This weekend, I felt as Odysseus must have felt when forcing himself to resist the temptation of the Sirens. You remember the Sirens, right? Those seductive sea nymphs who tried to lure the heroic traveler from his intended course with their beautiful voices.
Why did I find myself so tempted this weekend? Well, my inbox was bombarded with alluring emails from Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Lord & Taylor, Talbots, West Elm and J. Crew. Each email promised that some exciting sale awaited me, and that this was my last chance to take advantage of the offer: “Hurry, ends tonight! Annual Friends and Family sale. 25% off entire purchase. No items excluded!!!”
I used to find these offers difficult to resist. The sense of urgency and opportunity (last chance! happens just once a year!) coupled with an attractive deal (25% off!) was a toxic combination. Too often, I would find myself spending hundreds of dollars on clothes and shoes that I didn’t need. Sometimes, it turned out that I didn’t even like what I was buying.
Although I frequently yielded to the temptation to shop, I was never a shopaholic by the true definition of the word. I didn’t live beyond my means. I always paid off my bills at the end of every month. But, I certainly bought more than I needed and spent more than I wanted to spend. Shopping was preventing me from reaching my financial goals. Even if shopping wasn't an addiction, it was certainly a problem.
Now that I am paying more attention to my spending, I use a few tricks to help me ignore the call of those Sale Sirens.
- Set a budget, and stick to it: Each month, Mr. W. and I have a pre-determined amount that we can spend on unnecessary fun stuff. I usually spend my discretionary funds on clothes, accessories, and cosmetics. Once the money is gone, it’s gone. If there is something we really, really want, but have already spent our funds for the month, we can “borrow” from the next month’s budget. But, then we must catch up by underspending in the next month.
- Take a deep breath and wait: Sale emails are intended to communicate urgency. The retailer wants you, the consumer, to believe that you must act immediately in order to take advantage of the deal. The goal is to get you to pull the trigger before you can reconsider the purchase. This is why flash sale sites, like Gilt and Beyond the Rack, are so effective. In days past, I would buy items simply because I worried that I would miss the opportunity if I did not act RIGHT NOW. My new approach is to force myself to wait at least two days between first seeing an item I like and purchasing said item. If I find I still want the item two days later, and if I have the funds left in my budget, I’ll pull the trigger. If the item is no longer available or the sale is over once those two days have passed, I won't be heartbroken.
- Be realistic about utility: I love pretty, trendy clothes. I wish I could have a whole closet full of bright colors, imaginative prints, and shimmery fabrics. I used to relish shopping at Anthropologie because of the brand’s unique design aesthetic. But, if I’m being realistic, I have to admit that I can only wear these items on the weekends. Most of my work wardrobe is fairly conservative and I don’t need anything new at the moment (correction: I desperately need a new pair of black flats. But that’s really all I need). And, I already have more “cool” weekend clothes than I can hope to wear in a year. It would be silly to buy more. I now focus on appreciating what I already have, and using these items in new and interesting ways.
- Avoid final sale items: Final sale items are usually attractive because they are heavily discounted. But, they also can’t be returned or exchanged. The good deal comes with a risk. If an item doesn’t work out for some reason (fit, color, etc), you’ve just thrown money down the drain. Even if the items “works,” it’s nice to have the option to change your mind and return the item. I try to avoid final sale items, unless I’m absolutely certain that I want the item.
- If all else fails, remove the temptation: The easiest way to avoid the temptation to shop is to remove your exposure to the source of temptation: unsubscribe from retailer mailing lists, avoid shopping malls, discard catalogs, etc. When Mr. W. and I were saving for our wedding, I went for about six months without setting foot in a mall. I had no idea what colors or styles were “in” during spring 2012, but that was just fine. My wallet was the healthier for it.
What are some ways that you resist the temptation to overspend?