How to shop mindfully, save money and only buy what you truly need!

I was a master at impulse purchases, emotional over shopping and wasteful spending until 2012, when I made the biggest impulse purchase of my life.  I bought a Range Rover on eBay without giving it much thought or pre-planning.  There were so many hidden and unforeseen costs, which is kind of the backlash of a blind impulse purchase.  And you can't return a car!  The car purchase forced me to learn how to plan, budget and be mindful of my spending.  It has forever transformed my life.  The process to change my shopping and spending habits was surprisingly hard, emotional and to some extent, physical.  I literally had shopping withdrawal.  It was worse than doing a juice cleanse or detox.  But I got through it and as a result, I’ve become a more mindful and intentional shopper, I restrict my shopping periods and I always go in with a budget and stick to it.  This is the story of how I got there!


The impulse purchase that woke me up:

A Range Rover from eBay

In May of 2012 I decided I wanted a Range Rover.  I had wanted one ever since I was a kid.  I’d actually never driven one, but I knew I wanted one.  I had a friend who bought a vintage Mercedes on eBay for a really low price, so I had it in my head that you can get whatever car you want on eBay for cheap.  Within a week I located a 2002 Range Rover in Hunting Green and started bidding on it.  At the time I had no idea how much insurance cost, how much it might cost to garage it, how much gas would be or what kind of service it needed, etc.  It was like, I’ll buy the car and figure it out later.  Not a strategy I would recommend.  Prior to final day of bidding I did do an analysis of how much gas it would eat and cost on a monthly basis, insurance was pretty reasonable and I was going to do alternate side of the street parking to avoid the hefty cost of garaging a car in New York.  After a semi inflammatory bidding war on eBay, I swooped in and got the car for $7,099 even.  Not a bad price to pay for a Range Rover that was 10 years old at the time and just shy of 100,000 miles.  I bought it sight unseen and didn’t have a pre-purchase mechanic inspection.  It was a total gamble.


I went to Brooklyn to pick it up, and the minute we met, I knew this car and I were meant to be together.  It was everything I ever wanted.  I took it to a mechanic a few days later, he looked it over and said, “You’re lucky.  You got yourself a beautiful truck.”

A week after having the car I realized that alternate side of the street parking in New York City’s West Village wasn’t a thing.  There were so few spaces in those tiny cramped streets and trying to find a space was anxiety provoking.  I needed to get a garage and the price to do that in New York is expensive.  I found the cheapest one I could get and it was $375 a month and a 15 minute walk from my house.  Not exactly a bargain but it was the only good option.

Working from car during alternate side of the street parking.  Not ideal.

Working from car during alternate side of the street parking.  Not ideal.

That wasn’t a cost I was anticipating so I thought I should work this into my budget.  At the time I didn’t have a budget, but it seemed like the right time to start one.  I logged into my bank account and I began looking at what I spent my money on: Clothes, hair care products, skin care products, taxis and green juices.  I reasoned that if I cut some of this down, the car wouldn’t feel like such an extravagance.  I looked through my closet overflowing with clothes I didn’t wear much and the back-up cabinets with enough skin care products to get me through the next 12 months.  I realized I could cut back on needless spending.  I decided I was going to go for exactly 90 days with purchasing clothes, skin care, hair care and taxis.  I cut my juices back by 60%.  It was my Range Rover austerity program.  I don’t know why I picked 90 days, but it seemed like a fair amount of time to save money.

What I learned in the 90 days of no clothing or skin care/hair care purchases is that I was addicted to mindless shopping.  So being thrown into this cold turkey was a wake-up call and the process that followed for the next 90 days was not easy – but it was life changing.  After 90 days of “depriving” myself of shopping, I have never shopped the same way again.  The impulsive Range Rover purchase brought me clarity in so many other areas.  I now have a process for shopping that I will share with you, after I tell you what the shopping detox was like.

