Mindfully Curb Spending

Originally posted as “How to Cultivate Mindfulness to Curb Spending” at U.S. News Money

A clean slate. A fresh start. These phrases are popular in springtime, when Americans are focused on clearing the clutter and cobwebs from their households.

They’re also declarations commonly used by consumers who want to regain control of their finances. Whether it’s finally making a plan to pay off debt – American households have over $42,000 in auto loan and credit card debt combined, according to NerdWallet – saving up for a down payment on a home or squirreling away more funds for retirement, consumers are eager to reach financial goals that offer some breathing room in their budgets.

Before we can take that deep breath of financial freedom, however, we must restrict our personal spending. Even if you don’t consider yourself a spendthrift, pulling back on discretionary purchases for savings goals requires self-restraint. “Discipline is the master key,” says Leanne Jacobs, holistic wealth expert and creator of BeautifulMoney.com. “It takes practice and patience, but creating a habit of discipline will, over time, make you a mindful money master.”

Being mindful, as it turns out, is helpful in curbing impulse-spending and not just in service of short-term financial goals; it can help cultivate the lifestyle required to create lasting change and greater financial abundance.

“Mindfulness is the most effective way to slow down spending and avoid going into debt,” Jacobs contends. “When you are clear on exactly what you want long term, you’re less likely to let an impulsive, short-term spending blitz knock you off course.”

Elisha Lowe, a nurse consultant in Pennsylvania agrees. “Mindless spending results from not having a clear vision or plan for what you really want.” Lowe coaches health care business owners in the practice of mindful spending and suggests a three-pronged approach that helped curtail her own bad habits:

  • Create a list of 10 things you want to acquire, accomplish and experience over the next decade
  • Calculate a budget for desired purchases and vacations at the start of each year
  • Keep this list and budget in front of you as much as possible

This strategy recently helped Lowe respond to a friend’s travel invitation to France. “It was easy to decline because I already know what I want to have this year, and France is not on the list,” she says.

While clarity is certainly a great step toward achieving your financial goals, it’s not as helpful in addressing the reasons you overspend in the first place. Oftentimes, mindless spending is the result of a larger issue, hence the use of “retail therapy” as a response to an emotionally-charged experience, like a breakup or bad day at work.

“Anxiety, loneliness, and sadness are just a few of the emotions that can lead to excessive spending,” says Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.” Morin suggests that recognizing the underlying emotion can help consumers make better coping decisions, an assertion shared by John Mathews, a licensed psychotherapist in Chesterfield, Virginia. “Using mindfulness to identify and non-judgmentally accept internal experiences can take the sting out of the bad feelings,” adds Mathews, “and may just resolve that urge to spend.”

The practice of meditation can also be helpful in creating mindfulness around money. Edward Sturm, a digital producer and content marketer in New York, practices meditation daily and credits the habit for helping control his spending. “If I’ve made a poor purchase compulsively, I’ll tend to reflect on it during a meditation session and that reflection will allow me to not do it next time,” he says. “From meditation, I’ve become more frugal and strategic in my actions, less dominated by random emotions and more compelled by reason.”

Cultivating the strength to say “no” to impulsive, mindless spending is what Michele Patestides, a learning specialist and academic advisor at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, receives from her meditation practice. To keep her financial goals on track, Patestides listens to a 20-minute abundance meditation called “Feel Joy and Inspiration.” She says, “Now, before making any noncritical purchase, I stop and take a mindful moment to ask myself: ‘Is this really a need or a want?'”

Distinguishing between needs and wants is yet another method to keep spending under control. Mary Kaarto, a single mom, retired editor and author of “Help for the Laid Off,” became more mindful about her purchasing decisions after two layoffs left her without a job for two years. “My layoffs taught my daughter and me the difference between needs versus wants,” Kaarto says, “and it’s amazing how empowered I felt every time I realized how little we really needed to get by on.”

When Kaarto feels the desire to make a purchase, she questions whether the item is a need or a want, and then asks herself, “If I lost my job tomorrow, would I regret having spent money on this?” For someone who has endured extended periods of unemployment, this is a powerful reminder to avoid unnecessary purchases whenever possible.

Joy Rains, author of “Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind,” recommends Kaarto’s “stop and think” approach and reminds consumers that the initial impulse to buy doesn’t require action. “A thought about spending money is not the same as actually spending money,” she says. “It’s just a thought.” Rains suggests training yourself to pause after an impulsive thought crosses your mind, and allow yourself time for the desire to fade. “Create a gap between impulse and conditioned response,” she advises. “Imagine pressing the pause button of your life and just being, without doing.”

Indeed, taking a moment to breathe amid life’s challenges often results in better decision-making. Freeing yourself from the burden of debt can be a long journey, but mindfulness can help you move more quickly and contentedly to the finish line, and toward that fresh start.