December’s credit card bill came in the other day and it was all I could do not to gag. How did all my good intentions and careful planning go so horribly wrong? Yes, we had many unexpected medical expenses (don’t worry, everyone is ok). And yes, two school tuition bills came due. And yes, we took a brief family ski vacation. And yes, I felt compelled to make year-end donations. And yes, it was Christmas. But that much over? If you’re having the same response to your bills as I am to mine, then you know somethings has to change.
No, I’m not talking about those vacuous new year’s resolutions that merely cause you to spend more money: the gym memberships, weight loss clubs, or, like my mother-in-law, the electronic cigarettes to help you finally kick the habit (let’s hope it works). I’m talking about conscious intention. I am talking about owning your relationship to money. I am talking about starting fresh.
When I look back to the last month (heck, the last few months or, gulp, perhaps even the last few years), I realize I’ve gotten in the habit of just slapping my card down. Buy now, pay later. And while I always pay my credit card bill in full each month, sometimes that payment comes out of savings. Bad idea.
What’s worse is that while I have been unconsciously spending, my husband has been quietly tightening his belt. By nature he’s a conservationist, but there is more to it than that. He could use a new winter coat and his shoes are looking pretty shabby, but he’ll tell you what he has is just fine. He brings in lunch to work most days, but he’ll argue it allows him to be more productive. When I finally called him on it, he said he was just trying to stay within budget. What he didn’t add was, “because you’re overspending.”
I admire him for that. It takes a lot of restraint to not wag your finger when you see someone going off the path. He could have chastised me (and probably would have if the spending was truly out of control and putting us at risk). But he didn’t. He says he wanted me to come to my own conscious awareness regarding my behavior; he wanted me to own my actions and choices. He wanted me to be mindful.
My friend, the talented writer and CNN columnist, Amanda Enayati, recently wrote on the concept of mindful spending. She says:
“Embarking upon a mindfulness practice when it comes to spending can help reduce stress and improve mental and physical health…It also provides us with a greater sense of control. It introduces an individually driven, spiritual aspect of the solution to our larger economic problem, and gives each of us the opportunity to reflect and gain important insights about our relationship with money and why we spend it.”
She also references an interview with Tony Wagner, Innovation Education Fellow at Harvard’s Technology & Entrepreneurship Center and author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. She writes:
“While researching his book, Wagner discovered that more than 70 percent of our economy is based on consumer spending. Increasingly, over the last 20 or so years, that consumer spending has been fueled by debt. The savings rate in 2007, immediately before the economic collapse we are still slogging through, was negative 2 percent. That kind of spending is unsustainable…economically, environmentally and spiritually.”
Let me get this straight, if I can adopt a mindfulness practice regarding my spending habits, it will reduce my stress, empower me, and help the economy get back on the right track? Ok, I’m convinced.
Some have advocated, as Carl Richards did in his Bucks column for the New York Times, that a spending cleanse — a spending diet, if you will — is a great way to start the new year. I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps the first step to mindful spending is to start with a shock to the system in order to break bad habits and to bring consciousness to our choices. So, I’ll do this for one month starting today. I won’t stop spending money completely, that’s just not realistic in my life. However, the goal for my spending diet is to half my out-of-pocket budget. My spiritual goal, as Amanda would call it, is to become more clear on my motivations and more at peace with my daily spending choices. Here’s what I’ll do:
- Instead of going out to lunch with friends, I’ll ask them to meet come on over for coffee or to go on a hike.
- Instead of buying every book that appeals to me, I’ll visit my library.
- Instead of downloading every song from iTunes that strikes my fancy, I’ll revisit some of the many I already own and create new playlists from my current stock of music.
- Instead of going out to dinner, I’ll invite friends over for a pot luck.
- Instead of buying those gorgeous black suede boots I have been coveting, I’ll wait to see if they go on sale. And if they don’t, I’ll pass on that purchase.
- Instead of renting that condo for the ski weekend as I had planned in February, I’ll reach out to friends who have given us a standing invitation to stay with them. That’ll be more fun anyway.
- Instead of going out to the movies, I’ll bring my friends in for popcorn and Downton Abbey.
- Instead of buying that Starbucks green iced tea that I’m addicted to, I’ll make my own and bring it with me.
- Instead of buying those new hair care products I can’t seem to say no to, I’ll finish all the ones in half empty bottles piled high in my shower.
- Instead of driving everywhere, I’ll bike or take the train. My hips will thank me for it.
Maybe if I ease in to it, I could actually go a few days without ANY outlay of cash. No promises there, but I am sure there are many other ways I can reduce my spending. What are some of the ways you could kick start a spending diet? Are you mindful when it comes to your own spending habits?