By now we all know that a transaction need not occur within the walls of a store for it to be titled “shopping.” And no matter how clearly you know what you’re shopping for, there are always pressures to overshop. Shopping-at a mall, on the Internet, or even from a catalog-is almost guaranteed to stir up feelings and impulses. Mindful shopping can help in all of these cases.
The key to any successful, reasonable shopping experience is a plan for each shopping trip you make. Whether the trip’s virtual or physical, whether you’re sitting or standing, you need to provide yourself with guidelines to help yourself maintain control of your shopping desires, and your money. If you’re shopping on the internet or by phone, keep the specific plan open beside you. If you’re shopping away from home, have your plan with you and review it before you begin.
This plan should always start with a list of the specific items you intend to purchase. Once this list is complete, evaluate the necessity of each item on your list and assign each item a score and if the item seems totally unnecessary, give it a zero, if it’s somewhat necessary, give it one-third, very necessary, give it two-third, and if it’s essential, give it a 1. Items with low scores should be seriously reconsidered. Then note where you’ll shop, how long you’ll shop for and finally, write down what you can comfortably afford for each item and what the maximum amount you are willing to spend on this is. Make sure you take your plan with you and make sure you look at it!
As far as the logistics of your purchase, each venue requires different treatment. For brick-and-mortar shopping, think through the route you’ll take-to the mall, through the mall, and through the store-so you can avoid dangerously tempting departments. Regardless of where you plan to shop, you need to limit browsing time: the longer you browse, the more you’ll buy. Allot yourself a certain amount of time to spend in a store, or to find your particular item within the store. After you have found the item but before you complete the purchase-take a “mindful pause.” Walk away from or put down your item(s), or have the salesperson or the person you’re shopping with hold it, and then find a place to sit. Then ask yourself why you’re there, how you feel, whether you need the item or not, how you’ll pay for it, and where you’ll put it. Unless you can answer those questions satisfactorily, don’t buy the item.
If you’re shopping on the internet or by phone, keep you plan open beside you. Write down which sites you’ll visit and/or which keywords you’ll search. This is your digital “map”. Once you’ve located your item online, sit down in a peaceful place away from the computer. This is your mindful pause at home, which gives you the choice to buy or not to buy and helps you to become aware that you have a choice. Ask yourself the same questions noted above.
After this entire process, if you’re satisfied that this is a purchase you need and can afford, go head and purchase the item. Remember, cash, check or debit card only! Immediately after the purchase, review your experience. If you were shopping in a mall or in a store, take note as soon as you get home. How well did you follow through with your plan? Was this a successful, mindful shopping experience or do you need to reconsider this purchase and giving yourself better limits next time? If your plan went awry, what could you do differently next time?
If you did well, reward yourself! Encourage the behavior you’re trying to make habit by reaffirming that you have done a good job with some non-material reward. Take a walk in a garden, take a long bath- do something for you, something that makes your heart sing. Rewarding experiences that cost you nothing abound and reinforce the wise old adage that the best things in life are free.
Carrie Rattle is a Principal at BehavioralCents.com, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence.