Mindful spending: a look at how to buy less and save more

Mindfulness is a way for people to reclaim their attention from the whirligig of daily life and live more intentionally.

Aiming to help us become more self-aware, feel calmer, less stressed, and more resilient — mindfulness is a technique we can use to manage our day-to-day and better accomplish our goals.

With the outbreak of Covid-19 and the myriad pressures of this ongoing health and economic crisis, practicing mindfulness has been more popular than ever — not least when it comes to our money, as it can help us feel less stressed and anxious.

Spending mindfully is about thinking about why we are making certain financial choices. All of us spend and save, invest and splurge, according to a mix of our short-term wants and our long-term goals. By adopting a more intentional approach to those decisions, we become aware of the difference between our needs and our values — and start consciously spending in a way that makes us feel happier and more purposeful.

Some may be familiar with applying conscious principles in their financial life. Growing concern for the planet has seen many go vegan, buy organic, invest in green businesses, and shop more ethically. Studies suggest millennial investors are nearly twice as likely to put their money into companies or funds that target specific social or environmental outcomes — choices made specifically because they align with their personal values.

Mindful spending goes a step further to help us take control of our money. It is a simple way to help us buy less and save more.

So how can we be more mindful with our money?

Firstly, look at your values and priorities

Many of us are stuck in a consumerist cycle of earn more, buy more, want more, repeat. The first thing we need to do in order to be more mindful with our money, is to break that cycle. We need to figure out what really matters to us.

Start by considering your core values. These might be concepts like self-care, passion, security, adventure or success; causes like the environment or gender equality; or relationships like parenthood, friendship, or community. They may not always be what makes you happy, but they will bolster your sense of purpose — and underpin the financial decisions that have given you the greatest sense of fulfilment.

Try a “spend-nothing day” if you’re struggling to understand what you value.

I first heard about this concept from Cait Flanders and her book The Year of Less, in which she chronicles her experience of purposefully not shopping for a whole year.

I’m not suggesting we do anything quite so drastic, but an occasional spend-nothing day can do more for us than just stop us from shopping. It can show us what we are able to live without — and what we can’t.

Right now, isolation is keeping us away from a fair few temptations. You may have many spend nothing days ahead. Take this moment to look at your past spending and the things you really miss.

Consider why you long for a takeaway coffee — is it the sense of status or camaraderie as you drink it alongside dozens of other commuters? Are you yearning to dine out because eating with friends enforces your values of community or because you value new experiences?

Spend-nothing days may also reveal purchases you don’t quite understand — five-minute Ubers or rogue online orders. Make note of those too — you may well be able to save money on them later.

Recognising your triggers is key.

Thanks to online shopping, smart phones, contactless technology, and adverts tucked between our friends on Instagram, we live in a world where it’s never been easier to spend our money, or harder to avoid temptation.

Triggers could be anything — a sun-drenched Instagram shot, the latest email from Sweaty Betty, having a bad day, or getting stuck in a global pandemic. Drinking is also a common trigger — the “drunk economy” is estimated to be worth over £4.5billion in the UK, and the average drinker spends £291 a year on purchases post-pint.

There is no shame in these triggers — not even if, like me, you’re highly likely to end up ordering umpteen new books after a glass of wine. But being conscious of what makes you want to spend mindlessly is an essential step to knowing how you can spend mindfully.

To make managing your triggers easier, try the following:

  • Pause before purchasing — We’ve all bought things that we probably didn’t need — an extra book on Amazon, an extra Crème Egg at the till. Before you buy something, ask yourself: Why am I buying this? Will it make me happy? What else could I buy if not this? Do I need it?
  • Turn off one-click — Technology does its best to make paying for things pain free, but it might be time to add a little more friction to checkout. Turn off one-click, test a shopper stopper, or set a spending limit on a night out.
  • Lists, lists, lists — Focus your intentions by making a list of things that you want to buy and why. It may not be an exciting task, but it is an effective way to help you save money, curbing impulse buys and breaking the cycle of spend, spend, spend. Don’t just make these lists in notes, write them out by hand so that you’re fully present and aware of your work.

Such habits certainly work for people like my brother, whose values of proactivity and adventure reflect in his typical purchases — new trainers, a nice pair of swimming trunks, tickets to a festival, another gadget for his GoPro. Highly advertised things, causing a multitude of triggers.

But he doesn’t just buy these things, if he likes something, he stops to think about it. If he still wants it when he gets home, he puts it on a list. He then leaves it there, only buying it if he’s still genuinely excited about it further down the line. He’s an excellent saver — and it’s because he spends mindfully.

Because mindful money is about intention — and for that you need to set goals.

Ask yourself: what do I want from my money?

Write out your long-term and short-term aspirations.

Would you like to buy a house? To build an emergency fund? To grow a nest-egg? Do you dream of turning your side hustle into a business? To take a holiday? To buy a bike? To send the kids to summer camp?

Mapping your goals against your values helps to create a story for your money — a narrative over which you have control. You are no longer just saving into your bank account; you’re saving for your sense of security, your family’s future home, your dream to go diving in the Galapagos.

After all, it’s easier to work towards a goal when saving doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, when you’re able to explain to yourself why you’re saying no or compromising, even though that jumper you saw is really soft.

Remember: money is emotional.

And we are all human.

We all experience stresses, strains, whims and desires — not least when it comes to our money. There is nothing wrong with that.

We all vow to save money on Monday, only to end up buying that dapper new jacket we said we wouldn’t get on Wednesday. This isn’t something to guilt yourself over. It does not mean you’ve failed.

Mindful spending is simply a way of being proactive about our finances and intentional about our spending decisions.

By doing this, we can inspire ourselves to action, alleviate some of our mental strain, and save money — all at the same time.

Authors: Harriet Allner and ikigai

Harriet Allner is a writer, blogger and fintech specialist. She cares about stories that matter and is passionate about promoting conversation around money positivity and financial feminism.

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