Dear Amanda: I used to be a bit of a shopaholic, but lately I’ve been good about not spending on things I don’t need. The problem is that with the change in seasons, I’m really tempted by the new fall fashions that I see everywhere.
t I feel like everyone else looks amazing, and I’m a total frump. How can I control my spending without feeling angry and jealous all the time?
t -Frustrated Fashionista
t Dear Frustrated:
t I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels like autumn arrived with a whole new “uniform.” Isn’t it funny how sometimes clothes change even before the first leaf has dropped? Perhaps our signal to don jackets and boots has less to do with cooler temperatures than it does with social conformity. Alas, we are human beings, and we are wired to care what others are doing. Consumer brands, advertisers and media outlets know this, and it’s what makes the economy go round.
t But that doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to white-knuckle your way through every holiday and turn off the calendar. Here are five tips to soothe that urge to spend and re-establish inner financial peace.
Delete, delete, delete your triggers
t Just as we’re wired to notice what others around us are doing, we’re also attuned to things in our environment that are new. Noticing something can quickly turn to wanting it. When you see an image or ad for something you would like to have, it takes discipline to resist the urge to buy and then additional energy to manage the feelings of sadness or jealousy that naturally occur afterward.
t You can reduce the number of times per day you are forced to exercise that discipline by unsubscribing from marketing emails and deleting shopping apps from your mobile devices. It might also help to avoid visiting online retailers even just to browse. With today’s ad-serving software, you may successfully abandon the items in your shopping cart only to find them beckoning you from the sidebar when you visit other sites online. (Fun story: When I was renovating a bathroom a couple of years ago, I had a bizarre week where toilets followed me everywhere I went on the internet. I couldn’t catch up on breaking news without images of toilets appearing throughout the piece.)
Give jealous thoughts a “poison pill”
t Everyone has a temptation to which they’re particularly sensitive. As a fashion lover you may notice sweaters, for example, and get lost in imagining how cozy they might feel or how luxurious they look. It may seem like you could be totally confident and comfortable if only you had that sweater. Fantasizing on the details of your temptation will only make it worse. To take away some of that fantasy’s power, give yourself a “poison pill,” an unattractive or repulsive thought to accompany the fantasy. Someone I worked with used to always covet other people’s boots. She would see the latest riding boot or lace-up wedge and feel her life would be complete if only she had those boots. I suggested she every time she saw a woman wearing boots she wanted, to imagine that the person had dirty, smelly, holey socks on underneath. Chic fantasy shattered.
Review your budgeting goals
t You mention that you’re trying to spend less, but I wonder what the reason is behind this change in your habits. In order to be effective, we need to make sure we’re making SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. In other words, “spend only on necessities” will be harder to stick to than “Limit non-essential spending to $50 per month so that I can build my emergency fund to $2,000 by the end of the year.”
Re-connect with what you have
t One of my favorite ways to soothe the itch to spend is to “shop your closet.” Shopping your closet simply means re-familiarizing yourself with what you already have. Not only does this put us more in touch with the abundance already in our lives (gratitude can neutralize that covetous urge), but it’s also a practical way to get new ideas about combinations of clothes you already own.
Spend solvently on what you love
t There is nothing inherently wrong about loving fashion and wanting to spend money on clothes. If this is something that makes you happy and is part of how you express your identity, it’s essential that you find a way to incorporate it into your long-term spending and savings plan. If you don’t, you risk succumbing to the urge because you’ve “been so good for so long” or because you “deserve to treat yourself” (and then will probably feel guilty about it afterward). Rather, identify a dollar amount that fits with your other financial responsibilities and goals. Learning how to direct our money toward things that give our lives stability, meaning and pleasure is the definition of financial wellness.
t Having worked with a number of people who’ve struggled to change unhealthy shopping habits, I applaud your efforts to bring this behavior under control. I hope that these simple tips can help you find balance between your inner fashionista and empowered financial ninja.