In the past, I’ve mentioned the strategy of using a wishlist to curb my spontaneous spending impulses. It turns out that the simple act of adding something I want to a wishlist is an incredibly effective way to cut through momentary desires, keeping me from spending money on something I might want in the moment but that I’ll end up forgetting and/or regretting over the long term.
It’s a really simple strategy that takes advantage of a psychological tic that I have and, from what I’ve seen, many other people have as well.
Here’s how it works.
On my phone, I have the app for jotting down notes. For this to work, you really need some sort of note-taking app available to you most of the time, and I use Evernote. You might prefer to use some other app for taking notes, or even using a pocket notebook. Although I use a pocket notebook for a lot of things, I find Evernote works far better for this particular task, the reason for which I’ll explain in a bit.
Whenever I find myself wanting something bad enough that I’m considering buying it, instead of actually going to the checkout or clicking through the shopping cart on the website, I simply add the item to a “Wishlist” note in Evernote. I simply keep a note going named Wishlist. When I want an item, I go into that note and, at the bottom of the note, I add a quick description of the item in just a few words along with a link to that item from some website.
Here’s the interesting part – the addition of that new item to the wishlist feels like I have “taken action” on that item and it causes the immediate desire to at least somewhat go away. Virtually every time, the simple act of putting that item on my wishlist takes the edge off of that desire to make an impulsive purchase, at least enough so that it’s easy to move on and not actually make that purchase right now. That keeps my money in my pocket where it belongs and ensures that I don’t spend it on something I might not truly want all that much.
But what if I’ve stumbled across something really cool that I do actually end up wanting? Here’s the neat trick. Once a month, I review the wishlist. I usually do this around the first of each month (which is actually why I’m writing this today, as I’m writing this right after having reviewed my wishlist).
I start by going to the bottom of the list and adding the name of the month and the year, followed by a dashed line. All new items after that point are added below that line. Then, I scroll back up, find the line from two months ago (so, if I’m doing this on November 1, I look for the September line), and delete that line. This leaves just an October line and a November line.
At that point, I go through everything above the top line, one at a time, and ask myself if I really want that item. Do I really want this game I added to my list? Do I really need that cool notebook? Does it really make sense to buy this thing or that thing?
What I almost always find is that my desire for that item has faded significantly since I added it. Most of the time, my desire has completely disappeared. If I find that I don’t really want that item much any more, I simply delete it from the list. It’s gone, and I never spent the money on it. This is the end result of 90% of the stuff I add to the wishlist.
What about that remaining 10%? I usually give each of those remaining items some additional thought. Is this something I really, truly want? Or is it just an appealing thought? Maybe this item is touching on a desire that can be addressed in some other way.
Often, the items that make it to this point end up eventually turning into purchases, but these are planned purchases. I’ve turned off the “urgency” for these purchases, so I’m okay investing the time and effort necessary to research those purchases and find how to meet those desires in a cost-effective and reasonable way.
So, let me show you in a very practical way how this works.
This morning, I went through my wishlist, as I do at the start of each month. The task is one that I have scheduled as a recurring task at the start of each month, so this is a natural time to do it.
I started by adding a line at the bottom that said “November” with a bunch of dashes after it. That way, in the future, when I add more items, they’ll just go below that line.
Then, I scrolled back up and found the line that said “September” and deleted that line.
Now, there were a few items above that line that were still there from previous months. They were items that I decided that I still wanted, but I hadn’t actually bothered in the last month to buy them.
To me, that’s a clear indication that I should just delete those things. If they sat there for a month after review and I still didn’t feel like taking action, they should probably just go. That’s not always true, however – sometimes items stick around for an extra month or two because I didn’t have enough money in my budget to afford that particular item.
So, very quickly, I deleted all but one of those items that was above the “September line.” The one item that remained was one that I suspected I could find for just a dollar or two if I kept searching, so I left it there. I poked around online for that item for a few minutes, but still haven’t found it for a price that low yet (it’s an item that was overproduced and I expect it to eventually hit the bargain bin).
Anyway, this leaves me with the 11 items I added during September that I haven’t looked at since I added them.
I walk through each of these fairly quickly, asking myself whether I still want this item. Is this something I still am interested in spending my hard-earned money on? Is this something I actually want? Might I just want something similar to this?
Believe it or not, most of these items end up leaving me with a sense that, no, I don’t want that item any more. There were such items as a sous vide cooking tool, three different books, a pocket chess set, and some fountain pen ink in that group.
I deleted all of them.
This left me with four items that I was actually still interested in – two books, one board game, and one “gadget,” for lack of a better term. The books all ranged in price from about $8 to about $16. The board game appears to be commonly on sale for about $40. The “gadget” runs about $110.
Those are all items that I’m interested in, and that interest has sustained over more than a month. In other words, those are items that I am actually considering buying.
What happens now?
First of all, I work out my hobby spending budget for the month. All of those items would come out of my personal hobby spending. Can I afford them this month? I figured out that, given other things I planned to use that money for, I could afford either one book and the game, or both books. The others would have to wait.
The next step was to start bargain hunting for those items. I started digging around for the lowest price I could find on those books and on that board game. The books are a bit harder to bargain hunt for, especially since one is already in paperback – the hardcover book (the more expensive one) could be one that I could wait on until the paperback comes out.
The board game, however, can net some serious savings if I do some shopping around for it – and I manage to find it at about 60% off of MSRP surprisingly quickly. So, I allot about $20 of my hobby budget and pick up that game.
For the other unpurchased items, I added the books to my Amazon wishlist (which a few people use for gift-giving purposes in my family) and deleted them, leaving me with just two items to look at next month (the gadget and the “overstocked” item). I have a sense that the gadget will end up just being deleted next month.
So, what happened here?
I had 11 items that I really really wanted and almost bought impulsively in September. But, rather than giving into that temptation, I just added those items to my wishlist instead.
When I finally reviewed that wishlist on November 1, I simply deleted seven of those things because I realized I didn’t really want them any more. That eliminated the vast majority of what I might have spent impulsively. It would have been wasteful spending, because I would have just bought things I wanted on the spur of the moment, things not connected to any lasting desire.
I ended up putting two of them on a gift giving wish list, eliminating them as well. Again, that’s money I didn’t spend, and it also gives some of my relatives who insist on giving gifts from Amazon wishlists something that I’ll actually like as an idea.
I found one item at a 60% discount. If I had bought it on the spur of the moment, it would have cost me $40. Because I was patient, I gave myself time to shop around (and time for it to wind up on sale), so it only cost me $16.
I was able to realize that the one remaining item doesn’t quite fit into my budget and that it could wait a bit longer. That’s okay, because I understand why I’m passing up on it.
So, to put it all in a nutshell, I went from spending hundreds on impulsive desires to spending only $16 on one of the few items I actually wanted beyond a momentary impulse. It’s all because of the “wishlist” strategy.
I strongly encourage you to consider using a wishlist yourself. It’s a very, very effective way to handle impulsive spending desires. It turns postponement into an “action” that feels like you’ve actually done something toward the purchase, which often pops that balloon of desire quite effectively.