(I am going to write about the vacation, I swear. But I really want to get this out.)
I read a lot of personal finance stuff online. A lot. I don’t actually learn a heckuva lot these days, because the truth is that saving money is a lot like losing weight. We all know how to do it if we could just do it. But every once in awhile, an article has a small piece of insight that hits home. Remember when the talking heads first started yammering about “the Starbucks effect”? That we could all save a bloody fortune if we just gave up that stupid $4 cup of coffee? That’s what I’m talking about. For example, my friend Jodi quit smoking not long ago, and she can tell you with a lot of accuracy how much money that has saved her.
So Huffington Post online has an article called “Nine Habits that Will Put You on the Path to Wealth” and I clicked. Number three struck me: Adopt your own private mind tricks. It said, in part:
“Also known as ‘heuristics,’ these rule-of-thumb strategies we create for ourselves — such as not spending more than $15 on an item of baby clothing, or more than $50 on a pair of shoes — can help simplify the many choices we make in a day.”
I totally do this.
Notwithstanding dropping my own personal “Starbucks effect” – which was magazines at the checkout line of the grocery store – I have used several mind tricks and none of them involve freezing my credit card.
The first rule I made was that if I wanted anything from an infomercial or “as seen on TV” or QVC, I had to watch the informercial or program at least three times before buying it. This worked wonders and now I buy almost nothing from TV because: 1. I have pretty much stopped cooking and 2. I have pretty much stopped watching television in real time. I don’t even need this rule anymore.
The second thing I tried was a brief moratorium on stupid shopping mall stuff that I was mindlessly buying. Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle seem to go together in every full sized shopping mall and strip mall that I know and it is so. freakin’. easy. To just go in and spend $25 on stuff I don’t need. The trick I decided on was that I would only shop at these stores during the semi-annual sales. The one after the holidays and the one in June. I did this for three or four cycles, found I survived just fine and have pretty much broken the habit.
I had a $25-a-week Barnes and Noble habit and now I volunteer at a Used Book Store. I still need to stop buying books. But never mind that one.
Right now I am working on rules for the fabric stores. The trap I have fallen into is that since it is “for charity” – i.e. Project Linus, it doesn’t bother my conscience that I am spending money needlessly and the spare room that I was using for a library is also storing a completely unreasonable amount of yarn.
This does not include the bin, large basket and two overflowing bags in my bedroom. I’m not in the habit of buying anything fancy, and I am all into the double up on the deals while shopping, but still. This is a lot of yarn. (Albeit not enough to impress the Project Linus ladies, I imagine.)
I remember my friend Bob telling me that he and his wife were getting into fights about money because he would drop a couple hundred dollars on electronics without consulting her, but she would spend just as much money over a few weeks buying nonsense for the kids at Target. It led to a really great conversation about the different ways that money was spent in the household.
I have a financial planner and he tells me that spending money is fine, as long as we do it thoughtfully and genuinely need or enjoy the stuff we buy. Emotional spending is like emotional eating, I guess.
So just like mind tricks for the diet, we can have mind tricks for the spending. Do you have any?