Do you spend too much money?

If you said yes, the good news is, you’re not alone.

The bad news is, it’s not a simple fix.

In fact, I’ve had a few goes at writing this post, because I don’t have any easy answers for you. That’s because spending – or more specifically, consumption – is so deeply bound up with who we are as women.

I’m not talking about the basics like rent or groceries. I am talking about the ‘discretionary’ spending that saps our savings and runs away from us.

Women spend for a lot of reasons. We reward ourselves for hard work. We shop for emotional solace. We buy things to distract ourselves. We splash out to make ourselves feel pretty or sexy or desirable.

Moreover, we are targeted with laser-like accuracy by companies keen to cash in on our hopes, dreams, insecurities and neuroses.

Certainly, I am not impervious to the  ‘go into Priceline to buy a toothbrush, spend fifty bucks on cosmetics’ trap. I could have educated a child in the developing world with the money I have spent being blonde for the last 15 years. (But hey, blondes have more fun).

So this isn’t a lecture about not spending at all. Or on rejecting the fashion-and-beauty industrial complex. Or having bad hair. It’s about paying attention to what you spend.

Because I can assure you, you need to spend less and save more. You need to do this because it’s the only way you will ever get the property, holiday, retirement or general sense of security you crave.

And when you save more, you can then invest it and build your wealth. When you save more, you have more choices about your life and your future. And, you can be like J Lo, confident that your love don’t cost a thing.

So what is Mindful Spending?

In a world of easy credit, ‘tap-and-go’ payments and electronic banking, it’s easy to spend thoughtlessly. It’s the same as eating. When you’re busy or tired or stressed or distracted, it’s so easy to buy take-away that you regret later.

When you stop to think, you know that that food is not cooked with love or care, and it doesn’t help you meet your health goals. So you need to pay time and attention to buying, preparing and cooking food to function at your optimum level.

Similarly, spending based on emotion or entitlement won’t get you to your goals. I’m talking about buying fancy cocktails because you ‘deserve’ it, or buying a new dress because you’ve ‘worked hard’, or getting a blow-dry because ‘you’re stressed’.

Sure, do it once in a while. But don’t make this your default setting. Think carefully about what your goals are, and then decide if this behaviour fits in with them. Same with your diet – do these fries align with your summer body goals?

The Spending Manifesto

Have you ever tracked your diet? Like properly. Not skipping treats at work and glasses of wine. It’s very confronting. I’ve done it in the past, and my coach has looked at me like ‘well of course you’re not getting any leaner’.  So then he sets a meal plan, and I follow it, and it’s hard and unpleasant but I reach my goal.

Spending is the same. If you don’t pay close attention, it trickles through your fingers like your points allocation on a Weight Watchers diet.

It’s pay day, then a week later, you’re looking at your bank balance like you’ve been targeted by cyber hackers. Cyber hackers with a penchant for after-work manicures and Zara sales.

So do this. Think deeply about how you want to spend your money. What means something to you. What genuinely improves your life. Then allocate more money to these things.  For me, I pay a pricey weightlifting coach because it’s my fave thing in the world to do. I then forego buying a lot of ‘stuff’ (activewear sort of not included).

But maybe it’s different for you. Maybe shoes give you life. Maybe wine is your bae. Maybe blowdries are the key to your sanity.

But you can’t have all of those things. You need to choose.

Mindful spending isn’t about not buying anything; it’s about not buying everything.

Then write down your priorities. A few phrases, a whole page, a note on your phone. Whatever the format – make a commitment like you make a meal plan, and then think about it the next time the siren song of H&M starts calling your name.

I fix my ugg boots with duct tape so I can pay my gym membership. This earns me the ridicule of friends and family but I don’t care.

But what if you can’t stop spending?

Warren Buffett is legit one of the richest people in the world. He is also a massive tight-arse. He still lives in the house he bought in 1958 for $30K. He doesn’t have fancy cars. He eats McDonald’s. And he has committed to giving his wealth away to charity in his lifetime.

Buffett is famous for his out financial tips – you can read some of it here or here. But what I find really interesting is how he views wealth. Investing is not some kind of pissing contest to impress his mates or make himself feel powerful. He invests because he loves it. “Success is really doing what you love and doing it well. … that’s really the ultimate luxury”.

And I have found that the happier I am, the less I spend. There’s less of a gap to fill with ‘stuff’. That seems to be where ‘the Oracle of Omaha’ is coming from. He doesn’t care about being in da club, doing shots of Hennessy – even though he could literally buy every cognac house in France if he wanted to (because his company keeps a cool $20 billion in cash reserves for emergencies).

So this is a really long way of saying, if you truly can’t get a handle on spending, maybe that’s not the issue. I have seen this at close quarters – someone who felt like a failure in their heart, so they bought lots of fancy wine and a big car and expensive toys to try and convince themselves – and the world – that they were worthy and successful.

Thus, maybe there is something else to address – whether it’s a job you don’t like, a relationship that leaves you feeling empty, a body image that leaves you struggling with self-hatred. Moreover, spending is often tied up with the other behaviours that unhappiness can foster, like drinking too much.

So, as per one of the Oracle’s top tips, invest in yourself first. Take steps to address the problems you are trying to spend your way out of. Spend it on a counsellor instead.

Wow, that got really deep. So let’s get away from the feels and back to the dollars.

The bottom line is this: we can’t have everything we want, all of the time. My mum only let me have Coco Pops on school holidays, because of that very reason. So you can’t drink in nice bars every week, and get taxis home, and get Shellac, and buy new shoes, and go to Splendour. You can do some of those things.

The key is to choose which ones matter most.