In the wake of the Great Recession and now five years removed from the financial-industry meltdown, have Americans changed their spending habits?
Experts claimed the recession was so severe that it would alter how consumers spent their money. Perhaps they would be more purposeful, even frugal.
Wendy Philleo says she sees some evidence of that. As executive director of the Center for a New American dream, she’s always talking about redefining what the American dream is, along with our notion of success “so we’re not constantly trying to keep up with the Joneses.”
Are you spending your money the way you want to — on purpose, rather than by accident and habit? Assuming you’re not scraping by just to put food on the table, does your spending match your priorities and your personal values?
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“It’s not necessarily ‘Buy nothing,’ ” Philleo said of mindful spending. “It’s ‘Buy differently.’ ”
As Americans take a break between back-to-school spending and holiday shopping — perhaps while also contemplating a purchase of the newest iPhone and other temptations — here are some notions to consider.
Are the Joneses happy? “I think there’s more awareness that more stuff does not make us happy,” Philleo said. If the mythical Joneses were being honest, you might hear tales of anxiety and debt, as they shop till they drop and compete in the spirit of “whoever dies with the most toys wins.”
“Part of it is finding out what the Joneses have to do to keep up that lifestyle,” she said. “It can be very stressful.”
Self-audit. What do you spend your money on? Until you know that, you won’t know whether you’re spending money mindfully.
Jeff Yeager, author of four books on frugal living, including his latest “How to Retire the Cheapskate Way,” suggests performing a “What the heck was I thinking” audit.
Twice a year, he examines his statements and receipts, then asks himself, “If I had it to do over again, would I still have spent that money on that thing?” It’s a great exercise to find money leaks and identify spending triggers. Ultimately, it will allow you to redirect dollars to things you care more about.
The result for Yeager after several audits was, “Each time, my list of spending regrets gets shorter and shorter.”
Tuning out temptation. We’d like to think we’re immune to advertising pitches, but marketers know otherwise.
Acknowledging purchasing pressures and limiting your exposure to them is key to spending your money your way, Philleo said.
That might mean muting TV commercials during breaks in shows, staying out of the mall and unsubscribing to catalogs and retailer emails.
Cooling it. When she desires new clothing she sees in catalogs, Philleo said she cuts out the page and places clippings in a folder. That alone seems to satisfy her urge to splurge.
“It’s a nice delay strategy,” she said. One rule of thumb is to wait a day for every $100 an item costs, giving buying urges time to subside.
Asking when enough is enough.
At what point of accumulating more things can you be content? The side benefit of spending more mindfully is that you’ll probably end up spending less and saving more, a good formula for weathering the next economic recession.