I feel like this is a really important frugal habit but one that has been really difficult for me to develop. Truth is, I live in a society where it is the norm to shop for everything, from personal enjoyment all the way down to meeting your basic needs. And I feel like this has, at least for me, become exaggerated into this really vicious cycle. It is very easy to feel like you have to shop for everything under the sun all the time and that you have to have all of your needs and wants met all of the time. Slowing and stopping this cycle has been very very difficult for me and continues to be a challenge.
Part of the challenge is that it’s a multi-part cycle, where the parts are both separate and entwined. So fun. The first idea is that you have to shop for everything; there is no other way to meet your needs. I live in a consumerist society, so this idea is encouraged. The second part of the cycle is the idea that all of your needs and wants have to be met all of the time. Again, this is encouraged by the society we live in. It’s also confounded by consumerism as well. Consumerism and the mentality of “buy buy buy” make it really hard sometimes to differentiate between wants and needs. So does the high standard of living here in Canada; it’s very easy to think that you “need” a large living space or oodles of food in the pantry when the reality is that it’s just something you’re accustomed to having and not something you truly need. Wants and needs can also be really easily intertwined. Needing a car for work can easily lead down a path of wanting a certain car more than another, even though they both equally meet your need for transportation.
So, with all of this, what’s a lady to do to shop shopping? Well, as I said, slowing my consumption has been difficult for me but it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and working towards. First of all, I think it’s really important to be kind to yourself as you work towards reducing your shopping. Shopping less is both a skill and a habit; it takes time to develop. You will make mistakes (I certainly have) and that is ok. What matters is that you keep persevering. Like many other things in personal finance, it gets better over time.
I also think it’s really important to challenge the ideas of the cycle that I talked about above and to spend some time thinking about how you can live outside that cycle. Number one, it’s really important to figure out what is a want vs. what is a need. I know that you all probably covered this in grade school, but I think it’s worth bringing it up again. I think it’s really easy to get accustomed to having certain things and then assume that they are a need, when they really aren’t. An “aha!” moment for me was when one of the seniors at my work shared a story with me about how when she and her husband got married, they couldn’t afford to buy all the furniture they wanted for their apartment. They only bought the absolute essentials and for the first year of their marriage their coffee table was a cardboard box. I think this is a really great example of how we really don’t need as much stuff as we think we do; I know if I was setting up a living room I would think a coffee table was “essential.” It’s important to ask yourself if whatever you are thinking about buying is really a need. Can you make do without it or make something else work? Will it kill you if you don’t have it? Cultivating perspective on what is a want vs. a need can be hugely helpful.
In terms of gaining perspective, I think it’s also really important to take the time to realize what you already have and practice gratitude. I, and most of my readers, live in a first world country. This fact means that our standard of living is heads and shoulders above many other people in the world. I personally have never really struggled to meet my basic needs. I’ve always had food to eat and a roof over my head. Sometimes yes, money has been tight, but I’ve never starved or been homeless. Working as a social worker also really helps me to cultivate perspective. I see people in some pretty awful situations and it makes me so grateful for the way my life has turned out. It also helps me realize that my life is wonderful just as it is and that buying clothes or other things won’t make it better. Taking time and space to think about this helps me to focus on what matters and it’s not shopping.
I’ve found that cultivating perspective and gratitude have been really helpful for me when I look at some of the emotional issues around shopping. When I examine why I shop and the patterns around my shopping, I find that there is often an emotional component. I shop to de-stress if work is difficult or if I’m bored at lunch. When I lived alone, I would go shopping after work so I wouldn’t have to go home and face the loneliness I sometimes felt. Becoming more frugal has led me to reflect more on this and noting these patterns has been hugely helpful. I’ve been trying to shop less which means I need to find healthier coping strategies. Now I try to go for long walks on my lunch break, which helps with both the stress and the boredom. Realizing how lonely I felt led me to reach out more to my supports and spend more time with my friends. As with many other things, trying to be more frugal has lead me to make changes that are actually healthier and better for me. Living intentionally in one way has helped me to be more intentional in others.
I also find that being intentional about why I am trying to shop less and be more frugal contributes to my success. When I think about why I want to stop shopping, it’s in relation to my larger personal finance and life goals. I wanted to pay off debt, finish my emergency fund, and now save for a house and a wedding. Keeping these goals in mind helps me to maintain my perspective and stick to my priorities. Having my goal at the front of my mind helps me to make choices – do I buy this shirt or save for my wedding? Usually, the bigger goals win and I put the shirt down.
So, dear readers, what are your thoughts? What have you found that helps you to stop shopping and focus on the bigger priorities in life?