Shopping Detox Hell

The first two weeks of no clothing/shoes or skin care/hair care purchases was fine because I was in love with my new car.  It seemed like a fair trade off.  The next two weeks were literally torture.  I know that sounds extreme, but it really was.  I realized that shopping was a sport for me – it was actually a way I tuned out from the world.  I would meet friends for brunch and then mindlessly go into H&M, Urban Outfitters, J Crew, thrift stores and shoe stores.  I would grab as much as I could and try on things in the dressing room for literally hours.  I’m not sure what I was avoiding in my life, but shopping felt safe, I felt less lonely and it filled my days.  I loved shopping by myself because I could take as long as I wanted.  I would get lost in the process.  At the time I was in a long distance relationship with my now husband, and I think I was really lonely and missing him.  I often found myself in a 24 hour CVS at 11pm reading the labels of eye creams.  It was usually after a dinner with friends and I was missing my partner, so I went to aimlessly wander the aisles of drug stores.  I never spent a lot in any one store: $17 here, $30 there, $22 here, $78 there, $42 here….I was buying little things and it didn’t seem like a lot of money.  I always got things on sale so I was getting “the deal”.

After I bought my car and spent some more time in my bank account I realized all those little items would add up to $300 or $500 in a week.  I actually had NO IDEA how much I was spending in a weekend or a month.  Wandering Broadway in SoHo, I was easily spending $250 in a few hours, numbed out.  Now, that was a month of gas for my car.

During the first month of no shopping, it felt like punishment.  I know that makes me sound like a spoiled brat – but shopping was my friend, it was my free time, it was my “me” time.  I suddenly didn’t know what to do with my time on weekends.  I had this yearning to go to the thrift stores in the East Village and see what was in store.  I had this major Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), like the perfect pair of vintage Nike high tops were there and I was going to miss them.  Maybe J. Crew was having a sale and I wouldn’t be there to take advantage of it.  Everyone was getting the deals I didn’t have access too.  It was like everyone was at the party and I wasn’t invited.  It felt like a pit in my stomach.  That’s when I realized, this shopping addiction is a real thing. It had nothing to do with my bank account and everything to do with my emotions, my relationship to myself and my perceived need to always be buying something new.  I got through the first month, no new clothes, no new skin care/hair care and no shoes.  My husband came into town and offered to take me shopping and I said, “No, that’s cheating.”  While it was hard, I was actually committed to it.  Having someone buy something for me that I was picking out was still shopping.  When you actually feel withdrawal when walking by the GAP with the words 50% off in the window, you know this should not be taken lightly.  I was committed to it.  I also refused to take a cab.  I walked or took the subway.  I only took cabs when I was with friends who refused to take a subway with me.  They would be like, “Just take a cab I’ll pay.”  Just getting in a cab made me feel bad in a way I can’t explain.

Month two was a whole other experience.  I got past the part of not shopping and that got easier.  What was difficult, was going into my closet.  When I came to realize what an emotional shopper I was in the first month, every time I went to look for something to wear, all my emotional purchases that I bought in haste screamed out at me.  It was all the bargain bin stuff from Forever 21 or the same shirt in 5 colors from H&M that started screaming at me.  There was a lot in my closet that I loved, but it was crowded in with the unnecessary purchases. Every day I was reminded that I bought things I didn’t truly love or need.  When I wore what I identified as an impulse or emotional purchase, I actually felt uncomfortable.  That’s when I realized clothes have energy, and what mood I was in when I bought it somehow reflects in the clothes.  I came to find there was a lot in my closet that I actually didn’t like.  It was wasteful spending.  I actually started pulling things out and put them in the donate pile.  Normally I would have thought when you’re not buying you keep everything you have in your closet as a resource.  The truth is that when I was shopping my closet, there was so much in there I didn’t want to wear. 

