Before you make your next impulse buy, you might ask yourself, “Will this make me feel better or will it make me feel worse?” Anytime we overspend, we succumb to a desire in the same way addicts do to their fix of choice. Bold statement, but not if you think deeply about the way your purchases make you feel. What was the last purchase you made that wasn’t a necessity? How did it make you feel to buy it?
Sexy and confident in that new pair of shoes?
Sated for a moment by the Starbuck’s latte?
No one makes a purchase that isn’t a necessity unless it’s something that makes him or her feel a certain way. Problem is, the feeling never lasts. When you give into emotions around an object, you find yourself right back at the Nordstrom’s counter.
HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired
We can move past the feeling state to a state of action by stopping, taking a deep breath and taking a page from a twelve step program. In this 12 step programs, participants adhere to the acronym HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired, whenever they feel an urge to use. Have you ever bought a new outfit after a bad day at the office with the hope that it might put you in a better mood? Try HALT before you even walk in the store.
If I feel the urge to buy something outside of my budget, the first thing I think is, “When was the last time I ate?” If you’re hungry, eat something. If you’re angry, let it out to a friend. If you’re lonely, reconnect with your people. Make a call. Or walk to your neighbor’s. Take a nap if you’re tired. If you address basic needs first, you will be less apt to “use” your wallet.
Whenever I’m invited to a party and I think I want a new outfit for it, I go through HALT. Sometimes it requires reaching out to a girlfriend for a chat, or laying down on the couch and reading my People magazine. Whatever it takes, I stop and take a breather until the desire passes. Slowing down and replenishing my actual desires usually satisfies the urge I had to feel great by buying a new outfit.
When you perceive life isn’t going your way, saving and sticking to a budget can seem like an oppression you just want to escape. But by noticing the desire behind your impulse, and putting it into action to meet actual your needs, you’ll feel less apt to buy things you don’t need or can’t afford. Coffee with a girlfriend or taking a luxurious midday power nap can make you feel more restored than a new dress ever could.
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.