Couple Discussing Finances MindfullyCourtesy of The Untitled Magazine

Mindfulness is a term that emerged seemingly out of nowhere. As discussions around mental health have become destigmatized and more people go to (and talk about going to) therapy, “mindfulness” keeps popping up as a cognitive strategy that can solve all your problems. But what is it, and what can it help you do?

Mindfulness is the conscious attention you pay to the present moment, and the thoughts surrounding it. It involves recognizing your feelings but letting them go, and the purposeful development of metacognition — thinking about thinking — to learn about yourself. By trying to stay in the moment, you can learn about the effects the environment has on your thoughts and feelings and the mental patterns you slip into. For people with anxiety disorders, staying mindful can help them focus on things they can control or the positives of a situation that may have used to leave them incapacitated with fear or worry.

Mindfulness is for everyone, though, and can be applied to practically every area of your life to get you out of auto-pilot and leave you with a stronger sense of agency. Especially when considering spending, an area in which many people struggle or find themselves making decisions they regret later.

Since mindfulness is all about awareness of yourself, becoming mindful is a highly individual act. You need to find what works for you, but there are plenty of strategies to start with.

1. Track Your Spending

Tracking your spending is a great way to start because you’re able to visualize your habits concretely. There are wonderful apps to help you with this, like Allo which can help you stay on top of your bills without badgering you and sort your purchases into various categories. NerdWallet is another great option, and you can set budgets and see how your spending adds up. There’s always the trusty spreadsheet, and having to take the extra step of going through your bank records to mark down your expenses can make you more aware the next time you’re about to spend on something that doesn’t align with your values. Tracking your spending by hand in a notebook is another great way to quickly gain awareness of your spending. 

Sort your expenses into categories and total them up. See how much you’re spending, and don’t judge yourself for however much that number is. Mindfulness isn’t about criticizing yourself, it’s about finding peace and curbing anxiety. Once you know how much you’re spending and where you can decide if your expenses align with your financial goals, and then take intentional steps towards meeting them.

2. “Big Purchase Big Screen” Strategy

Online shopping is a big contributor to impulse buys, and while not every impulse buy is a mistake there are strategies you can employ to make sure you won’t regret your purchases. Using your laptop or desktop rather than your phone to make online purchases, especially larger ones, makes you slow down and think about what you want. We’re on our phones all day, so when you find a product you want to buy wait a second, and send it to your computer. Or better yet, don’t send it. You can look it up later if you want it, and if you forget about it, it isn’t that important to you and you probably don’t need it.

Mindful Spending Checklist
Courtesy of The Untitled Magazine

3. Make (And Use) A Mindful Purchase Checklist

A purchase checklist can help you spend more mindfully by pointing out the pros and cons of the purchase. It can be hard to think concretely about the effects of your spending or to come up with your litmus test on the fly, but a purchase checklist is pre-made. Use ours, or find others online. If you’re less indecisive make your own. Some other questions that you could use are “How many hours do I have to work to afford this product?” “Can I afford this twice over?” and “How long will I use this?”

4. Intermittent Spending

If you struggle with mindless spending, try instituting “purchase blackout zones” where you can’t buy anything for certain hours of the day. Even if you do buy something, having the time marked out in your daily calendar or with a phone reminder will make you pause before you purchase. That pause is where you can practice mindfulness. Think about why you want to buy the item, what it will do for you, and if you need it. Think about your financial goals. If you end up buying something you think goes against those goals don’t punish yourself, but think about why you bought it and your habits. Think about what you can do to not buy that product next time.

Mindful Spending
Courtesy of The Untitled Magazine

5. Identify Your Financial Goals

There’s a phenomenon in Behavioral Economics called “The Ostrich Effect,” which is where people are so scared of budgeting and paying bills they metaphorically bury their heads in the sand until the last possible moment, and sometimes even after. Mindfulness allows you to regain control over your finances by learning how to sit in the uncomfortable feelings you usually avoid. 

Sitting down and identifying your financial goals may be uncomfortable, or it may be easy. Maybe you already know them, and you’re struggling to achieve them. Write down your goals in a place you can see every day, or in a place where you usually spend money. Set a reminder on your phone with your goals that pop up every day. Put a sticky note on your laptop or workstation. Visual cues can interrupt your mindless spending and snap you out of autopilot. After all, interrupting your habits is the first step to breaking them. 

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