Can You Actually Afford that? Changing Your Spending Mindset.

Spending money just might be one of America’s favorite past times. Huge marketing departments get us with catchy, guilt-laden ads, influencers want you to live the life they have, and our friends and neighbors regularly show us the new whatcha-ma-doodle they got on sale at Costco this weekend. As nice as all buying and owning all that new stuff sounds, can you actually afford that? Or are you stuck in an overconsumption spending mindset?

We can buy *almost* anything we want any day of the week. With a variety of ways to pay for it all, not a single cent has to leave our checking account until weeks or months later. The “buy now, pay later” mentality sounds really great in theory, but it’s killing our finances. Americans have over a whopping $1 TRILLION in credit card debt. It’s an inconceivably high amount of debt with the average individual owing just over $7,000 in credit card debt alone. Add in student loans, mortgages, auto loans, and more and someone’s financial situation looks more dire.

With nearly half of Americans carrying a credit card balance, do you ask yourself, “Can I really afford this?” before you make a purchase?

Can you actually afford that?

How a minimalist mindset saves you money.

Minimalism isn’t just about having less stuff and decluttering. Minimalism asks “can I really afford this?” but means it as “How does this fit in my life?”, “Will this fit in my home?”, “Do I have the time to care for this?”, “Is the money there in my budget?”. It’s the minimalist spending mindset.

With owning less, often times you’ll find that you want less as well. When you want less and find contentment, you’ll start shopping less and looking for the next best thing less often. You’ll fill your time and home with other things like hobbies and adventures.

Do you know how much you spend?

Any time you review your finances, a spending audit is always encouraged. You have to know where your money comes from and where it goes to make any sort of meaningful change. Your spending audit should include:

  • All activity from all accounts (checking, savings, loans, etc.)
  • All income
  • All spending
    • cash spending, bills, variable expenses
  • All payments
    • credit cards, mortgage, auto loans, payday lending, “buy now pay later” programs, etc.

After some financial elbow grease, do you know if you spend more than you make each month?

If you are spending more than you make each month, it’s time to make some big decisions and set priorities! Here’s a little bit of extra credit reading to get you started:

Cash-Only please.

For many, the ultimate sign of affordability is being able to pay in full in cash. If we treat a credit card as a “magic swipey card” that can buy us anything, we will never have a realistic idea of what we can actually afford and what we actually spend.

But cash? It is a tangible thing we have to let go of in exchange for goods and services. And it’s hard to let go of that hard earned cash when you hand it over to the cashier!

To get control of our spending, we leaned heavily on the cash envelope system. With the cash envelope system, you pull cash out of your checking account each paycheck and assign that money to different categories. How much cash you have to spend and what categories it goes in is decided within your budget.

You’re free to spend all the cash in that envelope until you run out. But when it’s gone – it’s gone. With this system, you can’t use a credit card if you run out of cash. The cash is there to keep you on budget and help you become more realistic with what you can afford.

Add to cart… and wait.

Instant gratification has gotten completely out of control. Items can be dropped at our doorsteps within a matter of hours or days after we make a purchase online.

You see it, you like it, you buy it, you regret it, you pay for it later.

It’s completely fine to shop online. But before you checkout, why are you shopping? Is it because you actually need that item? or is it because you’re bored or because someone else had that item and you want it too?

To avoid wasting money, use a 72 Hour List. A 72 Hour List is like a shopping list and wish list combined. You add items you’d like to purchase to this list (wants not needs) and you wait 72 hours to purchase that item. Often, we forget we even wanted that item in the first place! Waiting those three days delays your gratification, so when you purchase the item, you’ll likely feel better about the purchase.

Delaying our gratification and thinking over purchases allows us to really dig into what we can afford. Waiting three days gives us the option to say “no” to a purchase that would have otherwise been impulsive and not within our best interests.

Saying no doesn’t make you weird.

Along with delaying a purchase, saying “no” gives you so much power over how your money is spent. Taking control of your finances isn’t a weird thing to do. It should be really normal! However, saying to a friend who wants to eat at that expensive restaurant, “That’s not in my budget this month but I’d really love to spend time with you. Can I cook you dinner at my house instead?” is deemed weird or taboo because finances often aren’t talked about in friend circles.

