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The Spending Pause   arrow

by Sue Schneider, Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Larimer County

The spending pause

Financial stress impacts our health, relationships, and optimism for the future. While some circumstances that lead us towards financial hardship are beyond our control, our spending habits are something we can alter.  Our habits are often formed at a young age, can become automatic, and may not be aligned with our values.

Should we evaluate our spending habits? Are we making thoughtful purchase decisions? Where can we find the pause button to slow down our decision-making? Perhaps a lesson from the mindfulness playbook can help. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally.” By attending to our moment to moment experience, we can learn to respond rather than react to decisions we confront. When we react, we are swept into an emotion-based, spontaneous response. When we respond, we allow ourselves to process the decision. The difference is the pause – between impulse and action – and the intentional choice that follows.

The Mindful STOP is one practice that can help us pause and allow for more space as we make financial decisions. The STOP acronym works like this:

  • Stop what you’re doing
  • Take a few breaths
  • Observe your experience
  • Proceed with awareness

If you are in the midst of a financial decision or purchase, you can remind yourself to stop what you’re doing and take a few breaths to get grounded. The observation step will allow you to notice what is going on:

  • What thoughts are you having about the decision or purchase?
  • What emotions are you experiencing?
  • How might you feel about the decision tomorrow, next week, or next year?
  • What impact might the decision or purchase have on you, those around you, or the environment?
  • How well does the decision or purchase align with your values?

These observations should be done in a non-judgmental way; you are simply noticing what thoughts are coming up without labeling them as good or bad. If you notice there is discomfort in not making a quick decision or reacting to an impulse, you can practice “urge surfing.” This means riding the waves of the discomfort – again simply noticing without doing anything. When you’ve taken the time to pause and notice your experiences, you can then decide if you’re ready to make a decision. If the answer is yes, you can thoughtfully proceed. If the answer is no, you can put the decision on hold and come back to it when you’re ready.

Using the Mindful STOP can help decrease the habitual momentum behind poor spending decisions and impulsive purchases. Allowing yourself the space to make conscious choices, based on your personal financial values, can bring you back in control of your finances. If the current way that you are spending doesn’t fit into your vision of a prosperous life, it may be time to stop, breath, and observe…and then consider acting.