7 Little Ways to Buy Less Stuff, According to Finance Experts

published Apr 7, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

Treating yourself has literally never been easier. With just the click of a mouse or a few taps on your phone, you can buy basically anything and have it shipped to you in a matter of days, if not hours — activating those pleasure centers with instant gratification. While it’s undeniably fun to snag something you’ve had your eye on, whether it’s a piece of art or a new pair of running shoes, all those impulse purchases can pile up and stress you out both financially and aesthetically.

Buying less isn’t about purchasing only sustainable brands or shopping secondhand. It’s about being thoughtful with what you buy, thinking about the future, and spending your hard-earned cash on things you’ll actually use. If you’ve been trying to curb your shopping habit and buy less in general, these tips from finance pros may help you reshape your spending.

Identify your spending triggers.

A great way to start slowing your shopping is to figure out why you buy things in the first place. 

“Are you buying something as a reward after a bad day at work, or can’t resist a sale? If so, look for other ways to avoid these situations. Call a friend or go for a long walk when you need to vent and find ways to manage tempting sales,” says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. “Unsubscribe from retail newsletters that send you the latest deals and promotions and turn off push notifications in store and deal apps that tempt you to shop.”

Write down the things you want before shopping.

​​Sometimes just the act of listing out the things you’d like to buy helps you curb the impulse to actually buy them. “A good exercise to help curb impulse shopping and buy less is to write down what you want and choose one thing to buy,” says Marchand Bozarth, senior financial specialist at Country Financial. “Writing it all down still lets you experience it and helps satiate that need to spend.” When you come into some extra cash and can treat yourself, you’ve got the list right there to reference.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Organize your house and see what you already have.

It’s time for a closet clean out! Going through cupboards, boxes, and storage spaces could yield treasure — including something similar to what you want to buy. “Start with the kitchen or bedroom. Odds are you may find something similar to what you were about to buy,” says Jennifer Beeston, senior vice president of mortgage lending at Guaranteed Rate Mortgage. ”Seeing everything you have can often be overwhelming, which makes you less likely to add to it. Give away or sell what you don’t use.”

Shop with cash instead of cards.

Have you noticed you’re less likely to spend freely when you’re dealing with physical bills and not a credit card? There’s a reason for that. “People tend to value items more when they pay with cash and are less likely to buy something they don’t need on impulse when they only have cash,” explains Woroch. “Not to mention, paying with a credit card doesn’t feel like real money and the concept of ‘pay later’ may influence you to buy something you don’t need or aren’t sure you really want.” Woroch cites a study that found people are more likely to think about their purchase when carrying bigger bills like $50s and $100s. “This could be because you perceive these larger bills are more precious and you don’t want to break them on something you don’t need.” 

Credit: sdominick/Getty Images

Try the TEN-TEN-TEN tool.

Wealth advisor Matthew Grishman developed this technique to curb his own impulse spending and buy less. “The first TEN is a pause button. Wait, stop, don’t buy this right now. Take ten minutes to put it down and walk away,” he explains. “That first ten minutes is the space I need to allow whatever emotion is driving my impulse purchase to come into me and then begin to leave.” 

After that ten minutes has passed, Grishman recommends thinking about the long game of said purchase. “I can ask myself, ‘How will I feel about this purchase in TEN weeks versus TEN years?’” If the item in question will be collecting dust soon after purchase, is it really necessary? “If this purchase could add value to my life ten years from now, maybe it’s worth reflecting on some more and actually planning for a time when it works within my budget,” he says.

Think about the actual cost of what you’re buying.

How many hours do you have to work to afford said item? Considering its actual cost could give you the pause you need to walk away. “Contextualizing the amount things cost you, not only in money but also time, is a good way of looking at prices and thinking about whether you actually want an item or not,” says Kevin Mountford, savings expert and co-founder of Raisin UK. 

“For example, if a living room painting costs $900, how many hours do you need to work to pay off that painting?” says Corey Ashton Walters, founder of Here. “Is it worth it and could that money be used for a better purpose? If you can justify the purchase, then it may be necessary. If not, save the cash for a need versus a must-have.”

Credit: BONNINSTUDIO/Stocksy

Join your neighborhood Buy Nothing group or host a swap party.

Buy Nothing groups are an excellent resource for getting rid of the things you don’t want anymore and ensuring they have a new life with someone in your neighborhood and for finding things you may need for free. (I snagged a printer from a neighbor for the low price of $0 a few weeks ago!) 

Another great way to both activate that pleasure center with new items and let go of your giveaway pile is to host a swap with some friends. Bring gently used clothing, beauty products, books, whatever — then get to swapping! You won’t spend anything but you’ll still take home items that are new to you.