The Psychological Tool That Helps You Stop Spending All Of Your Money

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Woman opening her wallet, shopping, impulse spending

Impulse buying is a common phenomenon that affects many individuals and often leads to financial difficulties wrapped in negative emotions.

However, recent research suggests there is a psychological tool that can help reduce impulse spending tendencies: self-compassion.

Self-compassion can help us stop spending money on things we don't need

Impulse buying is characterized by a sudden and powerful urge to purchase something immediately, often without careful consideration.

According to a study published in Mindfulness, three out of four Americans have reported experiencing this phenomenon at some point. Impulse spending can lead to financial difficulties and trigger regret, guilt, and shame.

New research on self-compassion and impulse buying

Researchers at Beijing Normal University conducted a randomized controlled trial to investigate the relationship between self-compassion and impulse buying. They proposed that self-compassion could decrease materialistic views and increase self-control, ultimately reducing the tendency to engage in impulsive buying behavior.

For the study, self-compassion refers to "adopting a positive attitude toward oneself in the face of failure and viewing the present circumstances in a more balanced manner". By protecting self-esteem and satisfying basic psychological needs, self-compassion can help individuals resist the temptation of impulsive purchases.

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It turns out, self-compassion, materialism, and self-control are intertwined.

The study found that self-compassion directly impacts materialism and self-control and influences impulse-buying tendencies. Materialistic individuals who attach significant meaning to possessions and view them as core to their identity are more likely to engage in impulse buying. Self-compassion can mitigate materialistic views by reducing the need to seek meaning and identity in possessions.

Individuals with low self-control are more prone to impulsive purchasing. However, more self-compassion increases a person's belief they can achieve their goals. This leads to enhanced self-control and a decrease in impulse buying tendencies.

The study

To test the relationship between self-compassion, materialism, self-control, and impulse buying, the researchers recruited 191 participants for a randomized control trial. The intervention group (96 participants) received a 14-day self-help online course called "Positive Self," which focused on cultivating self-compassion through activities like guided meditation. The control group (95 participants) did not receive any intervention.

Multiple questionnaires were administered to measure self-compassion, materialism, self-control, and impulse-buying tendencies. These questionnaires were completed before the intervention, three weeks after the intervention, and one month after the post-test questionnaire.

Self-compassion as a tool 

The study's findings confirmed the beneficial effects of self-compassion on impulse buying tendencies. Compared to the control group, the intervention group showed an increase in self-compassion and self-control, as well as decreased materialism and impulse-buying tendencies.

However, it is worth noting that while the improvements in self-compassion and self-control were maintained one month after the study, the reduction in materialism and impulse buying did not persist.

The researchers speculate that the short-term effects may be due to the intervention's focus on self-compassion rather than consumption-related content — meaning, the focus was internal on self-care and not externally based, such as education about spending habits or budgeting.

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Here's how to apply self-compassion to reduce impulse spending.

Now that you understand the impact of self-compassion on impulse-buying tendencies. Let's explore how you can incorporate self-compassion into your life to gain better control over your spending habits in the long term.

1. Recognize and acknowledge impulsive urges

The first step in reducing impulse spending is to recognize and acknowledge impulsive urges as they arise. Mindfulness meditation can cultivate awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the present moment. By being mindful of your impulses, you can create a gap between the urge and the action, allowing us to make more conscious choices.

Take Action: Practice a brief mindfulness meditation daily. Focus on observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. This can look like deep breathing for 30 seconds, rubbing your hands together and noticing the sensations of touch, or listening to a guided meditation on an app.

2. Cultivate self-compassion

Developing self-compassion is essential in breaking the cycle of impulsive spending. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, especially when facing financial challenges or setbacks. Remember, everyone makes mistakes. You are not defined by your spending habits. Be gentle with yourself — it takes courage to be accountable! By cultivating self-compassion, you can reduce feelings of guilt and shame, which often contribute to impulsive buying.

Take Action: Practice self-compassion exercises, such as writing yourself a compassionate letter or engaging in self-soothing activities when faced with the urge to make impulsive purchases.

3. Examine how you view your possessions

Look closely at your relationship with material possessions and identify any underlying beliefs affecting your judgment. Reflect on whether possessions truly bring lasting happiness and fulfillment or if they provide temporary satisfaction. Challenge the idea that buying more things will solve your problems or increase your self-worth. Remember when you bought something you ended up not using or not liking? Examine how that made you feel.

Take Action: Engage in self-reflection and journaling to explore your values, priorities, and the sources of happiness in your life.

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4. Set clear financial goals

Establishing financial goals can help you stay focused and resist impulsive buying temptations. Create a budget that aligns with your values and long-term aspirations. Prioritize saving for meaningful experiences or future financial security rather than indulging in instant gratification through impulsive purchases. Using more self-discipline around your spending habits can be challenging at first. Start with manageable goals that you know you can successfully implement. This will create a dopamine reaction when you accomplish your goals, which makes your brain eager to find more ways to be successful.

Take Action: Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) financial goals and track your progress regularly. Celebrate the small wins, especially when you are starting.

5. Practice delayed gratification

Impulse buying often stems from a desire for instant gratification. Train yourself to delay gratification by implementing a waiting period before making non-essential purchases. Give yourself time to consider the necessity and long-term value of the item. This practice allows you to make more deliberate and thoughtful decisions about your spending. Remember, just because it isn’t the right time to buy it today doesn’t mean you can never get it. Permit yourself to keep it on your list for when the time is right.

Take Action: Implement a 24-hour waiting period before making non-essential purchases. Use this time to evaluate whether the purchase aligns with your values and financial goals.

6. Configure your environment to support accountability

Note the times in your day when impulse purchases usually happen. Do you scroll in the evenings or while you’re commuting? Do you often buy from ads on social media? Take a break from your phone and focus on listening to a podcast or music to pass the time. Unsubscribe to notifications that may tempt you to shop unnecessarily.

Enlist the support of friends, family, or a financial accountability partner to help you stay on track with your spending goals. Share your intentions and challenges openly and seek their encouragement and guidance when faced with impulsive urges. Having someone to hold you accountable can significantly increase your chances of success. This person’s role isn’t to judge or shame you about your spending habits, so make sure your boundaries are clear when you ask them to help.

Take Action: Define when you are most triggered to impulse shop and be intentional during that time instead. Find a trusted accountability partner and schedule regular check-ins to discuss your progress and challenges.

7. Break out of the cycle of Impulse spending

Impulse spending can have detrimental effects on your financial well-being and overall happiness. However, by incorporating self-compassion into your life, you can break free from the cycle of impulsive buying. Through mindfulness, self-reflection, and goal setting, you can gain better control over your spending habits and make more conscious, intentional choices.

Remember, it is a journey, and practicing self-compassion along the way will help you navigate any setbacks and cultivate a healthier relationship with money.

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Amy Bracht is a coach and consultant with a knack for transforming high-level concepts into practical solutions. She crafts innovative strategies designed to guide individuals toward their full potential.