Throughout my journey to financial fitness, I’ve been thinking more about my spending habits. Instead of mindlessly slapping down my credit card (or entering my password and hitting that dangerous “complete order” button), I’ve started asking myself a combination of these questions:
1. Do I like the product or the packaging?
Be honest here. Companies are really sneaky when it comes to packaging. Beauty companies come to mind—I dare you to walk into an Ulta or Sephora and not be seduced by something, even if you don’t know what the item is. Whether you’re into all things cute and feminine or like sleek minimalist aesthetics, packaging can be quite alluring. Think about the product inside—were the product in basic or even ugly packaging, would you still want it? Example: Room spray in a beautiful lavender iridescent glass bottle, but I didn’t like the scent—I almost bought it just for the pretty bottle (that didn’t appear to be reusable).
Case study: Packaging & marketing that worked almost seduced me: Birthday Cake Balm Dotcom. Photo: Glossier
2. How does this purchase inspire my creativity?
This is a great question when it comes to purchasing items for your hobbies. If you get inspired by a sparkly pink eyeshadow and have a vision for a look to create, you may want to buy it—after asking yourself the rest of the questions, of course. Example: The Anastasia Beverly Hills Aurora palette with its untraditional shades gives me so many interesting looks, not just for highlighter but layering over eyeshadow.
3. Will this fit me–as I am now?
Never buy items for a future body goal. It’s not motivating, it’s discouraging. If you’re on a weight loss journey, buy items that fit you now, donate or sell them as you outgrow them, and only keep clothing that fits you. The same goes for oversized clothing. Example: Adorable sweatshirt from TJ maxx that was two sizes too large for me. I ended up putting it back because I knew it would be too baggy.
4. Is this an aspirational purchase?
Understand where the “idea” to buy the item came from. Was it on YouTube? Am I unconsciously trying to emulate someone else’s lifestyle by purchasing this? I once considered buying a milk frother after watching a video on YouTube of someone making the perfect matcha latte (which I don’t even drink, but I want to be the type of person who drinks a matcha latte, if that makes sense). Fortunately I skipped that purchase once I caught myself in that “aspirational” mindset.
5. Does buying this item somehow support my future goals—and if so, how?
These goals could be personal or financial. Items in this category include: fitness equipment, self-help books, web-building services, and the list goes on. Of course, be mindful of spending without action to follow up. If you buy a $60 yoga mat and never use it, consider that money wasted. I consider these types of purchases “investments in your future self,” but they have to be managed carefully.
6. Will this item integrate with my current lifestyle and storage needs?
While that $300 blender might make bomb green smoothies, it’s more of a burden than a benefit if you don’t have a decent place to store it. I’m currently fighting this battle with my wedding registry, which is a little different since the items a) aren’t purchased with our money and b) are designed to go in the house or condo we will eventually have. Think about your current situation—do you have a plan to store this newly coveted “thing?” Or is this a purchase you’re making for a “future self” (see previous question)?
7. If I postpone this purchase, or look elsewhere, can I get this cheaper?
This strategy is gold. Example: I was going to buy my trusty niacinamide and zinc serum from an online retailer for $15, when I got the original bottle from Marshalls for like $5. I held off until I went to a TJ Maxx, where lo and behold my serum was there for $6. By delaying my purchase, I saved myself from paying nearly three times as much for the exact same product.
8. What have I already spent on this category this month?
This works if you’re tracking your spending—which you should definitely be doing. I keep track of all my purchases in a notebook and enter them into a spending tracker spreadsheet that I share with my fiancé. Example: I budget $100 for clothing each month (sometimes I do go over). Monitoring my spending by category helps me to remind myself what I’ve already spent, and keeps me from going on spending sprees or buying things I can’t truly afford, even if I technically “have the money.” If I can put it off until the next month, I may not be tempted by the same item(s) anyway.
9. What does my current “inventory” look like?
Before buying yet another pinky-nude lipstick (guilty as charged) or pair of black yoga pants, get real with yourself about your “inventory.” Consumerism is rampant these days, and it can be so easy to be sucked in by a good sale, clever marketing (see next section for more on that!) but at the end of the day, think about whether or not you truly need “another” of whatever you’re about to purchase. Humans are creatures of habit, and as consumers we tend to gravitate towards similar items, often leading to a surplus of “dupes.” It’s perfectly acceptable to replace favorites as items reach the end of their lifecycles, but try to avoid accumulating heaps of similar items, perhaps not all of which will be enjoyed or used.
10. Am I being marketed to?
As the saying goes, “a sucker is born every day.” It can be harder to spot these days with ads embedded as sponsored YouTube or Instagram content, and those familiar ads that pop up in our sidebars based on our browsing history. And let’s not forget “just for you” promo emails with coupon codes that can put the pressure on to buy now. Always ask yourself if you’re being marketed to—make yourself aware of that fact, and choose how to respond. Example: You may see an ad for a crystal-infused water bottle and be compelled to check them out, only to discover they’re $80 (me), but remember—it’s all just clever tactics companies use to get your money, and they can be really good at it. Stay strong, be informed, and don’t be a sucker.
Confession: I almost bought this $84 “crystal infused” water bottle because of an instagram ad. Sorry, Glacce, I’m not your sucker. Not today. Photo: It’stheNow.com
11. How am I sufficing without this item/product?
9/10—probably just fine. When we see something, our brains can often find ways to rationalize how this will make our lives somehow easier/better. Let’s face it: most of the time, it’s all a lie! Find ways to use the things you already have in new ways. If the item truly offers a “solution” to an active problem in your life (i.e. shoe organizers to get your kicks off your closet floor) then maybe it’s worth considering. I find that this question helps me draw a clearer line between my wants and needs.
12. Does my purchase of this item/product align with my values and ethics?
I ask myself this question a lot since I’ve become cruelty-free. I am now about 90% cruelty free and as such, I tend to be more conscious about my purchases. Fortunately, more brands are going cruelty-free/vegan/organic, and using sustainable practices. Think about how the production of that “fast fashion” can impact the environment, and it may encourage you to look at other options. As consumers, we have the power to “vote” with our money. Consider brands that support causes that matter to you (like Tom’s shoes, for example). If a product is not only something you truly want (and need), but also aligns with your values, it’s a win-win.