Should I cut up the credit cards?
November 14, 2011 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Please help me curb shopping impulses and addiction. Please share with me ideas on how to resist impulses to buy.

When I'm bored or need a pick me up, I often go window shopping. And sometimes I make purchases. Usually I don't buy things unless they are on sale or I have a coupon. But I need to cut back on shopping - even if its for things I need and are on sale. Truly I have everything I need, and everything I purchase is just extra. I'm not really saving any money because of my inability to cut back. I make a good salary but you would not know that if you looked at my bank account statement :(

Please give me tricks or ideas on how to divert my attention from acquiring new things to appreciating what I have or filling time with other activities. I already exercise regularly, listen to music, walk, spend lots of time with friends. I'm not depressed so I don't think I need therapy. But am looking for any suggestions or books that might help me resist the late night impulse to shop on Amazon or the lunch time walk down the block to Ann Taylor, for example. If you've done something to address a similar problem, would love to hear how. Thanks in advance.
posted by BlueMartini7 to Work & Money (20 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
One of the classic tips is simply this:

Never ever buy anything when you want to. Instead, add it to a wish list. On amazon, that's easy; in real life, you can take a quick shot on your phone. Then, on a semi-regular basis - say, every Saturday afternoon - you sit down and actually look at all the thing you wanted to buy that week. Do you still really want them? Usually not. When you do, the decision will be easy - "yeah, that jacket is still really fantastic." But as a rule... yeah, you really won't buy as much.

You can also leverage a One-In-One-Out system - you're not allowed to ever buy anything without getting rid of something you already own. For example, I own a certain number of hangars in my closet. I don't allow myself to buy more hangars, and obviously every shirt needs a hangar. I can buy new shirts whenever I want - but what, I have to ask myself, would I get rid of to free up a hangar? It's more of a general minimalism/own-less/declutter strategy than an anti-purchasing one per se, but it may help encourage a more thoughtful attitude toward purchases.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:30 AM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Is part of this for you that seeking out/hunting for things and finding them and taking them home with you is something that you find satisfying in a way?

If so, I think you could definitely swap in other things for shopping and get same seeking/finding satisfaction.

Photography comes to mind. It sounds like you live in an urban area, but if not, there's foraging. Beachcombing. If I were you I'd try to come up with more activities like that.
posted by cairdeas at 9:30 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did this during my first major depressive episode. I really had to treat the depression and anxiety in order to stop comfort-shopping. But as I treated the depression and needed to stop just the sheer habit of it, things like waiting periods, one in/one out, and the litmus test of "would I pay to move this?" were all useful tools.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:37 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not really saving any money because of my inability to cut back

Do you have a budget at all? One thing that can help in making decisions is clear budget goals. Without clear goals, "Should I buy this or save the money?" is a question that can be debated. But if you set a goal to only spend $X per month on clothes, then once you get to $X in a month it's clear that you need to hold off on buying anything else. Even if you don't manage to fit your spending within a set goal every month, it really helps to sit down and figure out what a reasonable amount to spend in various categories would be and incorporate that into your thinking about money.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:39 AM on November 14, 2011

I could spend a million dollars a day on Amazon. One of the ways I cut down on my impulse buying, is I put things in my shopping cart and exit without checking out, which leaves them in the cart ready to buy until I return (usually in a few days.) Often by the time I check back, the majority of the time I realize I'm not all that interested in the item anymore, and I'll delete it.

Other times, I'll still be interested but no longer feel I need to buy it right away, so I'll save it for later. Things often languish in the "saved for later" section for weeks before I finally get around to deleting them.

The main thing is asking myself in both cases, "do I really want this badly enough to spend the money on it right now?" In the heat of the moment the answer is always Yes. After a day or two cooling off period, it is more often than not "not really... not right now, anyway."
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:44 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

For the lunchtime walk, I would suggest leaving your wallet and only taking five dollars with you. That way, you can still get a coffee or something, but you literally wont be able to buy anything that will make you feel bad for overspending.

In terms of Amazon shopping, wish listing is a great idea. If clothes are where you're overspending, you might try making a tumblr or something where you do imaginary outfit posts. Y'know, like these ladies do. You'll get the right mixof creative/consumptive without actually buying all the things.

