The Secrets Behind Conscious Consumption — and Unconscious Saving
If we met for a cash-flow planning consultation earlier this year, you might’ve heard a certain recommendation from me or seen it in your recap email. “Practice mindful spending.” But what does that mean, exactly?
Mindful spending is conscious consumption. It’s taking a moment to seriously think about how you’re using your dollars. No, that doesn’t mean you need to scrutinize every item in your cart before you check out, holding each piece of merchandise in your hands and asking, “Does this truly bring me joy, and do I want to bring it into my home?”
(… although maybe I should make that a Target run habit of my own.)
Conscious consumption means something else that you’ve probably heard me say. “Align your money with your values.” When you think about what you’re spending your money on, you’re simply ensuring that the value of what you’re buying makes sense according to what matters to you. And this mindful spending can lead to another positive: Unconscious saving.
Whether you prefer “mindful spending,” “conscious consumption,” “aligning your money with your values,” or another way of phrasing it, let me share some of my favorite how-tos with you.
We don’t have total control over some of our spending. Unless you’re planning a move in the near future, your housing costs are pretty set. If you’re in your two-to-three-year gap between quoting property and casualty insurance, that’s not likely to change either. The same is probably true for your utilities, like those for your home as well as your phone bill.
Sure, you should be mindful of the amount you’re spending on the things you have less control over or the percentage of income that goes to each on a monthly basis. You may even want to see if you can adjust these more or less “set” costs from time to time. See if it’s time to refinance your mortgage, quote insurance, check local internet providers’ pricing, or see what other plans your wireless carrier has to offer.
But spending your valuable time and processing power just thinking about these doesn’t do you a heck of a lot of good. Thankfully, there are other areas of your spending that you have more meaningful control over — and that’s where conscious consumption comes in.
How To (Consciously) Consume …
Why do you do what you do? You probably practice some form of conscious consumption already. For example …
1. You limit your clothes shopping to fewer high-quality or high-end pieces because of the impact fast fashion has on landfills.
2. You bike to work to reduce greenhouse gasses.
3. Your pantry is filling up, and you try a pantry challenge to use up your overstock.
4. You start composting to give your soil a nutrient boost.
5. You shop at local stores because your community is close to your heart.
6. You’re doing “meatless Mondays” as animal welfare is important to you.
7. You use a little less electricity between 5 and 9 p.m. (soon to be 2 and 7 p.m.!) to reduce strain on the grid.
8. You opt not to splurge on home goods this season; your sturdy stuff will last another year.
You might notice that none of the above are focused on saving for saving’s sake. Instead, they’re the “whys” behind some common decisions.
… and How it Leads to Unconscious Saving
Take another look at each of the items above, and match it to its partner here.
1. By limiting your clothes shopping, you’re saving time, money — and the planet. Or maybe you’re spending more on fewer pieces that will last longer … and save you money in the long run.
2. You’re getting some extra exercise and saving some gas money, too. (And at around $4 a gallon, good for you!)
3. When you base a recipe on something in the pantry that you’d like to use up, you might just find a new favorite. Because you only bought the odds and ends you needed to make it delicious, you also saved some dough.
4. You downsized your trash bin — as well as your garbage and gardening bills. Plus, your plants are happier.
5. You might spend a little more, but it reduces strain on the global supply chain and supports your local economy.
6. You’re saving some cash, sure, but also animals … and water while reducing your carbon footprint and emissions.
7. You cut your electric bills a bit and waste less power.
8. You save some cash for your next vacation or investment property — and learn that you love what you already have just a little more.
Not every spending decision has to have a positive impact on the world or be for the greater good. You can be selfish, too! Would you rather skip this expense because you’d rather save or just spend more on that one instead?
You’ll also notice here that not every effect includes saving, but many of them do. Just another reminder that few money-related decisions are purely financial!
Walking the Talk
I don’t just prescribe action in cash-flow planning meetings. I also test-drive suggestions and even take my own advice!
Within the last month or so, I realized that my partner and I have more streaming services than we need. Some we hadn’t used in months! (I’m looking at you, AppleTV+, but you’ll be back when the next season of Ted Lasso is!) We had just been adding them over the past couple of years and hadn’t realized how much we were spending. Sure, it wasn’t much on a monthly basis, but our annual totals were …
Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ Bundle: $258
Total: $664.44 annually or $55.37 per month
We didn’t realize we were spending quite that much on music and TV streaming, so we sat down and talked about our subscriptions. While we landed on keeping our priciest option, we made sure it was the right choice for us and canceled the rest. (Hint: You can cancel subscriptions through apps like Mint and Truebill as a one-stop shop for downsizing your stack.)
Another taste of my own medicine: I’ve been doing a pantry challenge! Pasta salads of all kinds have become a renewed weekend favorite. And I have a newfound appreciation for rice with black beans as a bowl base to which I add fun fresh toppings! (… I still haven’t figured out what to do with the dried split peas, but I haven’t forgotten about them, either. Send help!)
Spending 15 minutes out of the past two years talking about and canceling a few subscriptions might sound insignificant. So might using up some nonperishables on the weekends. But these simple steps toward conscious consumption are also saving me a few dollars here and there. I haven’t calculated the savings, but I’m happy with the positive impact the tiny tweaks are making on my credit card and my cabinets.
What’s your why? Is it a dedicated reason behind a decision you’re making now? Or taking the time to ask yourself, “Why do I/we [insert variable here]?” I encourage you to use yours — whatever it is — to make a simple and positive change in your life. Your newfound conscious consumption in one seemingly insignificant aspect of your life might even lead to some unconscious saving along the way.
So give it a shot, and don’t forget to tell me all about it!
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