buy and what you will actually use. Which brings me to my next point…

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

6. ASSESS YOUR BUDGET & DECIDE WHERE YOU REALLY WANT TO SPEND YOUR MONEY

It may be tempting to buy something in the moment, but could that money be better spent elsewhere? I’d love to buy new clothes on the regular, but I prefer to have my nails done professionally so they look and feel nice all month long. Maybe you forego professional grooming in order to buy new clothes. These are just examples. Whatever it is, sit down and get real about how and on what you want to spend your money. And if you’re not sure, a good place to start is to see where you’re already spending your money each month. You may be surprised at what you can move around or what small changes may have a huge impact.

My dad used to tally up the money we spent on random things as a household and then say “we could’ve taken a vacation with that money!” Well, he never took us on vacations, but my point is, you can allocate your money toward what you want. Would you rather spend $5 on a fancy coffee every morning, or have $1825 to put toward a nice vacation at the end of a year? No judgement, either lifestyle is valid; coffee may be your life’s happiness or perhaps you can’t live without an annual trip someplace new. Just make sure you’re choosing where you spend your money, otherwise your un-minded habits will choose for you.

7. MAKE YOURSELF WORK FOR IT

Of course, we have to work for everything we buy, but you can go a step further and set up a reward system for yourself in order to incentivize your purchasing. Perhaps you want to work out more, but you’re having a hard time finding motivation. What if you reward yourself with that new book you want to read for going on a walk every day this week? You can find money in your budget for this treat while motivating yourself to get a move on, and then spend your time reading instead of shopping. Feeling good all around.

Or, what if, instead of ordering things online, you convince yourself to walk to the store for the things you wish to buy? That’s one way to “earn” it. If I tell myself there are certain things I have to go out and get and can’t just have delivered, I’m way less apt to spend money on them, or buy them at all.

8. AVOID GUILTY OR PRESSURED SPENDING

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to break the bank buying gifts for everyone you know. People won’t get mad at you for not spending money on or buying things for them, and if they do, they’re not your people. Also, you do not need to keep up with the Jones’ to live a happy, or even “normal,” life. I haven’t owned a couch in years because paying off debt is more important than having another place to sit at home.

Get in the habit of pausing before buying. Do you really want this thing outside of this moment and setting? Is it you? Would you buy it at another store? This is a big one for me, because there are things I would buy at one store and not another, you know? I have a different price-points for different stores. It’s like picking up someone at a dive bar versus having a partner hand-picked by a professional matchmaker. Your standards vary by scenario, situation, and environment. Pausing to contemplate this is a great way to build awareness, not just with spending, but in all areas of life. 

9. PURGE, ORGANIZE, & SHOP YOUR HOME INSTEAD

At least once a year, but probably more often, I love to do a big purge of my home and get rid of what no longer serves me. Every time I do this, I’m amazed at how much I’m able to get rid of, and how much I feel like I still have afterward. There is serenity in owning only what you love and use on a regular basis. The rest is just weighing you down. Plus, this helps me to see what I truly need to bring into my home or wardrobe, which focuses my spending toward only the essentials. Then it feels wonderful to spend hard-earned money on the right things.

Similarly, I love to reorganize and reinvigorate the stuff I do have. Every so often I take everything out of my closet, drawers, etc. and move it all to the center of my home or each room. Then I’ll literally shop my stuff. I pick something up and think, would I buy this right now if I was in a store? Hopefully the answer is yes, or out it goes with the rest of the purged items to be sold or donated. A lot of times, though, I’ll discover I could really use that thing some place else in my home to solve a problem or spruce up the decor.

You probably have a ton of stuff at home that you’ve forgotten about. Stuff you were most likely excited to buy at one point. Maybe you could find better uses for your things now that you’re seeing them in a new light. You may decide to do puzzles or play boardgames you have instead of buying something new. Or take up that hobby you wanted to try months ago and finally use those paints (or whatever) that’ve been collecting dust in a drawer ever since. Before you go buying new things, shop your home with an eye toward using up what you have, or find new homes for whatever purchases were epic fails.  

10. FIND YOUR WHY

Why do you want to shop less? Are you saving to go on a fabulous vacation? Looking to buy a home? Plan a wedding? Do you want to be financially independent? Start a business? Whatever your reason, remind yourself of it often.

Carry a picture of your goal in your purse or wallet or on your phone. When you’re in a position to buy something, ask yourself, is this worth delaying that goal? Will it delay my goal, or bring me closer to it? Remind yourself of your ‘why’ consistently. It’s easy to forget why we do the things we do sometimes. That’s when we need a proactive refresh. Why are you shopping less? To save money? To feel better about spend money on what’s essential and important? Whatever it is for you, be sure to remind yourself of it daily to stay in financial shape.

Photo by Chen Mizrach on Unsplash 

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful!

Happy (smart) shopping,

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