Some women I know find shopping for pleasure a difficult pastime to love. It not only has the potential to run up your credit card bills, but also beckons guilt: maybe you should give that money to the needy, instead of spending it on things for yourself.
Because, ultimately, we all know that money does not bring the key to lifelong happiness. But we also know that, at times, it can facilitate opportunities for enjoyment—whether it’s a new pair of shoes to attend a wedding, tickets to see a musician you love, or a family adventure.
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And is there anything wrong with that kind of “bought” happiness? No. So long as it does not strip you of your common sense.
Because without that common sense safety net, a vicious cycle of shopping can arise. You can become addicted to the mood lift it creates, putting hopes and good feelings and bad feelings all on a credit card.
It is not my intention to discourage anyone from impulse buying (because sometimes it is just good fun) but I do know that in some cases, when you start, it’s hard to stop. The phrase ‘some cases’ is the key here. Because while you may be able to say no to a new dress, shopaholics, like any other legitimate addiction, truly feel that they cannot stop themselves.
To buy or not to buy?
But being stingy can be just as bad as being extravagant.
If you always control your spending and buy only what you need, you will likely suffer emotional consequences of that constant restraint. Imposing a regime of poverty on yourself can make you miss out on certain joys. By underestimating your need for fun, you can become bitter, making it difficult to open not only your wallet, but your heart.
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So sometimes the simple question “Do I really need this?” won’t solve your shopping problem on either end of the spectrum. Once in a while, it’s good to look at how we spend money. To think what it’s for, to look at your purchase from the perspective of another person, and ask yourself: “Am I buying this because of what it is, or how it will make me feel?”
So instead of reeling back and forth between living like a pauper and splurging on spontaneous shopping, accept yourself. And one of the best ways to do that is with a budget. Yes, really.
A budget isn’t bad; it helps you shop
You might be surprised that you can fit impulse buys into a budget. You can give yourself the power to buy a few unplanned, perhaps even unnecessary things, that make your day better. That fancy latte as a pick-me-up, or a manicure before your big meeting.
Because if you’ve built those little unplanned spends into the budget, you’re freeing yourself from the remorse that often comes with those last-minute purchases. And this will work wonders on your shopping guilt, whether you tend to buy too much or not enough.
If you still feel guilty for spending on yourself (even when it’s in your budget), match or halve the amount of money you spent and offer financial help to someone who would love to spend some money in a fun way, but cannot. I can tell you, from personal experience, that building in this kind of charitable matching into your budget can be so rewarding.
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A while ago my cousins and I wanted to help a single mother with four children living alone in a small village. We pitched in for a washing machine, as well as some donated clothing, and a little spending money. When we asked her what she’d do with the money, she listed off some regular daily expenses … and a red scarf.
One of my cousins suggested that a black scarf might be a more practical buy because it goes with everything, but she told us no, it was a red scarf she’d been dreaming of. I quickly understood that this woman didn’t just need a scarf to keep her warm, she wanted something that would make her happy when she looked at it or wore it. Because just for that moment, she wouldn’t be counting every penny, she’d be taking care of herself, her dreams and desires. And dreaming about that red scarf, and buying it for herself, will not make her a worse woman, mother, or Catholic.
Even when we need to live frugally, and perhaps especially then, that short moment of indulgence, an allowance to buy something impractical, beautiful, and unnecessary is so important. Because every so often, it is that unnecessary thing that is essential for happiness.