Budgeting and stopping unnecessary purchases

Three questions about budgeting:


  1. How do you prepare yourself mentally for the arduous task of budgeting,
  2. How do you keep yourself on track  and
  3. How do you stop yourself from unnecessary purchases?


I’ve talked about the one and two here’s the third,


How do you stop yourself from unnecessary purchases?

There are lots of things that you can do


One of these is environmental control. Although it is only one of the areas you can work on, it is one of the most powerful and certainly the most commonly advised, but you probably don’t know it by that name.


What you tend to be told is “cut up your credit cards”.  While I would say that doing this is not always a good plan, it is a form of environmental control.  What you are doing is changing the environment you work in.

There are three main ways that you can do that.  You can:


  1. change features of the environment,
  2. change the cues in the environment and
  3. give yourself different cues.


You can avoid shopping with your “shopping buddy”, if the two of you normally drive one another on to spending. Be polite, explain what you are doing, but avoid them when shopping.  This is where it can be hard.  Like the alcoholic whose social life as well as their problem revolves around bars, your problem and a part of your social life revolves around certain types of shops and shopping. You don’t have to destroy your social life, but you do need to amend it, and you might feel that you are simply killing it off.


That’s a way to alter the features of the environment. Instead of “I’m shopping with X, let’s spend some money”, you are no longer in the same environment so you might pause before spending.


You can also step away from the environment, for example, simply not go shopping.  That might be useful for a while, but it is probably not practical long term.


I suggest that you stay away from particularly tempting shops for a set time, and work on being able to shop without going mad in a less intense situation.  For example if you have a shoe craze, avoid all the shops for a while, and when you go back to “fun” shopping, make sure you avoid shoe shops.  The idea is to help your self-control, and gradually increase your exposure to temptation.  Don’t try to do it all at once, deciding to go down Oxford Street on the first weekend and use your will power to avoid buying anything.  You’ll be like a child in a sweetshop, and what is the point of setting yourself up to fail?


I’ll give examples of the others, but this is where you need to use your own knowledge of yourself to adapt the ideas to your own environment and cues.


Going without your credit cards is a way to change cues to yourself.  You can cut your cards up, if you find that you only spend heavily on credit cards and when you have only cash to spend, you don’t spend.  However, credit is convenient, if you can learn to use it sensibly.  So I’ve got some other ideas for cards.


One is to put the card somewhere where it is difficult to get at, make it hard for yourself to go mad with the card.  Do you have a friend or a parent on whom you can rely to hold the card for you?  If there’s somebody who will give you a hard time about why you want the card, you give yourself time to calm down if you are just being self-indulgent, but still have access to the card if there is a real emergency.


Finally, you can change your own cues.  Having reminders of what you’re trying to do can be useful.  You can have in your diary, computer, phone or other organiser, reminders of what things you want to think of and do, so that you are more likely to think first and act afterwards.


You can also change the action you take to your own cues.  If you feel depressed or bored and that automatically lights up the bit of your brain that tells you, “retail therapy is the answer”, then you can work out what else might help.  If you still have the gym subscription, can you go and work out (if you’ve cancelled it, go for a run or something)?  Can you tackle the project you keep putting off, phone a friend, do something other than instantly shop?


But these things only work if you adapt them to your own life – if you take the basic idea and use it in a way that’s relevant for you.



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