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The ‘J’ai l’habitude’ of Spending

Studies have shown that many people who to try to maintain a comfortable lifestyle fall short of their goal. One main reason is that they tend to forget one thing – the unconscious habit of spending; hence, the French expression J’ai l’habitude – ‘I am in the habit’.

The act of mindless spending is a habit many of us are not aware of. For example, you are in a department store, with the intent to purchase a suit and a couple of shirts. After a few try-ons, you pick out your suit and then go to the Men’s shirt department. You immediately see two that you like and are on sale, so you grab them. But wait, there is a Tommy Hilfiger shirt that you’ve seen your co-workers wearing, so you grab that one too. On your way to the cashier, you notice a tie that would go great with the Hilfiger shirt. You grab the tie and purchase these items.

Before you know it, you have racked up $382.00 of clothing items, of which you initially set a budget for $295.00. Your answer – I won’t spend as much next time, but you will.

Carl Richards, a financial planner and freelance writer recently posted an article in the New York Times, of which he proposes a simple solution:

For 30 days, when you spend money, I want you to take three seconds and simply notice what you’re doing. That’s the program. Simple, easy and doable. It can be before, during or after the purchase. Be consistent, and make sure you do it for every purchase.

For instance, if you’re buying lunch at Whole Foods, when the cashier says, “That will be $8.67.” After you pay, stop for three seconds and say to yourself, “Eight sixty-seven for lunch. Isn’t that interesting?”

And those are exactly the words I want you to use: “Isn’t that interesting?” Not, “Isn’t that dumb.” Not, “Oh, I should have…”And certainly not, “Not again.” I just want you to notice.

The point of this is not to beat yourself up about your spending. All of the emphasis for the next 30 days is on awareness — that’s it.

One way you can do this is by setting up your credit card or Apple Pay to send you an automatic message each time you make a purchase. In the Whole Foods example, you spend $8.67 on your card and, almost immediately, you will get a text message saying, “You spent $8.67 at Whole Foods.”

If you don’t like that idea, get a receipt for every purchase. When you walk out the door, look at the receipt, read it and say, “Isn’t that interesting?” Then throw the receipt in the trash. And if you don’t like that, just say it to yourself each time the cashier tells you the total.

That’s all you’re going to do.

This simple approach is geared toward awareness. He wants you to be more conscious of what you buy and how much you are spending when you buy it. 

No doubt, he has a point. We tend to haphazardly spend without realizing the financial accumulation of our spending. Our emotions tell us to buy, but our reasoning tell us not to. Most of the time, it is our emotions that win. Maybe it’s time we listen to our reasoning.