Intentional Spending: 5 Ways to Shop With Purpose

October 22, 2021 4 min read

photo: Bethany Douglass

Intentionality simply means the act of being deliberate, purposeful

If you are a committed budgeter, there is no question of being intentional; you probably account for every dollar. But, nobody — even if you track every receipt — spends every single dollar how they wish to (dishwasher repairs, new socks, & lost library books come to my mind...).


Even so, we can be thoughtful about how money leaves our wallet, slides onto our credit card, decreases our bank balance… we can be deliberate & purposeful with even the smallest financial decisions.

 

Being Intentional About Great Deals

 

The classic example of this is: it’s a great deal to buy a large quantity of fancy cheese at Costco for half the price it would be at the deli… until most of the cheese goes moldy, uneaten, and that “great deal” is largely in the compost bin.

If a sale item is tempting, ask, “Would I ever buy this at full price?” If the item is something you would want, but the cost was prohibitive, or the value seemed disproportionate, then maybe it is a good buy. If it is an impulse purchase that you otherwise may never have considered, give it a minute. Zip around the store or the mall, or close your browser for the afternoon before returning.

 

Being Intentional About Small Purchases


If you have a bit of financial freedom, it’s very easy to spend $2, $5, $15, $20 without too much thought. 

The reality is that small purchases add up to bigger spending. If I bought my drink of choice at Starbucks every day for a year, the ~$5 would not have much impact daily. But, in a couple of years, I might prefer spending the $2000 (over a year) on a car for my teen!

The point is: being deliberate about where that money goes, and how we want to spend it. It could be on coffees out, or Kindle deals, or the discount bin at Target. Or, maybe those are the culprits that make it feel like the financial margin is constantly disappearing.

I know that for some who grew up in poverty, the freedom to spend $5 without stress can be a source of healing and liberation. There is no right or wrong answer — just mindfulness.



Being Intentional About Surplus & Lifestyle Creep

You get a salary raise, you receive a birthday gift or inheritance, you sell a valuable, or you find $20 on the ground… what are you going to do with it?!

Lifestyle creep is when discretionary money rises, either from an increase in income or a decrease in costs; spending on lifestyle increases and former luxuries become everyday expenses (or necessities).

We tend to absorb in expenses whatever is available. More money in the bank means more to spend; financial writers even warn that an increase in funds can easily roll into overspending by committing to payments and purchases that later become unsustainable.

Decide with intent how you would like to spend (or save) any surplus that may come your way. Tools like a separate bank account, an automatic payment, or an app like YNAB can help to preserve the plan and protect your best intentions. So can very specific goals to keep your focus (e.g. I would like to order takeout for dinner, but what I really want is to save that down payment, etc.)


Being Intentional About Time

What is the time cost of certain purchase choices? What problems are solved by some spending decisions? Or, what problems might be created?

Being intentional may involve thinking about the long-term outcomes of certain choices, e.g.:

- this appliance is cheaper used, but will need some repairs (or may not last as long)
- buying a brand new clothing item/piece of sports equipment is worth it because several kids can use it over years (saving me from shopping for it again)

and, or, the short-term cost of choices, e.g.:

- is it worth it for me to travel to a location to buy something at a cheaper price or pay more at a location more convenient (and less time-costly) to me.

- a sale on a photo album app is for a limited time only, but I would have to spend this weekend organizing photos instead of outside in the fleeting beautiful weather.

 

Being Intentional About Joy

Some purchases provide no *function* other than happiness. A bouquet of flowers, a piece of art, a magazine, or yes, a blanket, may provide a boost of joy when you look at or use it. 

These days, this might be as much of a necessity as anything (though, not to the extreme that Jeanette Walls describes of her mentally ill mother buying art supplies instead of food for their family, in The Glass Castle!)

As the holiday season is approaching, enjoy planning & shopping for the ones you love!! I express love in gifts & always enjoy thinking about the best way to do that. :)


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