Retailers have many tactics to get you to splash the cash. Here’s how to sidestep them, while shopping more mindfully
Trying to spend your way to happiness is guaranteed to empty your bank account and fill your home and wardrobes with unwanted clutter, but there is another way. Mindful shopping means pausing for thought before you hand over the debit card, and making sure you’re purchasing with intention, in line with your values and according to your means. So, instead of being consumed by consumerism, learn how to curb your impulses and walk your own path far from the sales day crowds with these 20 mindful shopping tips.
Swapping redundant garms with a likeminded friend gives you both that new-to-you buzz, extends the lifespan of your clothes, and suppresses the demand for new production. For a more sociable and organised wardrobe refresh, get involved in a ‘swish’, essentially a clothes swapping party. It can be as simple as a bunch of pals getting together to swap, or a community event serving the dual purpose of tackling waste and strengthening local ties.
Image: Dan Gold
You think you’ll just kill a little time innocently checking out the latest fashion trends, or the new bestseller list, and before you know it there’s a burrito blanket and a wardrobe full of new clobber winging its way to your doorstep. Delete apps and delist from store newsletters to stop online impulse buys in their tracks and insulate yourself from those bogus sales ‘bargains’. Speaking of which…
Image: Chad Madden
Black Friday might look like a bargain bonanza, but analysis by Which? exposes the fallacy. The consumer champion analysed 208 of last year’s Black Friday ‘deals’ at major retailers and found the vast majority weren’t deals at all – 98% were the same price, or even cheaper, the rest of the year. “Our research shows that you don’t need to feel pressured to splash out on Black Friday as it’s rarely the cheapest time to shop,” says Which? retail editor Ele Clark.
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Scratch your shopping itch without even opening your purse or wallet. Sites like freestuff.co.uk list giveaways for everything from cat food to cosmetics, often for little more than liking a social media page and filling out a form. Meanwhile, streaming sites including Apple TV and Paramount Plus offer free, seven-day trials on sign up – just don’t forget to cancel your subscription before the end of the trial period.
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Recognise emotional spending triggers like jealousy or fear or missing out, and beware of retailers trying to exploit them by, for example, claiming a product is limited in supply. Shopping to boost mood when you’re feeling low is another one to watch out for, however Dr Gareth Harvey, director of consumer psychology at communications agency Decide, also advises recognising when you’re on a high, and adjusting your shopping habits accordingly. “You tend to evaluate things in a less critical way,” he says. “Research shows we spend around 12% more when we’re in a good mood.”
Image: Becca Mchaffie
Do your research on online retailers to make sure they’re legit, and check for feedback and reviews on sites from trusted organisations. Consumer champion Helen Dewdney, AKA The Complaining Cow, cautions against dodgy sales tactics on social media. “Fake adverts and fake profiles can lure you in with offers and then send you to sites where you will be scammed,” she cautions.
Image: Thought Catalog
Thrift shopping is no longer the preserve of the eco-conscious, it’s a mainstay of the fashion industry, and research shows you’re far from alone if you buy pre-loved. Analysis by Global Data reveals that the global clothes resale market more than doubled in the five years from 2016, and is set to grow another 85% between 2022 and 2026 to a whopping $338.4bn (£271.4bn). Big name retailers like Ikea and Asda are getting in on the act, too. They’re part of the newly formed Circular Change Council, set up to promote used furniture resales.
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It’s only a genuine deal if you planned to buy it anyway – spur-of-the moment purchases can mean blowing money on frivolities you never knew you needed. “Shopping can feel overwhelming when we haven’t taken stock of what we actually need to buy,” says counsellor Georgina Sturmer. “Make a list, enjoy the satisfaction of ticking off each item, and also the satisfaction of knowing that you’re not buying things that you simply don’t need.”
Image: Torbjorn Helgesen
Giving some thought to what you’ve already got will help you avoid buying pointless duplicates, while steering you towards purchases based on need instead of want. You’ll probably find a few long-forgotten impulse buys buried at the back of the wardrobe: press them into use straight away, or try to find them new homes. For decor and furniture, think carefully how new additions will sit with your home’s existing style before splashing out.
