8 “Mindful Spending” Ideas to Try This Year, According to a Financial Therapist and Budget-Savvy TikTokers

published Mar 20, 2023
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Everyone has their vices when it comes to spending money. Mine is thrifting. Although it’s improbable I’ll ever splurge on a Louis Vuitton bag (unless I score one at a charity shop for a steal!), I tend to gravitate toward things I like but don’t necessarily need simply for the sake of the deal. My husband says I’m going to $5 us to death, and I’d have to agree.

Recently, I chatted with Amanda Clayman, a practicing financial therapist helping people make the connection between money and the role it plays in their lives to encourage thinking before buying — a practice that’s referred to as mindful spending. Just like considering what you eat or how you allot time throughout the day, evaluating purchases beforehand is a way to buy things thoughtfully instead of impulsively. 

“It’s all about making sure that we’re in touch with where this need to spend comes from,” says Clayman, noting that a spur-of-the-moment purchase is often rooted more deeply in emotion than a need for the item. “Most of the things we choose to spend money on could have a lot to do with other things like identity and mood, or sometimes we are just feeling agitated and bored,” she adds. 

While you probably won’t have an expert like Clayman guiding you as you click on sale emails and shop local boutiques, there are strategies you can put into place to help guide the way. Many people are already adding mindful spending into their daily practice, and here are their tips on how to master the art of thinking before you pull out your debit card.

Think about why you really want an item.

Clayman helps her clients identify and get to the root of buying impulses so they can evaluate whether they genuinely need another throw pillow or if there is a void they’re trying to fill. She also notes that pausing is a helpful and healthy addition to learning to spend mindfully. Clayman advises, “Give an extra pause to look underneath that impulse and say, ‘What else is going on here?” Trying to evaluate the reasoning behind a purchase is critical. 

Choose saving over the excitement of buying things.

Half the battle is realizing that you may be addicted to the adrenaline rush of buying. Christina Mychas is a content creator that talks about intentional spending on TikTok and covers topics like general money habits, building a capsule wardrobe, and straying away from compulsive shopping. For her, learning to practice spending intentionally was life-changing and built her self-confidence while enabling her to save money and have a financial cushion. She chose financial stability over the temporary thrill of having something new.

Use debt to gauge your priorities.

“Mindful spending started out as a tool to pay off my student loans, so I had to learn how to budget and eliminate certain spending to free up money to pay off my debt,” says Mychas. Even though she’s achieved the goal of being debt-free, discretionary funds are factored into her budget. “Now I’m able to explore what my interests are and how I could use that money to fund what I’m interested in and shape the life that I want,” she adds.

Place important items on a wishlist.

Spending mindfully doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate buying things you want. For example, Mychas enjoys buying clothes — especially vintage Levi’s — but controls her impulse spending by creating a list of what she wants while refusing to go into debt over a purchase. “There’s not enough money to do it all, so decide what’s important to you and allocate money toward that,” she advises. “Keep the purchase intentional but not a financial burden.”

Press pause before making a purchase.

Rosie Piper’s foray into mindful spending was spurred on by looking at last year’s purchases and striving to improve. “I realized I was being really impulsive with purchases, and I wanted to start the year being more mindful of the money I was spending,” reflects Piper. Her plan of attack was to keep a list in the Notes app on her phone so that she could reflect and see if she genuinely wanted the item. “It has helped me tremendously to recognize my spending habits as well as with saving money,” Piper adds. Then, when she still wants something after a day or two, she evaluates the situation further and researches to get the best deal, especially when shopping online. 

Consider having days where you don’t buy anything.

As a mom of two, budgeting is a must for Jamie-lee Birch. After realizing she was pulling out her credit card too quickly, she added no-spend days into her schedule. “There are days where I intentionally do not allow myself to spend money beyond necessities such as bills,” says Birch. Being more purposeful about when she purchases means she enjoys the money she allots on her spending days. It makes treating herself, going out to coffee with a friend, or having a day out with her children more meaningful.

Keep a spreadsheet of your spending habits.

If you’re in the dark about where your money goes at the end of the month, try keeping track with a spreadsheet. Realizing where the household income is going has helped Birch reduce stress and eliminate spending guilt. “Since making these changes, I honestly feel so much more financially literate and more empowered by my family’s spending and saving habits,” says Birch. Knowing where she’s spending money and being able to tweak her budget has been freeing. 

Realize that it’s OK to treat yourself, but make a swap.

One common thread among these mindful spenders is that they still spend. Unless you’re on an ultra-strict budget or trying to climb out of debt quickly, having discretionary funds helps the process feel less restrictive as long as you’re not overspending. Although you may not be able to feed the habit with an expensive pair of shoes, try purchasing something small like a new nail polish or candle scent instead. “If we really feel like we need the boost of a little shopping session to distract ourselves, we can make those substitutions,” says Clayman.

March is Smart Spending Month on Apartment Therapy! We’re here to help you put your hard-earned dollars and cents to use — the right way. Head over here to learn how to do no-spend challenges, buy a home for below its listing price, and so much more.