Do your spending habits align with what’s important to you?

Over the past few years, the Secondhand Therapy community has explored the idea of managing our energy as a precious resource. Ideally, the way we spend our energy aligns with our personal values.

Since last summer, I’ve been focused on managing another precious resource (MONEY!) and how it relates to my values.

 

Learning about Conscious Consumption

I’ve been super budget conscious since leaving my job as a bank manager at the end of 2013. When you give up a steady paycheck to have your own business, the easiest way to preserve your sanity is to cut back on expenses, so you have a financial buffer.

My wardrobe was the first thing to cut back on. I started by refusing to go to the mall unless it was to “help” someone else shop. I then watched the Netflix documentary, The True Cost of Fast Fashion, last year and pretty much stopped buying any clothing (except for a few sweaters from the Salvation Army) – because it was so depressing to realize all the waste from buying $10 shirts that seemed like such a great deal.

I’ve always liked the idea of having several variations of a “uniform” in my wardrobe, so I don’t have to agonize over outfits. So buying less became a challenge to fine tune my closet.

But then I started to look at other areas of my finances.

I reviewed the past few months of bank/credit card statements and added up how much I was spending each month in various categories. I asked myself if I was okay with each category’s spending history. This wasn’t about shaming myself; it was an opportunity to reflect on where my resources were going.

Then I found a free budget app that I could load on my phone. Every time I pull out my wallet to pay for something, I quickly enter it into the app on my phone. Each month, I have a running total for the following categories:

  • Grocery
  • Household expenses
  • Makeup/personal care
  • Eating Out
  • Gifts
  • Meds
  • Clothes
  • Gas
  • Liquor store (wine!)
  • Fun Money

Everything else in my budget (including donations) is an automatic deduction from my account.

For a couple of months, I was much more mindful of my spending. I didn’t set any amount targets for each category; I just paid more attention.

Later, I decided to set target amounts. Yeah, it’s a budget….but here’s why it doesn’t feel like one:

I want to be more conscious of my consumption.

As I’ve grown more mindful of how I spend my energy over the years, it started to feel icky that I wasn’t more deliberate about my financial resources. To be clear, I’ve always been very conscious of my spending (I’m the “saver” of our family!), but I started to challenge my assumptions as a consumer.

I’m not sure how you are going to feel about this list below. It may seem a little neurotic to you. Please understand that the questions below are meant to be used as a filter – not as roadblocks. Just as diets don’t work because the focus becomes what you AREN’T allowed to have – these questions are about why you might not WANT to have something after the initial impulse has passed…

 

How to talk yourself our of buying just about anything (if you really want to):

Is it healthy for my body?

I’ve expanded this to what goes on my skin and in my makeup…but I won’t take you down that rabbit hole yet! I will, however, emphasize that wine is full of antioxidants!

Will I feel good about buying this a year from now? Three years from now?

 This is for non-food related items.

Does this align with how I want to feel…and with my values?

This is how I justify money spent on meeting up with friends. I refuse to be a hermit who is too cheap to go out and have fun. I just have to skimp on other areas of my budget. Similarly, if you value supporting local artists, makers, and businesses, do your purchases reflect this? As an entrepreneur, I’ve become much more passionate about supporting others who have their own business.

Is this good for the environment?

Is it full of chemicals that shouldn’t be going on my skin or in the ocean? If so, I will spend the extra money to get the greener version. Will this end up in a landfill within a year or two (and yes, clothing donated to charities can end up in landfills)?

Is this something that I could just borrow from a friend?

If it’s for a one-time event or “just in case,” can I simply ask someone to borrow this item?

If it wasn’t on sale, would I be buying this?

It’s so tempting to snatch up something because it’s such a great bargain. But all of those “deals” can add up to unnecessary purchases or pretending that it’s not really part of our budget.

Am I buying this from a desire to numb uncomfortable feelings?

When I was stressed out from my corporate job, I used to shop all the time. I needed to feel that all the stress was “worth it” by treating myself. Now that I love what I do, I don’t need to buy my happiness. I’ve found other ways to make my heart happy. Buying things can also be used to numb loneliness, fear of scarcity, boredom, fear of not belonging, etc.

Could I wait a couple of weeks to buy this?

Ohhhh…this is such a good one! That fear of missing out can be compelling. Imagine waiting until the following month to buy that pair of shoes. Will you still want them just as much then? Think so? I dare you to try it. I set my monthly “clothing” budget so low that I have to save up a few months for most purchases. I like the anticipation and planning – it forces me to be very deliberate and I can avoid impulse buys.

Would this money be better spent on/directed towards something else?

Is there something that you wish you could do, but feel like you can’t afford it? What if you said NO to this purchase, and instead set that money aside towards that goal? Would that make you feel happier down the road? What if you re-directed that money towards a charitable cause close to your heart – would that make you feel happier than this purchase?

 

It’s totally okay if this seems overwhelming.

It took me a long time to even WANT to be so deliberate about my spending.

Money was super tight in my childhood. There were a lot of emotional triggers for me around finances. I worked through these with my therapist and my husband. I realized that money is a resource, but it doesn’t protect you from pain. In the past 15 years, we’ve had our household income cut in half five times. We’ve been top tax bracket to lowest…and everything in-between.

We all have our own struggles with the resources we are given: time, energy, health, money, etc.

How does the idea of conscious consumption apply to you, at this moment in your life? Maybe it’s about your use of time, your need to rest, the food that you are putting into your body…

Whatever you choose to focus on, I am cheering for those tiny little courageous decisions you will make in the upcoming weeks!

 

Pssst…I’ve got a free cheat sheet for you! To grab your Secondhand Therapy two-page cheat sheet, 5 Steps to a Big Decision, just enter your info below. These five steps work really well for smaller decisions, too!