If you’ve never heard of the “Things I Didn’t Buy” list, then you’re in for a real treat. The “Things I Didn’t Buy” list is a way to keep track of all of the things you didn’t spend money on and reward yourself with something worthwhile for your efforts.
IT’s is a simple strategy anyone can use to help curb their spending and save money.
All it takes is three easy steps.
Step 1: Cut out non-essential purchases
The first step is to identify what “non-essential” spending you want to monitor/eliminate. For example, you could choose things like clothing, dining out, and all online shopping. If you really want to go for it and see how much money you can put back in your pocket, then cut out everything except your normal bills and groceries.
It’s up to you to decide how challenging (beneficial) you want this to be. The more you’re willing to give up, the more money you’ll save.
Additionally, you need to decide on a timeframe. Commit to no less than one week and no more than 3 months to start. Personally, I think one month is ideal but that’s just me.
Step 2: Create your “Things I Didn’t Buy” list
When you feel the urge to spend money on something you’ve deemed as “non-essential,” write it on your “Things I Didn’t Buy” list. Include the name of the item or service as well as the price.
If you’re up to collecting some additional information, record where you found the item (online vs. in-store), what triggered you to want to make the purchase (window shopping, online shopping, email marketing, social media, etc.), and how you were feeling at that moment (bored, anxious, happy, or too much wine). You can also track how hard it was for you not to make that particular purchase.
Gathering this extra information doesn’t take much time and is immensely beneficial. It can help you to identify what environments or feelings trigger you to want to buy something. Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can take appropriate steps to avoid or even eliminate them in the future.
For instance, you may discover you do most of your online shopping while sitting in your car while waiting to pick up your daughter after soccer practice. Once you know this, you can take steps to eliminate the behavior by reading a magazine, calling a girlfriend, or *gasp* leaving your phone at home.
Chances are you’ll start to see other patterns emerge and be in a better position to fight the urge to spend or eliminate the trigger altogether.
Step 3: Review and feel proud
At the end of the “month,” or whatever timeframe you’ve set for yourself, it’s time to pull out your list and review it.
Go through each item and tally up everything you didn’t buy. You might be surprised by the total amount. All those “little things” you didn’t buy can really add up. Seeing this sum of money you saved instead of spent will make you feel proud and accomplished. Not only did you save a ton of money but you also proved to yourself you’re capable of resisting your spending urges and make the smart financial decision even when you didn’t want to.
Now for the best part!
It’s time to take all of the money you saved by not making silly impulse purchases and put it toward a more meaningful and well-thought-out purpose. It could be toward your retirement, college for the kiddos, or to bolster your emergency fund. Or, perhaps now you can afford to buy that new chair for your work-from-home office or take your sweetie out for a well-deserved night out.
The point of this exercise is not to deprive yourself. Instead, it’s a way to become more conscious in the moment about how you spend your money.
Why it works
This simple strategy can be highly effective in breaking bad financial habits and helping you form new ones for a few important reasons:
- It’s simple. There are only three steps. And all you need is a piece of paper and a pen, or your mobile device to make a list. You are more likely to form a new habit (not spending on non-essentials) if it’s super easy to do.
- It’s revealing. You may not think you make a lot of frivolous or unnecessary purchases, but this exercise is often quite revealing. Most people are shocked by the number of items on their list, as well as the final dollar amount. If you want to change a habit, you first need to be clear about what you’re up against. Your “Things I Didn’t Buy” list helps you know how big of a battle your in for.
- It helps you learn about your spending habits. If you collect data on how you feel when you want to spend, it can be an eye-opening experience. Our emotions are often the biggest triggers of our spending habits. There’s a reason people often find themselves at the mall after a stressful week at work.Another powerful, but less obvious, trigger is our environment. When you’re at the mall trying to “spend the stress out of you,” do you find you’re always buying something delicious but terrible for you whenever you walk by the Food Court? Talk about a double-whammy! Not only do you spend more money but you’re wreaking havoc on your diet.Knowing these things about yourself may provide just enough motivation to avoid the mall entirely or at least the Food Court!
- It gives you something to work toward. If you want to form better habits, rewards help. Knowing there is something special waiting for you at the end (money in your pocket, a personal sense of accomplishment) and you get to do something positive/fun/exciting with it, is motivating and makes it that much easier to do it again and again and again (hopefully).