When it comes to shopping, who doesn't want to save money when given the chance? If you're like us, it's a point of pride to stay stylish while saving money. Still, while we do our best to search out sales and generally just be smart shoppers, we'll admit that it's easy to slip into overspending. But as reasonable, well-informed adults, we're putting our collective foot down: There should never be a month when we're afraid to check our credit card statement.
So we turned to financial expert Stefanie O'Connell, who has made a career out of mastering the art of budgeting. She shared her advice on how to curb the shopping habits that are costing you serious money, along with super-savvy advice on mastering the art of budgeting. With O'Connell's help, you'll know exactly how to shop as your smartest self.
Intrigued? Check out O'Connell's advice below, then shop budget-friendly staples!
As a financial expert, O'Connell has had plenty of experience working with women who struggle to balance the budget. "Whether it's anxiety, nervousness, excitement, or the occasionally nauseating cocktail of all the aforementioned, money is intensely emotional," she says. "And yet many of us still try to approach our finances in a strictly analytical way, beating ourselves up when budgeting efforts fail and savings attempts fall short."
"The biggest potential mistake when shopping is spending beyond your means—buying or charging more than you can afford," O'Connell notes. "Sometimes you may choose to indulge; other times not. It's all okay, as long as you're making those choices consciously and in a way you won't regret when you check your account balance at the end of the month."
"Decide ahead of time what you can afford to spend, with consideration for the rest of your monthly budget. Once you've landed on a number, withdraw that amount in cash, bringing that cash and only that cash into the store," Stefanie advises. "Because cash is tangible, it forces you to keep within your means and avoid what I like to call 'retail seduction,' which is that overwhelming temptation you get when you're in a store to buy everything because it all just looks so beautiful.
And if you're shopping online? Take a page out of Stefanie's book and keep things curated. "When I shop online, I tend to only search for what I need, which keeps me from getting distracted by everything else available." Still, Stefanie notes that shopping via the web can be a slippery slope, "When you can buy something with a single click, it's easy to get detached from the reality of how much you're actually spending. Sometimes convenience is too convenient."
"Another good strategy when you're struggling to stick to a strict monthly budget is using an app to track all your finances in real time," recommends Stefanie. "One example is Level Money. You sync up all your accounts to the app, and it gives you a 'safe to spend' amount based on your upcoming bills and any financial goals you input."
What makes an app such a powerful tool for budgeting? "Think of it like your personal accountability tool, like a scale in your pocket when you're trying to stick to a diet. You're more likely to pass on that second glass of wine or piece of chocolate cake if you have the scale right there on you in the moment of decision."
"The day you get paid is always exciting and can sometimes come with a false sense of security that leads to overspending. To avoid that trap, always consider your income within the context of your total monthly expenses," says Stefanie.
Her tip: Think about what you're buying on a bigger scale. "Retail environments are carefully crafted to get you to spend more money. Avoid that by imagining whatever it is you're looking at in the clearance bin or on a clearance rack at a thrift store. Would you still want it then? Buy it. If not, skip it. The idea is to assess the value of the item itself, as opposed to being overly influenced by the environment that item is in."