Month three was refreshing in a way I can’t describe.  I literally would walk by stores and feel no need to go in.  It was so empowering.  I was starting to see that I was getting over my emotional attachment to shopping and I felt more happy and relaxed.  I was spending more time with my dog and I would hop in my car and go for adventures outside the city.  Stopping shopping freed me up to do more things that fed my joy.  I had gotten rid of a bunch of stuff in my closet so it was thinner and lighter.  The only time I took a cab was to go to the airport because public transportation isn’t much cheaper and it takes twice as long.  By the end of month three I started getting nervous.  I was afraid I was going to go on some crazy shopping spree when I got to day 90.  So I extended my no shopping, no shoes, no skin care/hair care, no cabs for another 30 days.  By the end I had gone through June, July, August and September with no shopping. 

When October 1st hit, I didn’t run to a store.  It wasn't this feeling of relief that I could go shopping again.  I was not the same person I was 4 months earlier.  I looked in my closet and figured out what I needed to replenish.  I needed a new pair of dress shoes, a new blazer, I wanted a pair of dark jeans and 2 new plaid shirts.  I decided I wanted to go to H&M and J. Crew.  I gave myself a budget of $300.  I don’t know why I did any of that, it all came to me organically.  I went shopping – only to those stores and only bought those items and I only got things that fit into my budget.  I felt empowered and present.  I felt good about what I bought.  It didn’t take all day. 

What has happened since then is I have developed a method for shopping: A couple times a year I go on a “no shopping” for one or two months if I need to replenish my account.  Sometimes I go for 3 months of no shopping.  When I do, I always give myself a budget, but it’s usually a monthly one.  If I don’t shop for 60 days I will say I have the next 30 days and I can spend $400 on whatever I want.  However, I need to have an idea of what I need before I go to the store. I try not to buy what I don’t need!  Once I hit my budget, whether it’s week one or week three, I stop shopping.  Then I might go the next month without shopping.  I’ve pretty much stuck to my methods since June of 2012 – so basically 6 years. 

If any of what I wrote above resonates with you, consider a one month or two month or three month shopping detox.  Then, consider some of my tips below when shopping that will set you up for success.  I recently went on Fox 9’s The Jason Show to give some of these tips! 

Here are my top 12 tips to set yourself up for shopping success:

Tips to Shop Mindfully: 

1. Have a set shopping timeframe and know what you NEED before you go.  If you are trying to save money, go shopping maybe once a month or every other month. Not a little here and there, because that adds up.  I call that blind shopping or grazing in the clothing store.  You buy more than you need and spend more than is necessary.  Define what stores you will go shop in -- the ones where you get most of your clothing from.

2. Prepare ahead of time:  Before you go to the store, shop your closet and really get to know your items.  Find 5 items in your closet that you truly love (and often reach for first) and use those as your guiding force.  Is it skinny jeans and a flowing tunic top and wedges.  If that works for you, that can be defined as your uniform.  Everyone has their main style go to's that define their style.  Play in that range.  I see people buy things that are outside their uniform because they think they need to diversify, but they rarely wear it.  It's OK to wear a similar outfit in different colors over and over.  If that's your uniform, buy within it.  Are there things in your closet that you never wore much but you have like 3 of them?  Are you buying the same thing over and over that's outside your uniform but not wearing?  Are you buying for "who you want to be" vs who you are now?  When you buy for where you are now, you spend less money and you buy what you love.  Make a shopping list:  A pair of dark denim, a top with fringe, booties.  Know what you need before you go!

3. Have a budget.  I love this one.  I will go into J. Crew and I will say, I will spend within $150.  Then you find items you love that fit into it.  Anything above $150 really isn't needed.  If you're going to H&M you can literally have a budget of $75 and you can get a whole look or two.  So set an overall shopping budget and then you can do mini-budgets according to store if that helps you parcel it out.

4. Shop alone.  I have stopped shopping with others because it either slows me down or rushes me.  I need to take my time and be in the moment with myself.  Also, if someone buys something you might feel pressure to buy one too.  Or if they buy stuff you don't you find anything, you might buy because you "think you have to".  Shop alone.  I also have this awful habit of texting pics of what I'm wearing from the dressing room to friends or my husband.  If I have to ask, then I don't get.  The degree to which I love something shouldn't depend on another's opinion of it.  Buy for you!

