In the words of a recovering shopaholic, these pieces of advice will save you from financial ruin. If you’re the type who spends her entire paycheck on food, clothes, and booze (like I was), then you need to listen up. Nothing feels better than knowing you can retire early, or buy a new car or actually afford a decent mortgage. New things are pretty and great, but they’re eating your future.
These are all things I did to pay off debt and stop myself from continuing the vicious cycle of shopping high, shoe hedonism, and instant gratification.
It won’t be easy. You’ll effing hate it. You’ll feel deprived and annoyed, but after a few months, your bank account will be like a shining beacon on the horizon, a lighthouse calling you back to financial freedom.
Say it with me now: swear jar.
Drink club soda like you’re a recovering alcoholic
If you love going out to eat, curb your enthusiasm. Instead of ordering wine or beer, which will probably lead to another and then another, just get seltzer. You’ll save $15-20 per meal. If you go out three times a week, that’s $60 in your pocket.
Keep a spending diary
The best way to truly see what you’re wasting your money on is to be aware of every single purchase. This means coffee breaks, impulse buys at the register, and all the essentials like gas and rent. If Excel spreadsheets instill fear into your heart, get an app like Mint that tracks every credit/debit purchase and analyze your spending habits. You can’t ignore the truth when it’s staring back at you on a bright digital screen.
You don’t need it
And it’s not just a mantra to tell yourself, either. You actually, truly, madly, deeply don’t need a new watch. You just don’t. You have a smartphone that you use exclusively to tell you the time and three other watches at home collecting dust. Walk. Away. You’re better than this material stuff.
Stop using shopping as therapy
Confessions Of a Shopaholic’s Becky Bloomwood said it best when she said, “When I shop the world gets better. The world is better…and then it isn’t anymore. And I have to do it again.” Shopping is absolutely a high and can become an addiction. Recognize this unhealthy behavior and stop abusing your wallet. Instead of dropping a hundred dollars on stuff, go into a Godiva store and buy a $5 chocolate. Same high, but dirt cheap.
Don’t shop because you’re bored
Shopping is not entertainment. If you’re bored, watch TV or call a friend. Do things that are useful, like cleaning, instead of picking up your credit card. Hell, go see a movie. (Skip the $14 popcorn, though.)
Don’t save your credit card information on your favorite online shop
When you can pay with one click, it doesn’t even feel like spending, does it? These stores rely on that. Don’t be a chump. Make it so much harder to make purchases by forcing yourself to get your credit card every time you want to buy something online. That makes the whole process real, and may keep you from indulging.
Make a shopping list
And not just for groceries. Do this for your seasonal wardrobe. When I shop, I think about the trends I want to try and I screenshot other people’s style and outfits and use that as a guide. I think, for fall I need: new brown boots that are mid-length and with a short heel, jewel-tone casual dresses, some new tangly necklaces, blouses that I can wear with my old skirts, a couple pairs of tights, and a trench coat. Buy ONLY those things and nothing else until you’ve worn all of those clothes at least twice.
Instead, shop in your own closet and make fun new combinations. Another good trick is when you do go shopping, take out at least two items from your final selection. Chances are there are at least two things you don’t want as much as the others.
Pay your credit card IN FULL every month
If you’re not paying off your bills completely every month, you’re essentially paying for everything you bought twice. Do not rack up credit card debt. Listen to Michael Scott: “Do not buy a fur coat with a credit card until you absolutely have the money to pay for it.” When I was determined to never rack up (more) credit card debt after spending years paying off vacations and flights and expensive purchases, I gave myself a “treat-myself” budget of $150 a month.
Now, I had a few part-time jobs so this budget number may be higher for you, but that’s it. I would only allow myself to charge $150 for the whole month. I paid for other things in cash, and anything big I wanted to buy, I would wait until I a. had the money or b. didn’t want it anymore.
Wait to buy the big things
If I want a particularly (ridiculously) expensive pair of shoes, I give myself a timeline: If I still really want them in two months (or whatever), then I’ll buy them. Chances are one of two things will happen: I’ll stop lusting after them or they’ll sell out. Knowing I can’t have them anymore makes my lust disappear, and most of the time I’m so distracted by other pretty things that I don’t want them as much anyway.
But there is a third option: I buy them after the allotted time and I feel secure in a purchase I saved for and am confident I won’t regret.
Think about shopping
The best part about shopping is the thrill of getting new things. I find that the best way to keep from shopping is to tell myself I will go soon, and then not go. I still give myself those little doses of the high: that rush of excitement at the prospect of soft new clothes, of that heady leather shoe smell, of the crisp pages of a new book series. I love that feeling. So I let myself have that feeling, but not the items themselves.
Do the work yourself
I am the laziest, least enthusiastic house-cleaner. I never clean. But I also take full responsibility for my dirty environment and won’t spend the money on even weekly maidservice, because it’s a waste of money. Just tell yourself no, and pull on those rubber gloves yourself.
Keep a jar for stray change and any bill denomination under $10
Treat your ones and fives like change and hoard them somewhere you won’t spend them. Do this with every single bill and you’ll find, at the end of the month, a couple hundred dollars that you can deposit in your savings account.
Take pride, pleasure, and excitement in watching your savings account grow
Once I started shaving down my shopping habits and saving instead, I got more excited from watching the number on the ATM screen grow each week than I ever did from shopping. I set goals: by the end of the year, I have to have this much in my savings account. I made it a point to make sure that goal was met—or as close as humanly possible.
Know when to treat yourself
Sometimes, all of this hard work deserves a reward. After one particularly hellish month of working three jobs back to back and saving a whole LOT of money, I went to my favorite store and bought a $24 necklace that I’ve worn a dozen times since. It’s the little things that you end up appreciating so much more.