On preview: I use Serene Empress Dork's Amazon strategy, too. It's a great one: Delay gratification and watch desire ebb.
posted by emilycardigan at 9:50 AM on November 14, 2011

Etsy plus the wishlist strategy outlined above broke my shopping habit. There's just SO much on Etsy ... much of it is unique, so it's hard to compare between items. And many shops don't take returns or exchanges, so the risk of buying is amped up. That meant that I wishlisted tons of stuff, but bought very little. You can create "treasuries" of items to give yourself a little reward from the hours of window shopping without actually buying, too.
posted by amber_dale at 9:56 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

About the only suggestion I have-- which kinda sucks-- is to not wander around. Seriously, if you go on a lunchtime walk, you'd need to go nowhere near where stores you like are. (I don't know where you work or if this is possible, though.) Stay inside and read a book or something. You have to not see cool things that you want.

It does suck, though, because sometimes you are stir crazy and just want to see new things and the only way to do this is shopping...
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:03 AM on November 14, 2011

I think about posting this question, like, every week. Heh. Here's what I've done.

-Automatic transfers from my checking account to my savings account at another bank on payday. If I don't have the money, I can't buy it.

-Unless I buy on credit! First I froze my credit card (actual freezing. Like in a Solo cup in the freezer shoved behind the waffles.). Then I cut it up entirely. I like this oh do I like it.

-MANTRAS. I love mantras. My two are, "Keep your money in your pocket." and "This place exists to separate you from your money." See, a store isn't a place where they keep pretty sweaters and iPods. It's a place where a group of vultures wait to take your money and give you pretty much nothing for it! If you think of stores as the enemy, you can then think of yourself as a secret agent who is THWARTING them. Every time you leave a store without spending anything, or don't go in in the first place, YOU WON. In fact, you won one hundred dollars! Or two hundred! Or twenty! It isn't just a moral victory!

-Sometimes you do need, or just want, stuff. I keep a shopping list. Every time I think, "ZOMG I NEEEEEEEEED THAT BRACELET," I have to put it on the shopping list. It has to be on the shopping list for a certain amount of time before I buy it. Usually, stuff falls off the shopping list after a few weeks, and apparently I didn't care about it that much. On the other hand, a few times I've looked at the list and thought, "Okay, six months of wanting a new pair of headphones is long enough." Then I buy them. And I am happy. (This is really good for clothes- keep a sheet of paper by your closet/dresser, and every time you think, "Shit, I have nothing to go with these pants!", write down what you want.)

-Understand your values. I think all the time, "I wish I could afford to just drop a grand on, like, new jeans and a winter coat." But I've thought carefully about this, and I love my work, I am building my career and saving money to be financially independent, and I live close to people I love. So going on a shopping spree is not in line with my values. So when those "wanting" feelings start happening, I tell myself, "Come on, that's not your goal." It usually helps.

Good luck, I work at this all the time. It's worth it when you check your savings account balance. :)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:10 AM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

Not sure if you're female, but another thing that works for me is keeping track of where I am in my cycle - apparently it's possible that you want to shop more at certain times of the month. When I suddenly find myself needing something I just saw and get that itchy credit card finger, knowing it may just be my hormones triggering it makes it easier for me to wait and see if the need holds.
posted by Mchelly at 10:29 AM on November 14, 2011

I've had some major problems with comfort shopping. Zoloft made a big difference in that.

I tried Buy Nothing New for a while and that was helpful.

Some times if I just spend enough time wandering around the store and picking things up, I suddenly lose my excitement about shopping and put everything back and leave.

Knowing your budget is good. You can allow yourself X amount for fun shopping and enjoy stretching that out as far as it will go as a personal challenge.

Shifting your focus from buying something new to rediscovering what you already have can be good. Go through your wardrobe, try everything on, try mixing up your clothes in different ways, maybe with a friend. Ever try this belt with that dress? What if you put the tan pants with the navy jacket and the red shoes? Hey, you bought this skirt last year and never wore it! That can give you some no-cost fashion fun.

Swap clothes with friends who are roughly the same size.

Find other ways to thrill or comfort yourself that have nothing to do with shopping.

Leave your credit cards at home unless you are specifically planning a necessary purchase. When you do take them out, remember to put them away when you get home.

Good luck - it's a challenge!
posted by bunderful at 10:45 AM on November 14, 2011

posted by John Cohen at 11:12 AM on November 14, 2011

I force myself to window shop without buying anything. I leave my money at home (except for cash for food or parking, if needed).

