Small Change: Lessons on Suppressing the Urge to Splurge

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Temptation can strike at any moment.

One minute, I'm hunting down items on my grocery list, and the next, I'm sniffing around the cheese counter. I'm swinging my water bottle as I walk to the office, and suddenly find myself inside Starbucks. I pass by a co-worker in a cute outfit, and my shopping cart has filled itself at Bloomingdales.com. (Delete, delete, delete!)

Sometimes it seems like budgets are made to be broken. On the path to frugality, I often trip over an adorable pair of patent pumps. Psychologist April Benson, author of "To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop," says that the techniques she uses for her patients who are compulsive overshoppers also can be applied to everyday temptations. Rule No. 1: Question yourself.

Benson has an arsenal of them. Why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? Where will I put it? Do I have something like it already?

By the time you've remembered the questions -- not to mention answered them -- the urge to splurge likely will have passed, she says. You can also clear your mind, count to 10 and breathe. The key is putting distance between the impulse and the action. The farther you separate them, the less likely you are to indulge.

"You want to do something to slow down the process," she said.

Sometimes, your honest answers may lead you to make the purchase. Benson says this is a sign that the product is useful, even if it's outside your budget. Other times, we just slip up.

Don't beat yourself up. Benson compared staying on a budget with dieting. We don't always follow the rules, but we can resolve to start fresh the next day.

Let us know how you fight temptation. Send me an e-mail at muiy@washpost.com.

-- Ylan Q. Mui


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