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Spend Carefully

The art of spending mindfully: A Psychologist’s take

Clinical psychologist and positive psychology expert

2020-08-12 00:00

Estimated reading time
7 min

In this article

  • How mindfulness can help our spending habits
  • The science behind our spending behaviours
  • Strategies to reduce 'stress spending'

Mindfulness has become increasingly popular in recent years as a means to enhance our focus, wellbeing and relationships.

It’s also been scientifically shown to reduce levels of stress and enhance our immune functioning1.

Mindfulness in a nutshell is the capacity to be here now – not thinking about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow but being truly present in the moment.

Mindful spending is bringing that same level of attention to our spending habits. Rather than mindlessly making an online purchase, it’s stopping, thinking about what we’re about to do and whether it aligns to our goals and values. Then, making a more conscious decision about whether we choose to spend our hard earned money on something that may or may not support our goals and overall wellbeing.

By building up your mindfulness muscle, for example by engaging in a regular mindfulness practice (check out Headspace, 1GiantMind or Insight Timer) you can bring a much greater level of attention to your spending habits, learn to savour the purchases you do make and benefit from the positive benefits of increased mindfulness.

There are also many books on the topic available now, which also share stories of success around the benefits of mindful spending, for example Kakebo – The Japanese Art of Mindful Spending or Mindful Money by Canna Campbell.

If you’re not convinced, think about the flipside – that is, stress spending.  How many times have you made an impulsive purchase, whether that’s clothing, beauty, sports or holidays? It’s so easy to get caught up in the positive emotions of purchasing (as a means to reduce our stress) and the thrill of visualising ourselves wearing those new shoes, driving that new car or lying round the pool on an exotic holiday.

Unfortunately, research tells us that we “habituate” quickly to purchases2.  That means, unless we learn to savour our purchases – by bringing our mindful attention to them and focusing on the joy or value they bring to us – we’re more likely to just take them for granted. That initial positive mood boost we experienced when we first made the purchase completely disappears.

Another way to support mindful spending is learning to manage our stress, and the good news is – mindfulness helps there too!

There are many other strategies you could try to reduce stress spending.

  • Find your shopping patterns and try to avoid them, e.g. purchasing through social media platforms
  • Replace shopping with something else, like phoning a friend
  • Fill your online cart but don’t actually check out or write down your purchase wish list - delay buying anything until you’re sure you really want it!
  • Keep your long-term savings goal in mind to remind you of what you’re really working towards - house, holiday, new car?

And if you’re thinking this is all a lot of hippy stuff, be assured the science stacks up and if you think you’ve got enough on your plate right now or you’re just surviving, it could be even more important you make mindfulness a priority as it’s one of the most powerful ways to reduce stress and boost your mood3.

Mindful spending is perfectly aligned to movements such as minimalism and downsizing, which many people are now embracing - not just to save money, but because they crave a simpler life.  The good news is, we always have the opportunity to rethink how we want to work, live and spend. Carve some time out to do so, and consider the role that money has in creating a better life and a better you. The more mindfulness we bring to our spending into the future, the brighter that future will be.

Quick Q&A with Dr Suzy Green

How do you avoid stress spending? 

  • Phone a friend instead of going shopping, or fill your online cart but don’t actually check out. Find the pattern to your spending and understand why you’re doing it.

What if your financial situation is in survival mode, and mindfulness seems silly?

  • Make minimalism cool again, or prioritise purchases that will last and contribute to your sense of security. Don’t feel ashamed. Ask for and accept help when you need it.

Mindfulness as a practice can be hard. How do you strengthen your mindfulness muscle if you’re not a yogi?

  • Try doing nothing for 10 minutes (it’s harder than it sounds!) or focusing on one landscape and memorising the colours. Or use one of the handy apps listed above.

This article was kindly contributed by ANZ financial wellbeing ambassador Dr Suzy Green, Clinical Psychologist and CEO of The Positivity Institute, an organisation dedicated to the research and application of positive psychology for life, school and work.

The art of spending mindfully: A Psychologist’s take
Dr Suzy Green
Clinical psychologist and positive psychology expert

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For more tips on the ins and outs of mindful spending, head over the ANZ Financial Wellbeing Program.

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The information set out above is general in nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on the information, you should consider whether the information is appropriate for you having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs. By providing this information ANZ does not intend to provide any financial advice or other advice or recommendations. You should seek independent financial, legal, tax and other relevant advice having regard to your particular circumstances.

1. Mindfulness Interventions (Creswell, 2017); Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (Black & Slavich, 2016)

2. To Do or to Have? That Is the Question (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003)

3. Mindfulness Interventions (Creswell, 2017)