Another thing I've done is cut up a couple cards. If you only put purchases on one card, you can better track those purchases as well as pay down your debt on other cards.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:13 AM on November 14, 2011

I have a habit of doing this as well. My tips:

-always have a little fun money to spend each month, but don't go over this amount
-list out the things that you need and want, and make a strategy and budget buying them out of your budgeted fun money (I have a spreadsheet for clothes/books/records purchases)
-use wishlists, pinterest
-wait a month to buy big things (this sounds awful, but to me, the delay is actually delicious--I'm surprised at how often the
-cut up and close out all credit cards (if you need one, keep it at a reasonable limit, like 500 or 1k)
-online savings account so the money is out of your bank account and a real hassle to transfer out
-clean the house or read a blog instead of window shopping
posted by hotelechozulu at 11:28 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing the wishlist idea. That's how I stopped buying everything I "wanted" all the time. After a week, the want goes away, for the most part. The things that stay are on a list for future, planned, purchases. I use (no, I'm not affliated with them...) and make different lists for different things (home, fashion, extravagant things I'll never afford but like to look at, etc).

Side note: Kaboodle also helps a TON with gift giving, as I have a private list where I save gift ideas I run across for friends and family, so when it's time to shop for a birthday or Christmas, I have a list to choose from, instead of frantically trying to figure out something they might like in a short time frame.
posted by evolvinglines at 12:26 PM on November 14, 2011

There are many wonderful aspects to shopping that are hard to match! Something close to the positive feelings one experiences from "retail therapy" is engaging in a concerted creative endeavor. (Naturally, the danger becomes spending too much on supplies for your creative endeavor)....BUT you need to be bitten by a different bug than the shopping bug...something that expresses your creative side.

If you sincerely fell in love with something, like writing poetry for example, you will spend a lot of your time in poetry classes or at your desk fully taken up with your love for it and you will forget about shopping. I became a visual artist about 5 years ago and since I took it up in earnest I haven't bought one new pair of shoes. When I was a "shopper" I was trying to fill an empty hole. I wanted love and approval (a common goal). Being in the state of "flow" is very much akin to the high from shopping. We all seek to become self actualized, (Maslow)...begin by asking yourself "what did I love to do (creatively) when I was a young person"?....Then schedule time every day (so it becomes habit) to do that. You may learn that you should be designing the clothes, instead of buying them.
posted by naplesyellow at 12:32 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is slightly silly, but I've heard of it working for peopled. Have an Amazon only credit card (or debit card tied to an Amazon only checking account). This card is only used for Amazon purchases and you only make Amazon purchases with this card. Now get a cup, fill it with water and drop the card in. Place in freezer. You'll need a good 30 minutes minimum to get the card out when shopping on Amazon. When not being used, the card must live in the freezer. This probably destroys the magnetic strip, but that doesn't matter.

As for lunchtime purchasing, bring enough for lunch (if you're buying lunch) or just bring yourself for a walk. I don't know what your work environment is like, so keeping a card on hand while being able to leave it in the office/store/whatever for lunch may be problematic. Perhaps asking a friend to hold it during lunch if you can't leave it at your working space.
posted by Hactar at 1:05 PM on November 14, 2011

Whenever I want something, I put it on a list for at least 24 hours. Ideally more like a week. When I go back and re-evaluate, about 85% of the time I decide I don't really want it and I knock it off the list.

Amazon is great for this, because you can create several different lists - one for clothes, one for electronics, etc. I have also used Remember The Milk, and even just a sheet of paper.

Basically the trick to this is decoupling the shopping experience from the buying experience. Once you get used to the idea of shopping being one thing, and buying being another thing, it becomes a lot easier to rein in your spending.

It also acknowledges that there are times when you want to shop, and times when you are in a position to buy, and those two times rarely coincide.

In other words, you don't have to control your shopping. (Shopping is fun, it's like a little mini-vacation of all the possibilities in the world.) What you need to do is control your buying.
posted by ErikaB at 1:30 PM on November 14, 2011

i always sleep on it. then i wait about a week and if i still HAVE to have it, i'll buy it. this kills 9/10 buys.
posted by raw sugar at 8:51 PM on November 14, 2011

limit yourself to thrift stores - there's all kinds of fun stuff that's very cheap. also, since every item is different, it takes longer to browse.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:50 PM on November 14, 2011

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