Impulsive shopping is a great topic of interest for psychologist and life coach Beata Justkowiak, part of our Mind Centre team. She decided to ask our mindfulness expert Pierre Gagnon about his thoughts on how to shop mindfully to save money.
Spending too much money on impulse shopping? Here is one simple trick that will help you stop immediately—being mindful of how you shop.
You know you have done it before—spent $500 in two hours of shopping, only to ask yourself the next day, ‘What have I done?’ You start to figure out what was in your mind when you bought the new dress or shoes, and swear never to repeat the same mistake. Yet the next weekend, you do the same thing again.
Beata: How is impulsive shopping and mindfulness related to each other?
Pierre: Life is about feelings; humans believe that happiness is about getting pleasures, and avoiding displeasures. We do it through chasing pleasant feelings and running away from unpleasant feelings. There is no doubt that pleasure is fun, and the goal of mindfulness is not to become someone who avoids enjoying life by stopping the experience of pleasures. The problem is that we do not understand feelings and they end up manipulating us, and often it’s the credit margin that suffers.
B: Do you mean that we make impulsive buys because it makes us feel good?
P: Definitely! Physical and online stores are experts at making us feel good. We experience pleasure when we expect something. From the perspective of pleasure, the result matters little; what matters is the expectation of pleasure. This is what impulsive shopping is about. We are put in a state of expectation and the body loves it—it experiences a surge of dopamine. The buying itself won’t have a big impact on us; we impulsively buy because it makes us feel good. Then we end up with an object that might have cost way too much, and we feel disappointed and sometimes barely use it. It has disastrous consequences on our financial situation.
B: How can we avoid buying on impulse?
P: This is easier said than done because we need to buy, and sometimes it is simply fun to indulge in buying. But if impulsive buying has become a problem, or we simply want to improve our financial situation because we might want to buy a house or car, it might be interesting to become mindful of what we experience in a buying situation. Mindfulness could become our wallet’s best friend!
B: What should we do when we get the impulse to buy?
P: Typically, we should allow ourselves time to observe the reaction happening in our body. A feeling is like a song playing in us. Humans are not thinking creatures who feel, but are feeling creatures who think. We think that we make decisions based on pure rationality. It is often not the case. We are surrounded by pleasant smells, beautiful music, a nice sales person that smiles at us and makes us feel important. We add to it pleasant thoughts, ‘Wow! That watch would look great on me!’ The body loves that and will succumb to such a pleasurable situation.
B: How can we resist the mermaid’s song then?
P: Mindfulness will allow us to veto an action. A mindful person will recognise that the body is experiencing a pleasant experience, and it allows us to choose from a range of options. It could be delaying the buying by a week, or simply remembering that we have other priorities in life like buying an apartment or a car. In a sense, mindfulness of what the body is experiencing allows us to act, instead of reacting. We might not have a free will in life, but we have a free won’t. These impulses come to us, and we can’t always control their origin but we can veto them if we become mindful. Our wallet and financial situation will greatly improve as a result.
About the Author
Pierre Gagnon practised concentration and insight meditation intensively from 2010 to 2012, then went on to study meditation at Wat Suan Mokkh with the venerable Ajahn Po from 2013 to 2015. As well as his own practice, he has coordinated meditation retreats in the south of Thailand which were attended by more than 1,000 people.
Having a great passion in the field of neuroscience, he likes to integrate these concepts into meditation practice. He believes that much of our life is lived resisting and defending against internal and external experiences that people perceive as threats. Through the development of concentration and meditation, we can insightfully see that all experiences are harmless and there is no need to defend of contract around them. Pierre has experience coordinating concentration and insight meditation retreats, teaching the relationship that exists between Buddhism and neuroscience.