The biggest thing that makes this ‘challenge’ mentally challenging for me? The perception that I would be missing out on the joy of buying things.
Eleven days in, I’m convinced that’s not entirely the case.
Mindless Buying Is Unconscious Buying
Several items on this past week’s list are things I might have purchased without thinking about it: New blue blockers, Color Story filters, truffle oil, watch band, book I’ve been wanting to read.
This experiment has really made me think not twice but once about all these things – not all of which are super cheap by the way. How did I get so unconscious about where and why I was spending money?
Part of it is that I spent a lot longer as a graduate student than most people do: 10 years in total. I worked full or part time for about 5 years of that and paid mostly out of pocket, and for the other 5 I had my tuition paid for with a small annual stipend of about $25,000. Despite the details, I had a much, much lower income than someone who got a job after college and/or stopped at one graduate degree in one field.
I wouldn’t change any of that for the world, by the way. In my heart it was worth every penny. The point of the story is, I used to be pretty intense about money and what I wanted to spend it on.
Then, when I landed my first good job after my MBA, things started to slide:
- I can buy the nice gourmet coffee!
- I can buy nice tickets to this show!
- I can try out this subscription box!
- I can buy these pricey shoes!
- I can hire a personal trainer!
There was so much excitement in buying things because I could that I didn’t entirely think it through. Did I need a personal trainer really? How often would I ever wear those shoes? Most of this subscription box ended up being gifted.
This mindless buying definitely contributed to the demise of my relationship at the time. And instead of listening, I dug in my heels: Why should I not buy things if I can afford them and they make me happy?
Like everyone, I have been forced to be more mindful at times, like when I moved across two states or went all-in on my businesses (SoCon Networking and Among the Stars Consulting). I think that’s why I’m so attracted to a deal: It’s easier to justify an unnecessary purchase if you are getting a price break on it.
Turning Unconscious Buying Into Conscious Buying
Conscious consumerism doesn’t just mean buying ethical, environmentally-friendly or organic. It means thinking through whether a purchase is necessary and the impacts of making that purchase.
Using my examples from above, I’m glad I thought things through:
- I have blue blockers already, they’re just scratched in my peripheral vision and are starting to show signs of wear after 5 years. I should protect them better (in the case!) and replace them if they actually get more scratched.
- I have dozens of Color Story filters already, most of which I’ve never used. This was a $2.99 purchase I literally stopped at the end of the transaction because I realized it counted.
- Truffle oil is expensive (particularly at the store in question) and I am confident there is a less expensive and still conscientious brand out there. I can definitely find a way to carry on without until then.
- I can clean the band my watch came with instead of just getting a new one, even if the new one is recycled and compostable.
- I missed the book club discussing this particular book so there’s no urgency to read it. And I have literally boxes of books I haven’t read, and more that I’ve given away after admitting I’d probably never read. Plus I’m actively reading 3 books at this time of writing.
The joy I might get from something shiny and new in these cases would be overshadowed by the realization that I didn’t need to make the purchase.
- What would I do with my current blue blockers that are still perfectly good? Keep them in rotation out of guilt? Put them in a FREE box on the corner?
- Would I try to use the new filters because I bought them, even though I have dozens of others that I’ve never used before?
- I have a nearly empty tube of Urban Decay so I thought maybe it was time to buy more. But I’ve had that tube for 5 years. And I have a drawer full of other BB creams! Would I try to finish the old one so I could open the new one, then have that new one in rotation for 5 more years?
Consciously Reducing Temptation
As a marketer myself, I am acutely aware of how easy companies make it for you to buy. One of the keys is to get through the point of sale as quickly as possible so you don’t second-guess, and another is to stay in your mind so you give into temptation. The top 3 things on this week’s list were from text, email, and social media ads.
Systematically, I’ve been unsubscribing and unfollowing brands that are not following me back. I probably subscribed for a discount, or because I was interested in the company potentially down the road. When I need them, I’ll be able to find them. But there’s no reason to let them dictate when I need something they offer.
I’ve gone back more to the mentality I used to have as a student: Focus on work and hobbies, and stay away from temptation. Enjoy being active and creative, and take joy in the fact that I have everything I need!