The joy of breaking the habit of overspending

Today’s guest post was written by Rachel Smith. She is the author of Underspent, a book teaching people how to break the habit of impulse shopping in 7 steps through my free monthly challenges and her weekly blog.

Check out her blog where you can buy her book directly in paperback ($12.99) or e-book, iBook and kindle formats ($2.99).

I wasn’t a shopaholic and I didn’t have huge credit card debts, but, like most people, I was an impulse shopper.

It’s our culture. Advertising and expectations have taught us how to spend money. Most people have never been taught how to not spend money. I love books. I read a book a month. I found it very difficult to walk past a bookshop without being sucked in by yet another ‘Buy three books for the price of two’ offer. If I was at the airport I always bought a book or magazine whether I needed it or not. I also had a habit of home wares I didn’t really need. If I saw ‘the most beautiful cushion in the world’ in a shop, I’d want to buy it.

On New Year’s Eve 2012, I decided to quit shopping. I pledged and promised to buy nothing new or second-hand for one whole year (2013). I failed. I saw buying nothing as a hardship filled with doom and gloom, like a year of punishment. ‘Negativity creates negativity’—my year of no buying lasted just four months.

In 2014, I tried again. Second time around, I saw buying nothing new or second-hand for a year as an exciting opportunity, an adventure and a whole new way to live my life—a lifestyle experiment. Positive thinking creates positive experiences. I succeeded. I didn’t buy anything new or 2nd hand in 2014 and saved $52,680 (38% of my salary). I changed my spending and transformed my savings. It started as a lifestyle experiment, but it changed my life, so I kept on going.

During 2014 I discovered my ‘pain’ points, the reasons why I went shopping. The first was boredom. It was easy to go to the shops when I had nothing better to do. The second was rewarding myself. I worked long hours. I’d always treat myself with new clothes after a sixty-hour week. Third was peer pressure. Lots of my friends loved shopping, and I was easily influenced into buying too.

The first step that I took to break my habit of impulse shopping was to identify my passions and priorities. I realised that experiences gave me joy, not things; spending time with my family and friends, beach days, long country walks, surfing and horse riding. One of my priorities was security. I saved money so that I had 2 years’ of salary in the bank when my role was made redundant in December 2015.

There’s plenty of research and endless books on the pursuit of happiness and none of them suggest shopping as the answer. We don’t need many ‘things’ to be happy. My ‘no buying’ experiment really reinforced that we need very little to be happy. What I love about quitting consumerism is that you use up everything that you already have, you swap and share and you value what you have.

I was able to break the habit impulse shopping. These are the 7 steps that worked for me:

  • Step 1. I identified my passions and priorities – First up I admitted it was possible. Then I wrote my ‘passion list’, identified my shopping and buying issues and made a ‘Why I am not shopping and buying’ list.
  • Step 2. I made a budget and sorted out my banking – Everyone’s financial circumstances are different but I set up a monthly budget and I stopped using my credit and debit cards.
  • Step 3. I got people in place to help – I made myself accountable to my family, friends and people on social media.
  • Step 4. I inspected, assessed and organised my stuff – I inspected every single room in my house. I assessed every single item in every cupboard and I inspected my wardrobe with a fine tooth comb.
  • Step 5. I got into swapping, sharing and selling – I swapped the clothes I didn’t like and didn’t wear. I shared the books I’d already read and I sold some things I didn’t like and didn’t use.
  • Step 6. I used everything that I already had – I used up all my soaps, shampoos, conditioners and moisturisers. I used the sample sachets, the travel-size bottles and all the complimentary products I had received from magazines, shops and hotels. I ate all the food in my pantry, fridge and freezer before I bought more. I wore out all the shoes I had and I wore my shoes until they had holes in the soles.
  • Step 7. I got out and had fun – I focused on experiences not stuff, I made some special investments and I participated in my local community.

I quit shopping for 365 days. It was one of the best years of my life and I didn’t dramatically change my life to do it. All I can say now is, try it and see!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *