<a href="http://gmagazine.com.au/blogs/julie#">Green challenges</a>

Green challenges

Thinking global and acting local, Julie Grundy takes on any challenge we throw at her.

Five ways to resist impulse shopping

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Like a lot of people, I’ve been known to fill in empty spots in my weekend with a trip to a shopping centre. Not with any particular purchase in mind, just for something to do. And inevitably I come home with something nice, but not spectacular or necessary to my life.

We get so much encouragement to spend up - it’s ‘good for the economy’, we get catalogues in our mailboxes and ads on TV to remind us of what’s available, we get magazines and blogs and billboards telling us that we’ve got to have this season’s version of the same stuff we already have. But none of that is really a good reason to spend our money.

For the last year, I’ve been trying to cut back on shopping as a passtime and focus on making my purchases more reasoned and useful. Here’s a few tips that have worked for me...

1. I put a no-junk mail sticker on my mailbox. This way I don’t get the endless stream of ads and catalogues - if I don’t get reminded that there’s a sale on DVDs, I’m much less likely to go looking for them. Plus junk mail is a huge waste of paper anyway, so I’m doing forests a favour as well as making my bank account fatter!

2. I make a shopping list for everything, not just the groceries. At first my lists just grew and grew, but after a while I could see how silly a lot of the items were. Did I really need a new shade of lipstick, since the old one was lovely and I hadn’t used it up yet? Nowadays the list is pretty short, and if something isn’t on the list, I don’t allow myself to buy it.

3. I wrote down everything I spent for a month. This was a real eye-opener! Everything went on the list - snacks bought at the train station if I missed a train, flowers for my mum, bills, entertainment, the lot. I was really surprised to see how much money I was frittering away on things I couldn’t even remember purchasing a few weeks ago. It’s helped me make more conscious spending decisions now.

4. I borrowed a tip from a friend trying to quit smoking. When the urge to buy something happens, I walk away and do something else for 5 minutes. Often by the end of the 5 minutes, I’ve forgotten what it was that seemed so important at the time. If I haven’t, I’m usually much more reasonable about whether or not it was a good-value purchase or not (usually not!). If I still want the item, it goes on the list I mentioned above.

5. If I’m a little bored on a weekend, I take a look around my house first. Are there books I’ve been meaning to read, movies rented and unwatched? Have I called my friends and family lately for a chat? Is there an art show on, or a community event? Usually I find something more interesting to do if I think about it for a few minutes.

And by doing that, instead of going shopping, I feel like I’ve got a better social life. I see my friends more often, and when I do I’ve got something to talk about other than “ooh, I love your shoes, I can’t find any like that in the stores”. I end up inviting them to join me at garden shows, or for a BBQ in a park. This challenge has been at the extreme end of no-shopping for me, but I’ve caught up on a couple of books and a movie so far, and plan to see all my family this weekend.