Minimalism: Impulse Buying/ Unnecessary Purchases

This Wednesday was “Singles Day”: a fictitious shopping festival invented by AliExpress to rival (and greatly surpass) Black Friday as a global shopping day. I have to say, I did get involved. I ordered stuff I kind of needed but had been putting off buying – film for my Instax camera, new bamboo toothbrushes – plus an absolute unnecessary buy of a plant pot shaped like the statue of David. (In my defence, I have been eyeing up a Statue of David plant pot for months on end so I don’t think it fully qualifies as an impulse buy…. hmmmm… )

As any money-saving, wellness or minimalist article will tell you: just stop impulse buying!

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Capitalism and commercialism have spent lots of time and money into conditioning us all to love spending our money. It’s not an accident or a character failing that we so often fall into the trap of advertising and impulse buying, it’s an intended, extremely profitable product of companies working hard to sell their products.

Below I have run through a few of the thinking traps that often surround impulse-buying and tips on how to overcome each one.

Genuine Impulse Buying – aka “I saw this breadbin shaped like Optimus Prime two minutes ago but I will die without it”

This is somewhat self-explanatory; you see something you never knew existed, your eyes widen, your pulse quickens, you cannot leave the shop without your Optimus Prime breadbin, despite the fact that you gave up bread two years ago when you went paleo.

The easy solution to this is: don’t go into the shop in the first place. If you aren’t in the shop, you can’t buy the product. Unfortunately online shopping has made this much harder to avoid, because the ads and the shop travel around with you in your pocket.

  • Unsubscribe from all your marketing e-mails. You never read them anyway.
  • Get an ad-blocker for your internet browser – the technology of targeted advertising shocks me on a daily basis and there’s nothing worse than when you decide not to buy something and suddenly every second post on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest is that exact product, taunting you.
  • Don’t save your card details in your browser – if you have to go get your card to type in your details every time, that tiny amount of extra effort will keep you from buying a surprising number of things.

It sounds silly, but it’s taken me a really long time of trying to follow minimalism and especially digital minimalism to realise: you don’t need advertising to tell you what your problems are. I actually feel guilty sometimes for being so sheltered from ads- I feel almost a moral responsibility to know about the products that are available to me, which is absurd. When you find a problem, then you can start looking for a solution to it – if you didn’t realise you were missing something before you saw an ad, you weren’t missing it. Sorry, Optimus Prime.

“I earned this by working”

Often money can feel very abstract and unintuitive to comprehend. It’s hard to comprehend the true cost of something until you frame it in something tangible. Some methods of thinking that might help are asking yourself:

  • “How many hours do I have to work to make up for the cost of this item?”,
  • “How many X could I buy for the same price? (I usually go with how many cans of pepsi could I buy for the same price…)

I often feel like unless I buy something with the money I earn I can’t really comprehend my earnings so I usually buy myself something really nice when I finish up a job. When I finished up on Mamma Mia I bought myself a gorgeous collectors edition of my favourite book, Good Omens. I remember after my very first job, sitting outside the Leaving Cert exam centres in school I bought an iPad (!) and it’s a habit I’ve kept going since. Not only does it satisfy the urge to spend my hard earned money, I get one really nice thing I’ll keep for a really long time and it means whenever I see the item I can associate it with a specific time in my life.

Re-framing your money in terms of “hours worked” is also very helpful in conceptualising the money you’re earning. Admittedly, I primarily use this tactic to stop myself buying overpriced lunches, but I have found it a very helpful technique in stopping myself spending. Instead of thinking that 10 euro is a good deal for a sandwich and a drink, I can think of it like: “am I willing to work for an hour extra to pay for the lunch that I only need to buy because I’m at work?”

“I want to buy something

Sometimes you can’t get around it – you really want to buy something. I find it useful to have a list of things I really need, so that when I can’t escape the impulse to BUY, at least I’m buying something I need, not whatever was closest to me in the shop.

Opening the floodgates

This is my main issue with impulse buying: I am extremely good at not spending any money; I can go weeks without buying anything at all, but then eventually I’ll buy one thing and the floodgates of impulse buying open.

My purchasing brain kicks in and justifies itself- “If I can afford to buy that book I’ve been wanting for a while, I must also be justified in buying a new notebook, new makeup, new art supplies and a decorative plant.”

  • For online orders, only buy 1 item at a time. Wait until the first item arrives before you can order the next thing.
  • If you have a Revolut card, or pre-paid visa card or even PayPal, add a set amount of money for “spending money” and use that for your purchases. That way you have a really clear figure of how much you’re spending and you can easily control spending too much.
  • Write a pros and cons list for each item and determine if it really is a want or a need or a luxury. I need the notebook for college and, while I can put off buying it for a week or two, I will eventually need to purchase it. I want the book and have thought about it for long enough that I feel comfortable spending the money on it. The makeup and art supplies are luxuries.*

*I won’t give out to anyone for buying more plants.

“I deserve this”

This is the hardest one – we’ve all been trained to associate spending money with self-care and self-worth. Particularly nowadays with the growing emphasis on “self-care” in the mental wellness sphere, companies are pushing the narrative that “self-care” means treating yourself to their product. “Treat yourself to this bath bomb,” they say, “because you deserve it. Because you’re worth it.” I call this the “self-care trap” and I hope to write more on this later (but essentially, look at the behaviours and products that are now being sold under the guise of self-care; the outlook becomes very cynical and malicious the more you look at it).

It is nice to treat yourself after you have worked particularly hard or gone through a difficult time, but it is important to evaluate the word “treat” and try to understand what it really means. A treat is doing something for yourself to benefit yourself. Putting yourself into debt isn’t a treat. Buying something you don’t want, to “keep up” with other people isn’t a treat.

A treat can be taking an evening off, or staying in your dressing gown all day, or watching the same film 3 times in a row because you feel like it. Shops want you to “treat yourself” by spending money because it’s how they operate, so next time you want to treat yourself think really hard what you actually want before you buy a spa weekend that’s advertised as “rejuvenating”.

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