You can afford this or that, and you think you want it. But should you buy it?
We live in a country that really likes to buy things. But even when we can buy what we want without too much financial strain, what we feel afterwards isn’t always positive.
We’ve all been there. You’re excited to buy something but later you think, “Meh. Why’d I get this?”
Even if you have enough money to pay the bills and buy what you want, you may get to a point where you’d like to feel spending decisions are more intentional.
Remember, though, that wanting things is human. Don’t shame yourself or feel bad for desiring the latest thing.
“We don’t need to attack and wrestle into submission every human impulse,” said Amanda Clayman, a psychotherapist and financial wellness advocate at Prudential. Try a little humor and acceptance, she said, “for the thousands of choices we need to make as human beings to manage our lives.”
Make a connection
Deciding to buy something slots you into a judge-and-jury framework. You go back and forth. “It’s a good deal — I deserve it — I shouldn’t buy it,” Clayman said, by way of example.
People who frequently go through this aren’t connected enough to their money or how they’d best like to use it.
“If we spend time with our money, we are less vulnerable to the vagaries of the moment,” Clayman said.
The more energy you put into understanding what you’d like your money to do, the better idea you’ll have if something is a good choice for you — even before you walk into that store.
Goals are anchors, and without them, people spend thoughtlessly, says Carrie Rattle, CEO and founder of New York-based Behavioral Cents, which provides financial coaching and therapy.
Visualize your goals for the biggest impact, Rattle says. “If it’s a down payment, imagine walking up the stairs of your dream house, opening the door and seeing the bedroom for your child, the kitchen where you’re going to cook meals,” Rattle said.
Sarah Wilson, a personal finance blogger who lives in College Station, Texas, uses goals as a check against spending.
“For several years, my big money goal was to pay off student loan debt,” Wilson said. “Every time I wanted something nonessential, I considered if I wanted that thing more than I wanted to pay off my debt, and it helped me cut down my wasteful spending a ton.”
Her current priorities are funding her Roth individual retirement account and saving up for a down payment on a house and some travel.
Whether she’s looking at an expensive handbag or tickets to an event her friends suggested but she feels unenthusiastic about, Wilson puts that choice up against her goals. Sometimes it’s worth it, she says, and often it’s not.
Your life is not a highlight reel
When you scroll through social media accounts, you might think everyone is living the most dazzling life imaginable. Everyone but you, that is.
It’s natural to think the new homes and amazing vacations are real life, but they’re not, says Carly Cristman, a YouTube blogger and fashion influencer in the greater Chicago area.
It’s no secret that many social media platforms are used commercially, and they encourage spending. Cristman was a regular user of hair extensions and, as someone who earns her living in fashion, a buyer of high-end clothing. “I constantly needed to upgrade or have the newer thing, or the bigger and better thing,” she said.
Some fashion blogs encourage followers to purchase an entire new wardrobe every season. “That’s just not feasible,” Cristman said. The constant consumer messaging was affecting her mental health and clouding her judgment.
Muting about 70% of the accounts she followed helped her emotionally, as well as financially. “If accounts are constantly pushing you to purchase, you’re more likely to be shopping and purchasing,” she said.
Now that she has a young child, Cristman wants to spend more intentionally. “Financially, a lot has changed,” she said. “Every single future purchase matters now that I’m considering someone else’s life beyond my own.”
She’d prefer buying things that are meaningful, “and not because I feel like I’m being told I need it, from social media.”
Have the upper hand
Try to tame your feelings, says Pauline Yan, a portfolio manager and personal finance blogger in Toronto. “Ultimately, humans just want agency over their decisions, life and career, and that in itself is very satisfying,” she said.
If, on the other hand, you live inside the drama surrounding saving or spending, money has power over you. It gives you joy or shame. You’re not in control.
Gaining the upper hand with your money tends to come when we’re older and wiser, Yan says, “when we’ve learned not to give our power away.”
“Most people can’t afford everything that appeals to them every time,” Wilson said. “If you’re not careful and are wasting money on lots of small wants, you may never be able to afford the things you really desire.”
“Consumerism is distracting,” Clayman said. One way to make better decisions is to be bring some consciousness to an activity that many people go about unthinkingly.
The objective is help people maintain some emotional equilibrium and integrate it with their feelings, not to refrain from buying. This way, you’re not stuck in that impulse loop, she says.
Rattle recommends a series of questions by psychologist April Benson to run through when scouting a purchase. Why am I here? Do I actually need this item?
Run through your feelings. Any negative feelings — dejection, disappointment, unhappiness — should make you walk away from the item.
If you waited to buy this item, what would happen? Ask yourself how you’d pay for it, and where you will put it.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.