9 mindful shopping tips that can save you money (and make you happier!)

‘Mindfulness’ is a big buzzword these days. Referring to the practice of consciously observing your body and breath without judgment, mindfulness has gained ground in our culture as a coping mechanism; a way to deal with our feelings. Part of the appeal of mindfulness is that it’s a technique that can be applied to just about any aspect of life. You’ve no doubt heard of mindful eating, and perhaps even mindful moving. Now, mindful shopping is gaining ground in response to our seemingly innate tendency towards impulsive (and compulsive!) shopping.

It has always been easier to spend money than to earn it, but it turns out there’s an even bigger problem now that we don’t tend to see or touch real cash. Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos of University College London, has shown in his research that the brain experiences more discomfort spending cash money as opposed to digital money. In other words, it’s easier to spend recklessly in an economy dominated by credit card transactions.

These mindless shopping habits can have serious repercussions on our daily lives, including buyer’s remorse, skewed financial priorities and increased levels of anxiety and unhappiness. Ultimately, it can lead to unnecessary debt, put a strain on relationships and even contribute to hoarding tendencies.

Mindful shopping addresses the emotions at the root of reckless spending, and can serve as a means of regaining control of your bank account balance – and your emotional wellbeing.

Savour each sensation – then let them go

The moment you step into a shop, your body’s five senses contribute to an overall feeling – positive or negative – about the merchandise you’re interacting with. How does it feel when you touch it? How does it look? What does it smell like? When those sensations are pleasurable, it can trigger a feeling of euphoria – and a strong compulsion to buy the product, whether or not it’s necessary or even in your budget. The key to not getting swept up in that euphoria is to take a moment to consciously observe those body sensations as merely that: body sensations. When you come across that perfect pair of jeans, for instance, those physical sensations might include a slight increase in your heartbeat, a sharp intake of breath, or even a tingling at the back of your neck. The moment you consciously take note of these sensations – without wishing for them to get stronger or last longer – you are truly ‘present’. Awareness of the passing nature of these feelings is at the core of mindful shopping.

Make a mindful shopping list

A mindful shopping list is one that serves to separate your daily expenses into ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ on an emotional level. A ‘need’ fulfils an essential, practical purpose which may or may not be pleasurable, like buying groceries so that you can feed yourself and your family. A ‘want’, on the other hand, is largely driven by the pleasure sensation of owning or experiencing a product, whether it’s acquiring another Louis Vuitton bag or an autographed cricket ball.


Forego the fear of missing out

Fear of missing out – or ‘FOMO’ – is rampant in our culture, thanks in part to the rise of social media. Our phones relay a constant feed of what others are buying and experiencing, inadvertently fuelling our own insecurities about not having or doing enough, and missing out on bigger and better (and more!) things. This fear may manifest in lowered self-esteem, as well as heightened feelings of jealousy. Dr Xun (Irene) Huang, of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, ran five studies on consumer habits, and found that “feelings of jealousy do seem to increase the desire for someone to purchase”. By resisting the urge to compare yourself to others (you might even consider reducing your social media exposure with a digital detox), you reduce the risk of emotional shopping.

Separate who you are from what you own

In the past, a king was elevated to the title of emperor when he accumulated vast amounts of land and dominion over several countries. His possessions altered his identity. Although we like to think better of ourselves, the same holds true even today. The more things people possess, the greater their status, and the more likely we are to hold them in high esteem. We apply the same measure of worth to ourselves, defining who we are (and how good we are) by what we have. Problem is, there’s never a point at which we have enough to feel satisfied. (If we did, no billionaire would ever report feelings of unhappiness.) Separating ‘I am’ from ‘I have’ is key to mindful shopping.

Find other ways to ‘treat yourself’

We all need a pick-me-up now and again, and for many of us, the quickest fix for a miserable day is to treat yourself to something new. Unfortunately, the pleasure of an impulse purchase is fleeting, while the effect on your bank account lingers. Consider other ways to administer emotional first-aid when needed, whether it’s going for a walk with a close friend or hitting up the library to check out the latest from your favourite author.

Be cynical of ‘sales’

It’s one thing to stock up on discounted products that you need on a regular basis, but it’s quite another thing to leave a store with a bag full of ‘bargains’ you never intended to buy in the first place. Be mindful that buying anything on sale is still spending – not saving.

Take a breath before you buy

Sales can also create a sense of urgency, as there’s often a deadline built into that bargain price tag. As a result, you’re more inclined to make a purchase on impulse. The next time you’re tempted by a discount, step outside the store and give yourself a 15-minute grace period to catch your breath. This opportunity for reflection on your financial priorities – and your mindful shopping list – is essential.

Window shopping withers your will power

It doesn’t take long for window-shopping to turn into real shopping. In fact, that’s what visual merchandising is specifically designed to do! Everything in a modern-day shop – from the music to the lighting to the store layout – has been selected to make you more inclined to buy stuff. If you don’t intend on making a purchase, it’s better to avoid the temptation and forgo window shopping altogether.

Don’t substitute retail therapy for real therapy

Sometimes mindful shopping strategies aren’t enough to curb a serious shopping addiction. If you continue to find yourself obsessed with social status, unable to manage anxiety, and depend entirely on shopping for a sense of fulfilment, you could likely benefit from professional counselling. Chances are, there are underlying emotional issues at play that only real therapy can address.