It’s not weird to know what you can afford. And it’s not weird to reject spending money how everyone else does. It’s okay to be the frugal weirdo every once in a while!

Loud budgeting has been a recent trend in social media. Loud budgeting is being vocal to the people closest to you that you have goals for your money and not being afraid to have a conversation about your finances. Especially when you say “no” to doing something!

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Just because you can buy something, doesn’t mean you should buy it. As if, just because the Stanley cup isn’t cool anymore (who am I kidding? I don’t follow cup trends.) doesn’t mean you should go buy another cup. Don’t they literally do the same thing? Sure, you could buy a new cup. But would the purchase of another $40 cup hinder any of your goals? Could that $40 be used elsewhere in your budget?

There are so many cool and trendy things available to buy all the time, right at your fingertips. Tomorrow, there may be more awesome and neat stuff to buy. Things to purchase are pushed in our faces everyday – between store ads, commercials on TV, and influencers on social media, it’s no wonder we think we should buy every little cute gadgety thing we stumble across.

All of this to say that if you truly do need something, or even really want something, buy it BUT keep your best interest in mind. Are you buying this for yourself? Or are you buying it to keep up with trends because you thing you should?

But what about the kids???

The same thing applies to buying things for your kids (nieces, nephews, godchildren, dogs, parrots, hamsters, etc.). There are so many wonderful little things to buy kids but they absolutely do not need it all. From baby gear, to noisy toys, to all the cute clothes… it is so easy to just want it all! Some things are absolutely wonderful for kids to have – practical clothing, shoes that are comfy, toys that are open ended and encourage imagination – but possessing many things can be overwhelming for a tiny human. And as parents, do we really want to be their “stuff manager”? Do we really want to be frustrated when our kids don’t pick up their endless toys or can’t get dressed in the morning without making a mess of their dresser? It isn’t there fault they have so much stuff.

So before you bring things into your home, before you open your wallet to buy something new, ask yourself if you should buy this whatever whatever? Or do you just think that you need that item because someone else told you that you need it? It’s okay to say, “no, not today” or “I already have something so similar” or “no, that’s not in my budget but I’ll put it on my wish list”.

Slowing down is okay.

It’s okay to slow down before you make a purchase. To pause and wait. To take time to think about how the purchase will impact your life.

Ask yourself a few questions before you next purchase to help you slow down:

  • How am I going to pay for this?
  • Is this a premeditated purchase or an impulse purchase?
  • Is this useful to me right now or am I purchasing this for a future self?
  • How long will I use this or like this item?
  • Does it have a place in my home (storage)?
  • How much is this really costing me? i.e. how many hours did you have to work to buy that item?
  • Do I have something similar already?
  • What am I going to do with this item when I’m done with it?
  • Am I shopping out of boredom/stress/sadness, etc?

It’s okay to buy new things and things that you want and will bring you joy! I promise!

What’s not okay is to put yourself in a precarious financial position all in the name of overconsumption and impulse spending.

Need a frequent reminder that you don’t need to spend money today? Feel free to save this image and use it as a lock screen on your phone!

Allow yourself to make good purchases in your new spending mindset.

All of these words I’ve written might sound like you should never buy anything ever again! But I promise, it is okay to shop and buy things you want. Just make a plan for it.

Put a line item in your budget.

Save up if you need to.

Research the item to make sure it is really what you want and need.

Delayed gratification is a wonderful thing that should be practiced more often. Instead of giving in to impulse purchases that make us happy for a moment, letting anticipation build up until we purchase something is even better. I personally find a lot of joy in making lists of things I want to buy and then scouring the Internet for potential options (makes, models, used vs. new, etc.).

We are aiming to change our spending mindset, asking ourselves “Can we actually afford this?”. The change in your mindset will be so hard at first! It should be! We’ve been trained to overconsume. Document your journey of changing your spending mindset – take notes in a journal, keep a diary in your phone, make videos for social media (Internet friends can be encouraging!), and just keep going!

How to change your spending mindset

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1 Comment

  1. Such a well written article filled with very helpful information!!! Natalie K

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