What’s mindfulness, and what does it have to do with finances? Well, mindfulness is paying close attention to what you’re doing, moment by moment. And that attention also includes how we spend our money. Sometimes we do it on impulse, sometimes for gratification — and sometimes it may seem there’s no reason at all. Instead of mindful spending, we might call that “mindless spending.”
But there are better ways to be aware of our money. Practicing mindful spending may help curb credit card debt, cut back on unnecessary expenses, and save money. Let’s take a look at some methods for mindful spending.
What is mindful spending?
Mindful spending is a disciplined method of managing our spending habits. Having a budget is a great way to manage personal finances but sticking to that budget can often be difficult. No one likes to be told what to do — even if it’s just you telling yourself. We go out with friends, we buy expensive meals, we purchase new clothes or concert tickets … and then the bills come. Later, we find ourselves singing that same old refrain, “I just can’t understand where all my money went.”
That’s because we weren’t spending mindfully. When we practice mindful spending, we may be better prepared to avoid temptation because our spending decisions are made purposely and with consideration — not by chance and whimsy.
10 tips for mindful spending
Let’s face it, your bank account probably won’t build itself up by chance — unless you win the lottery. You need a plan, a solid course of action to follow. Most wealth management plans mainly focus on income, expenses, and savings. You know what your income is, and you know how much you put in your savings account each month without having to add some side hustle. But when it comes to spending money, do you know how much you spend, down to the dollar? With mindful spending, you might.
Here are 10 tips to help improve your money management and put you on the path to mindful spending:
1. Put it on a waiting list
Many of us are guilty of impulse buying. We see something you want, and we just have to have it. But we don’t always need more clothes or shoes, that new technology, or that getaway vacation – at least, we don’t need it right then and there.
The mindful approach puts you in a better position to save. One way this works is through creating a “buy list.” Open the notes app on your phone — or just go old-fashioned and use a notebook — and add whatever you would like to buy to the list on a rolling basis. When you add new items, include the date you added it to your list. And then institute a waiting period. Allow yourself some time, say 30 days, to see if you still want the item. When the time is up, allow yourself the opportunity to buy it. But first, check the next few items on your list: Is the next item a greater attraction? If so, which item would you rather have?
This process forces you to consider how much you want that next shiny thing and its importance to you.
2. Consider your spending triggers
When do you spend the most? When you’re shopping online, or when you’re at a brick-and-mortar store? When you’re alone, or when you’re out with friends? Uncovering your spending patterns could help you take control of your finances and keep your overspending at bay.
The mindful approach asks you to understand why you are spending, and that may help control it. You may realize that you spend more out of boredom, or when you’re on vacation, or because you feel that you need to keep up with your social circle. Knowing that you overspend in certain situations could help you curb your spending, or help you understand what spending situations you may want to avoid. Either way, it’s helpful to stay aware of why and when you spend.
3. Track your spending
Knowing where money goes could help you understand needless spending. When making purchases, track each expenditure. Account for every dollar. That will help you spot patterns, like overspending at restaurants or movies. A $5 mocha latte may not seem like much — but if you buy one every day, that’s $150 a month!
The mindful approach asks you to be aware that small costs add up. Tracking will help you see the big picture. Use that notes app to create another list for tracking everything you spend. Or download an app made specifically for expense tracking.
4. Use cash
There’s something to be said for cash. You can’t spend what you don’t carry. Having only cash-on-hand will increase your awareness of your funds. Knowing that you only have $50 cash in your pocket — and that’s it, there’s no more — might make you consider what you’re spending for a night on the town.
The mindful approach reminds us that using only cash is the most basic form of money management around. It makes you intimately aware of how much you have to spend, and it might help you pre-consider your purchase.
5. Make every dollar work
Use a zero-sum budget — earmark every dollar you earn and spend for a specific purpose. Whether it’s for food, utilities, or entertainment, make sure that your funds are precisely allocated. That includes remembering to put money into savings or into an emergency fund.
The mindful approach says that when each dollar’s a focal point, you tend to pay more attention to how you use them. Aim for a zero balance at the end of the month – every dollar earned should either be spent properly or be saved, whichever works best for your budget.
6. Consider leaving a specific debit card for “pocket money”
Some separation helps. When you have instant access to all your money, there could be little incentive to restrain your spending.
The mindful approach asks you to set up a separate bank account and to deposit weekly “pocket money.” If you use a debit card for the account, you’ll only spend what the account holds. (But make sure that the account doesn’t allow overdrafts.)
7. Set specific goals
If you find that you are spending a lot on one category, try setting a monthly goal. Maybe you can reduce your restaurant spending this month from $200 to $150. Next month, see if you can knock it down to $125. Then $100.
The mindful approach cautions you to take a stepped approach and not try to cut everything back all at once. Take small steps and make reasonable reductions until you find a happy balance.
8. Go with less expensive choices
Choosing to eat out? That’s fine, but you don’t always have to choose the most expensive option to enjoy an amazing meal. A movie or play is the same at night or at an afternoon matinee, but the afternoon tickets are cheaper. Instead of going out to a restaurant with friends, how about a bring-a-dish style potluck dinner party?
The mindful approach asks you to recognize that it’s the experience that matters — and the people with whom you share that experience. Look for less expensive ways to still have fun and enjoy the savings.
9. Determine the hour value of the item
For any purchase you make, figure out the number of hours that you had to work to pay for it. Do the simple math: take the item’s cost and divide it by how much you make per hour. That lets you assign a personal value to purchases.
The mindful approach asks you to consider, “What’s this worth, in my time?” Are the hours it took you to earn the item really worth its purchase price?
10. Freeze your cards
Literally. Freeze them. Half-fill a bowl with water, put your credit card(s) in a zip-closed baggie, put that in the water, then freeze it. If the bag floats after it’s frozen, pour more water over it and put it back in the freezer.
The mindful approach says that if you really need the card, you’ll take the time to put the bowl in the sink and let it thaw out. If you need it sooner, run warm water over it. But the delay — the defrosting — will help you to think about why you need to buy that item. The time spent thawing and refreezing the card might slow you down enough to change your mind.
Get help staying centered
With a bit of work, and by putting some of these tips to work, mindful spending is within your reach. Give it a try. Best Egg has lots of tips to help you live within your means. Take a look — and enjoy your money!