Mindful Spending as an Antidote to Mindless Consumption
Even though money is one of the most practical concerns in life, it can also be a means by which we express much about who we are at the deepest levels. If that notion makes you cringe a little, it’s likely because the idea of “mindless consumerism” has long-dominated many people’s picture of spending. It conjures up images of people buying out of compulsion rather than consciousness, using things to fill the emptiness in their lives. If all of our solutions come from “out there,” then human beings consist of little more than these hungry, hollow vessels whose only route to happiness is to buy more stuff. Watch an episode of The Real Housewives, and you’ll get what I’m talking about.
It’s not a particularly flattering picture of humans, but it gestures at another interesting possibility for how we spend and what it means. What if we treated our interactions with external objects as a kind of mindful practice, using spending (and savings) as the fodder for personal growth and daily meditation? What if we started from the assumption that the activity of spending can be an expression not of our hollowness but of our conscious growth and purpose as human beings?
I think if we did that, we’d both save money and have fun doing it. That’s the idea at the heart of what I’ve been calling the Spendshift, both in my forthcoming book by that title and several articles I’ve written over the past few months. There are many possibilities for how to put the Spendshift into practice, but here are a few that I find particularly thought-provoking:
Indulge strategically. If you do something you enjoy once in a while, it’s memorable and fun. If you do it so often you stop noticing, you’re doing what addicts call “chasing the dragon.” By spacing out your indulgences, you give your brain time to fully relish its past joys and recover more effectively before the next time you decide it’s time to treat yourself. You also save yourself money in the process.
Put off that purchase for a little longer. From shoes to shampoo, as soon as you buy a new thing and bring it home, it starts becoming an old thing. Every day that you wait to replace things you already have means a day that you’ve stretched your money a little further, which leads to…
Take a short bath. By “short” I mean, literally, use one less inch of water in your baths. By reducing regular activities by small, barely noticeable percentages, you don’t have to feel like you’re depriving yourself, and over time you mindfully accumulate reductions that add up to big savings.
Turn savings into a game. Like golf, you can turn spending into a game where the lower the score, the better. Maybe it’s through smart use of coupons or maybe it’s by buying produce in season, but no matter what you do, thinking of savings as a game is a way of making it fun. Too often people conceive of savings as a form of sacrifice, and most of us can only keep that up for so long.
Look at what everybody else is doing, and if it doesn’t matter to you, do something else. Travel in the off season. Buy Halloween costumes in August. Get electronics that are less trendy but equally well-suited to your needs as the hot ones. When you begin to recognize that many of our purchasing patterns just follow cultural defaults, you gain the ability to start challenging these in your own life. By buying against the grain even occasionally, you tap into potentially huge savings over time.
If you enjoyed these tips, stay tuned for part two!
Ryan Melsom has a PhD in literary studies and has spent over twenty years working in communications, marketing, web design, and writing. His second book Spendshift: 100 Lazy Hacks to Rock Your Finances comes out on Amazon, July 1. For more by Ryan, follow him on Twitter @lintropy, or visit his Facebook page.