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Buy in haste, repent at leisure. It’s a sentiment familiar to anyone who has experienced the stinging regret of a spontaneous purchase. “Maybe you’re in a big rush to race through your shopping list, spurred on by the bright lights and fast paced music of the shops, or the ‘buy now’ instructions on shopping sites,” says Sturmer. “Slow down, take your time to choose each item, and really imagine the recipient – or yourself – enjoying each purchase.”
Image: Kaylah Matthews
Donate the spoils from your decluttering to a charity instead of simply throwing them away, or find them new homes through a secondhand sales site or freecycle group. It’s worth reaching out to community groups to see if you can fill any local need, and keep an eye out for opportunities to trade in old, broken appliances to recycling initiatives, earning you discounts off the price of something new.
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Buying nothing but essentials for a week or even a month forces you to reevaluate your shopping habits and home in on areas where you’re overspending. Think ahead by planning and budgeting meals and family essentials, and use your no-buy time to try out free activities like museum visits, board games or spending time in nature. Longer term, coach and therapist Marilyn Devonish suggests shopping to meet need rather than desire. “Instead of shopping for the sake of it, wait until a potential purchase grabs your attention and evaluate it against what you really need,” she advises.
Image: Anthony Tran
Make conscious choices which take into account a product or brand’s wider impact on the world. Vote with your wallet for sustainable production, fair trade and safe working conditions. Opt out of fast fashion, excessive packaging and polluting practices. “Think in terms of long-term investments rather than short-term purchases,” says Devonish. “Value quality over flimsy bargains and recognise that some things are in the sales because they’re almost made just for that purpose.”
In the UK, we bin 6.4m tonnes of edible food a year, enough to make 15bn meals, or to feed the entire population three times a day for almost three months. Use up the contents of your cupboards and fridge before splurging on more, and think about freezing produce instead of letting it go to waste. When it comes to clothes, sustainability expert Kate Fletcher, a professor at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen and Norway’s Oslo Metropolitan University, recommends learning to love what we have rather than hankering after something new.
Shopping, browsing and building wish lists release the feel-good hormone, dopamine, the same chemical released by taking stimulants like cocaine. Luckily you can still get a natural high without hitting the high street: just work out what presses your buttons. “Put on some music, do some exercise, catch up with a friend,” offers Sturmer. “You might discover that there are other ways for you to feel that sense of pleasure without having to hit the shops.”
Retailers use a few cunning tricks to part you from your cash. One of the most common exploits something called Prospect Theory, the idea that, in our heads, losses loom larger than gains. “Retailers will phrase a special offer to make it feel like you’re losing out if you don’t take it up, rather than emphasising what you gain,” explains Dr Harvey. “Roughly speaking, a loss message is about one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half times more powerful than a gain.”
Another ploy to be wary of is the offer of multiples at online checkouts. “A ‘buy now’ button is a straight choice between, ‘do I buy it or not?’” says Harvey. “When you’re offered multiples, you automatically start thinking about how many to buy, when actually the question you should be asking is: ‘Do I want it at all?’”
Image: Artem Beliaikin
You probably can’t remember the shoes you bought five years ago, but that night out with your mates, seeing your favourite band? Unforgettable. Memories last longer than material things. They enrich our life stories and bring us lasting joy, long after the fleeting pleasure of a material purchase has faded. In fact, studies show we derive more happiness from things we do than from stuff we buy, so consider directing more of your spending to making memories – think theatre trips, gigs, festivals or outdoor adventures.
Image: Krists Luhaers
Mull over purchases, especially big ones, and give the 48-hour rule a go: make a note of the item and its cost and spend a couple of days thinking about whether you really want it. You might be surprised. Pausing for thought is also a good way of dodging scams. “Don’t be rushed into making a purchase,” cautions Dewdney. “Scammers will try to use pressure selling techniques such as creating false urgency to buy an item, making you feel that you owe the salesperson something or using unrealistic claims and promises.”
Image: Jeffery Erhunse
Main image: FG Trade
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