5 Questions for Mindful Spending: Stop Impulse Shopping

By Karen Whaley

October 26, 2018

We’ve all been there. Standing in the store or browsing online, feeling the urgent need to buy “it” or wondering if “it” will bring lasting satisfaction. Impulse shopping is the cause of many money woes. Buyer’s remorse happens even with thoughtfully made purchases. Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself to create mindful spending.

Understanding and pursuing mindful spending will:

  • slow impulse shopping
  • reduce buyer’s remorse
  • create lasting satisfaction with money
  • help un-budget your life

Mindful spending is the path to making both your heart and your wallet happy!

What is Mindful Spending?

Now you may be wondering, “What the heck is mindful spending?”

Odds are high you already practice some form of mindful spending – you just didn’t know it had a name.

Mindful spending is an awareness of how your spending supports your goals, values, and human needs.

The key to mindful spending is knowing your life goals and staying focused on those goals with every purchase. Yet, it is also understanding how each buying decision is supporting your values and meeting your human needs.

If you have ever paused when making a purchase and wondered how it impacts your life, you have been a mindful spender.

If you have ever willingly created future spending (savings), you have been a mindful spender too.

Mindful spending is not hard to do. It’s quite simple really. Let me share the 5 questions I use for mindful spending every day.

5 Questions for Mindful Spending

Before each purchase you make, ask these 5 questions to create mindful spending.

1) Does this purchase support one of my long-term goals?

First, you need to know what your long-term goals are. If you have not asked yourself, “What do I want out of life?”, it’s time. Ponder and develop your long-term goals.

Maybe you don’t have long-term life goals, but you do have financial goals. Financial goals are also a terrific measuring stick for making purchase decisions.

Even if you haven’t yet realized financial goals are oxymorons, they are still wonderful starting points for mindful spending.

If your answer to this first question is no, you probably shouldn’t buy. Odds of buyer’s remorse jump dramatically when purchases don’t help you achieve long-term, pre-meditated goals.

That said, there is much happiness to be found in purchasing not related to long-term goals too. Which leads us to the second question.

2) Does this purchase support one of my top values?

Living your values is the foundation of lasting satisfaction. Your long-term goals are physical reflections of your values.

However, there are many ways to express a value. The purchase you are considering may support your values in ways your long-term goal does not. When you pursue activities and things in life reflecting your values, you will generate happiness naturally.

Therefore, if the purchase doesn’t support a long-term goal but reflects a top value, the spending will likely result in happiness.

Here’s the trick: You must have considered and know what your values are to ensure short-term spending satisfaction.

Go out and find a values list. Review the values list and identify your top values. It could be 3, 5, or 10 values that represent who you are at your core.

Keep these values close to your heart and use them be a mindful spender.

The first 2 questions are all well and good. But they both are very intellectual. As we learned in the visual budget demonstration last week, humans make decisions based on emotion – not logic.

To bust through emotional buying, you need to ask the following three questions. These questions harness your emotional power and drive you to act more mindful in your spending.

3) How am I feeling right now?

The stronger your emotions, the less ability you have to make thoughtful decisions. Your brain will literally (yes, I mean literally!) not allow access to the critical thinking areas you need to make lasting satisfaction decisions.

This is especially true if you are feeling negative emotions. Negative emotions being sadness, anger, boredom, stress, anxiety, etc.

If you are feeling a negative emotion: Stop. Pause for a moment and, when possible, do not buy anything when in a negative emotional state. Your purchases at this point are more likely to be made based on the emotional boost they provide you right now.

I understand it isn’t always possible to not buy when upset or frustrated. However, as a general rule walk away from purchasing – anything – when in a glum mood.

When buying while feeling rushed or out-of-sorts, do your best get to a calmer emotional state.

Two pre-spending calming exercises I recommend are:

1. Take a breather!

Stop where you are and take a few deep breaths. Breathe in to a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, and exhale to a count of 4. This trick can be done anywhere, at any time, with no fellow shoppers the wiser.

2. Imagination vacation.

Before going into a store for necessary things like groceries, pharmacy items, or pet food; pause. Set a 3-minute timer on your phone and close your eyes. Imagine in your head a calm vacation scene. Upon heading out to tackle your shopping, you will be in a calmer emotional state.

Being in a calm or happy emotional state when shopping reduces buyer’s remorse and impulse shopping.

4) Is this purchase meeting a physical or emotional need?

Physical Needs

Physical needs being water, shelter, food, clothing. These purchases are purely to achieve the physiological and safety needs presented by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Spending on items solely for physical need reasons will not yield lasting satisfaction long-term. You want to get the best deal (read: lowest cost) on physical need purchases.

If the physical need purchase is not urgent (i.e. you need groceries for tonight so you don’t eat out), walk away from the item for now. Write down the item on a list and revisit the purchase tomorrow. If you still want it tomorrow, go ahead and buy it.

Again, satisfied spending is about focusing on purchases supporting your long-term goals while enjoying life today.

Emotional Needs

Speaking of enjoying life today, emotional need purchases are where seizing the joy of today is found. Yet, authentic happiness is discovered when you connect with others, develop self-esteem, and live with purpose.

Any shopping related to emotional needs must be carefully considered. People often buy stuff to meet these emotional needs. However, buying stuff does not create lasting satisfaction. True happiness is found when you spend time to meet emotional needs.

For emotional need purchases, identify what need you are trying to meet: Love & Belonging, Self-Esteem, or Self-Actualization. Then consider what activities you can do to fulfill the need instead of buying the item in question.

Spend money on items promoting time-based activities to connect with others, build self-esteem, and achieve a purposeful life.

5) What will happen if I don’t buy this item right now?

The last, but very powerful, question is geared toward identifying any fears driving your desire to buy.

Marketers actively use fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) to incentivize you to buy items. This feeling of fear is specifically crafted to encourage spending.

Identifying what would happen if you don’t buy this item right now provides the space to free you from that fear.

Simply bringing awareness and honestly asking yourself, “What are the immediate results of not buying?” gives insight to your fear.

Understanding what fear is driving your purchase will allow you to walk away.

Likely the immediate consequences of not buying are all in your head. Yet, the impact of buying on your wallet will linger. And linger in ways that prevent you from snagging the life you desire and deserve from your money.

The Trick to Breaking Bad Habits

Recently I watched an excellent TED talk by Judson Brewer. Judson shared his insights into changing habits. According to Judson, curiosity is fundamental to breaking bad habits.

Curiosity itself is a feeling. Feelings drive your behaviors. So if you become curious, you can more readily change your behaviors.

The five questions above create the curiosity required to eliminate the bad habit of impulse shopping. They encourage spending that will push your life in the direction you desire.

Spending decisions are driven by emotional forces you feel but don’t always recognize.

Tap into your natural curiosity. Take back control of your spending by asking these 5 mindful spending questions every purchase.

Mindful spending is a lifestyle. Budgeting is a process to control your lifestyle.

Mindful spending encourages curiosity. Curiosity lifts the restrictions of budgets. These questions make room for you to see the choices in your spending.

When you spend mindfully, you will discover less and less need to monitor your budget. When actively practiced, your spending choices will naturally reflect what you want and result in lasting satisfaction.

What questions do you ask yourself when making purchase decisions?

Karen Whaley

About the author

Karen Whaley

Financial Lifestyle Coach
Certified Financial Instructor

I help clients use money to live - not live for money. If that sounds appealing, you are in the right place my friend!

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