5. In store let the sale rack be the LAST place you go.  The main course should be full priced items that are current.  Find things that speak to you and fit within your uniform that you love.  If they don't have something you think you love in your size, it's not meant for you.  If you really love it, ask the store to order it in for you and ship to your house for free.  Most will do this.  You don't want to come back to the store because you may buy more.

6. Mindfulness in the dressing room.  A lot of us buy things that are not quite right but it's "a good deal" or it's "on sale".  Those are not reasons to buy (although retailers tell you they are!)  We buy things that are not 100% perfect but tell ourselves we will "make it work".  If it doesn’t work in the dressing room, it’s not working.  Don’t buy.  Here’s how to help yourself in the dressing room: be brutally honest and buy for where you are now.  If you try on something and think, "This will look better after a few barre classes", that's a no.  If the jeans have too much fabric pooling in the back even if they look good in front, it's a no.  If you are trying on things and looking in the mirror judging yourself or your body, get out of there.  If you're not feeling good about yourself, stop shopping on that day.

7. Price: How much something costs should not be a determining factor of how much you love it.  If a top is $9.99 and it looks OK on you and you think it's a good deal to pass up -- that's a NO.  Find a top that's $20 that's an instant yes.  Retailers want you to be hooked in on low prices and the buy one get on half off is a trick.  UNLESS YOU NEED 2 SHIRTS, don't do buy one get one half off.  If it's buy one get one free, make sure you love the second one.  The spend $50 and get $25 rewards dollars is also a trick.  It's saying spend more, we'll give you $25 that you have to come in and use in 3 weeks.  It's a device to get you to spend more and come back in. Only do that if there's another item you love that you know you will come back for.  Don't buy just to get to the $50 if all your items don't add up to it....Also, don't overspend your budget to get the "deal".  Your budget is your business.  Feel empowered by the limitations you set on yourself; that's self love.

8. Browse the sale rack with caution.  Don't grab things just because they are on sale.  They are often end of the season cast offs.  So in March, you're buying a chunky sweater for October.  Unless you love love love it, skip it.  By October you may have lost interest.

9.  The final decision.  What items do you love AND want.  Add up the costs.  Is it over budget?  If so, eliminate something.  It will be hard, but there is power in saying no to yourself.  This is healthy discipline.  If you can't decide, put one item on hold for 24 hours.  Or take a picture of it and wait a week and think about it.  Can you fit it in your budget.  Do you really want it?  If you don't go back, how important was it?  Also, it might be on sale in a week!!  Tell yourself that so you can walk away from the purchase.  For the other items, ask yourself one more time, do you love it.  Feel it in your hands, hold it up.  Do you really love it?  If it's a YES YES YES, then it's yours.

10.  Don't buy something that you're unsure of but think, "I can return it later if I change my mind."  Most people never make it back to the store.....

11. Don't buy a dress or suit you love hoping you will find a place to wear it to.  If your lifestyle isn't cocktail parties and galas, don't buy a dress that you plan to find an event to wear it to.  It may go out of style before you wear it.  You might fall out of love with it by the time you do.  Or you just may never wear it and feel guilty!  

12. Shopping FOMO - I feel like sometimes we go shopping when we don't really need anything because we feel like we will miss out on a sale, a great date night shirt or a really good deal that we can brag about at brunch.  I used to be an emotional shopper and bought so many things I didn't need or want and wasted a ton of money.  When I stopped shopping I would have a panicked feeling that I was missing out.  Guess what, you’re not.  I started focusing on what I was missing out on in my life that I was avoiding by constantly shopping!  Then my life got fuller and my creativity was flowing.  When I began mindfully shopping, it was a fun project I did with myself.

Some of this might sound very scary -- and it might be hard.  However, it's so worth it.  I’d love to hear your tips or feedback you have on mindful shopping. Or your shopping struggles! Leave comments below or e mail me!