If you’ve spent the past few months indulging in everything from gifts to new clothes to more expensive versions of your favourite foods, shifting back to your everyday spending habits might be more difficult than you realise.
Why? You’re probably familiar with the famous quote “We are what we repeatedly do” (often misattributed to Aristotle; actually coined by philosopher Will Durant)—and, over the holiday season, a lot of us spend a lot of money.
Which means that even a basic personal finance step like setting up your 2020 budget might not be enough to keep you from overspending. If you’ve gotten into the holiday habit of buying what you want (often impulsively) to treat both yourself and the people you love, well… that’s a hard habit to get out of.
But here’s how you can do it.
Ask yourself what you want your shopping habits to look like
First, you’ll want to give yourself a model to work towards. Saying “I want to shop less” or “I want to spend less money” isn’t enough; since it’s hard to get through the world without shopping or spending money, you’ll need to create a mental image of the type of shopper you’d like to become.
Are you going to be the kind of person who makes lists of items that need to be replenished and replaced, working far enough in advance that you have room to watch for sales and discounts?
Are you going to commit to using up everything you’ve already purchased, even if you’re a little tired of whatever’s currently in your pantry or closet?
Or are you simply going to try to avoid impulse buys, avoid anything that doesn’t fit into your budget, or set similar boundaries around your spending?
Ask yourself what you’d like your 2020 shopping habits to look like, so you’ll know whether or not you’re living up to your own goals and standards.
Build a structure of behaviours that support your new shopping habits
Once you have a clear picture of the financial habits you’d like to implement, it’s time to ask yourself which behaviours are most likely to support those habits. BJ Fogg’s “Swarm of Bs” exercise, from his new book Tiny Habits, is a good way to figure out how you might need to tweak your day-to-day life in order to break out of your old habits and reinforce new ones.
If you want to spend less money at restaurants this year, for example, you’re probably going to need to invest a little more time into meal planning and grocery shopping.
If you just want to avoid impulse buys, you might also need to avoid your favourite retailers, which brings me to:
Stay away from temptation (especially online)
If you did a lot of holiday shopping over the past few months, you probably gave various retailers all kinds of information (your interests, your price points, your email address) that is now coming back your way in the form of highly effective targeted marketing.
It’s time to unsubscribe from all retailer emails, delete any price tracking alerts you’ve got set up (unless you’re tracking for something you both need and have budgeted for), and avoid spending time on your favourite online shopping storefronts.
Because that’s how they’ll get you. With limited-time offers, can’t-miss deals, and anxiety-inducing dark patterns.
Since the whole purpose of the internet is to enable commerce (and here we were thinking it was about the global exchange of ideas), you’re going to want to avoid spending time on sites that want you to spend money.
If you’ve also resolved to spend less time online in general this year, whether you’re doing the full “digital detox” or simply trying to stay offline for a few hours after work, this’ll be a win-win.
If you do all of this work and still find yourself making some kind of “New Year, New You” impulse purchase, don’t worry. Habits take time to break, so continue to practice your new spending behaviours—eventually, they’ll start to take the place of the old ones.
Then you can start thinking about what kind of spending habits you’d like to adopt when the holidays begin again.