Radical Honesty and Being Better with Money

A few months ago, I found myself browsing through an online store for bedding. I’d decided that I was due a new set of bedding because one set was coming up to being 10 years old. Whilst trawling through my options, I started by looking at the cheaper ones, but then became distracted by the more expensive bedding. I noticed I was justifying the cost with “quality comes first.” A far cry from my thoughts 10 years ago when I purchased the old set in college. Back then I focused on practicality, cost and need, which got me thinking, Do I really need this? I have two sets of bed sheets that I alternate between, both of which are still in good condition (no holes or loose threads). Then I asked myself, “Is this purchase just lifestyle inflation?” Of course it was.

Physiology and Language

I’ve been questioning my purchases for many years, and yet I still find myself susceptible to buying things I don’t need, or paying more for something than necessary. I was reminded of the importance of being conscious of how I spend my money when I was listening to a recent podcast by The Minimalists, who believe in stripping away the superfluous items in your life to help you focus on what’s important. They try and live a meaningful life with less stuff and less complexity. They’re focused on living simply. On their episode “Impulses,” they were answering a question from a listener about buyer’s remorse from impulse buying.

To help control impulse buying, they suggested changing three things: physiology, language, and focus. Changing your physiology means avoiding the triggers of spending, e.g. going into the shop in the first place. Changing your language means that instead of saying that you’re “going to the store to get something,” you say, “I’m going out today to get further into debt,” or “I’m going to spend my hard-earned money on items I don’t need.” By changing your language, you also change what you’re focused on.

By using the same approach as The Minimalists, I strip away the excuses and justifications. I replace my excuses for impulse buying or other negative choices with radical honesty — to discover what’s really at the core of my spending choices. By practicing radical honesty, I’ve avoided unnecessary purchases to the tune of $1,000s.

Practicing Radical Honesty

Could radical honesty help you overcome your impulse buying and other bad money behavior, and make practical steps towards a better life? Consider these statements:

  • By opting out of pension contributions, I’m going to force my future self to have to make more and larger payments, so that in retirement, I can live the lifestyle I’ve become accustomed to.
  • By paying for this new outfit on credit, I’m going to pay more for my purchase in interest and fees.
  • By taking out a home loan to renovate my home, I’m going to put myself into thousands of dollars of debt that I may never be able to repay.
  • By moving to a bigger home and taking out a larger mortgage, I’m going to add an extra 10 years at my already-stressful career.
  • By leasing a new car, I’m going to increase my liabilities and my depreciating assets.
    If you heard someone say any of these statements out loud, you might think that they’re making a joke (which they may be). Either way, we start thinking about the stories we tell ourselves to justify unnecessary purchases. The next time you find yourself inching toward impulse buying, pause and try radical honesty. Instead of saying:

I’m buying this item, because it’s really cute and I really want it…

…try saying:

I’m buying this item, because I get a thrill from impulse purchases and have a genuine problem with delayed gratification.

The next time you find yourself cancelling your contributions to your retirement account, instead of saying:

By cancelling my contributions, I’ll have more money in my next paycheck.

…try saying:

By cancelling my contributions, I’m agreeing to delay my retirement and as a result will need to play catch-up later in life by making more and larger contributions.

…Or perhaps more to the point:

By stopping contributions, I’m not making any plans to retire.

Taking it one step further, what if we used radical honesty to reinforce positive money behavior?

  • By saving to pay for this item, I’m not going to pay interest on this purchase.
  • By contributing to my retirement today, I can retire earlier.
  • By taking some time to compare prices, I can pay less for the same item.

Beyond Money

Thinking about how radical honesty could control my impulse buying got me thinking about how I use other resources. I feel a little sick when I think about how many hours I’ve wasted on social media that I could have spent with a friend in person. I feel ashamed about the amount of plastic I use instead of using more environmentally-friendly food storage. I can’t bear to think about how much mental energy I’ve wasted on jealousy.

It may sound like an opportunity to beat myself up, but I see it as an opportunity to be conscious of how my actions determine my outcomes. I am better at recognizing those actions that add value to my life, and those that take away value. It’s okay to indulge every now and again, which is why my “cheat” eating weekend works so well. But what if I started a “cheat” Friday? Suddenly, I’ve found a way to justify poor eating habits for nearly half of my week. Small, unconscious indulgences lead to more waste. Thanks to radical honesty, I’m more deliberate about my actions and spending choices. The next time I feel the urge to splurge, I’ll ignore the easy justification that I “deserve it,” and replace it with a dose of radical honesty.