How to Use Writing to Control Your Spending

Oren Cohen

A simple trick that anyone (even non-writers) can practice to control their spending better.

Photo: Unsplash

Around two months ago, I bought an Apple TV.

Initially, I thought I would use it for Netflix and get some much-needed TV downtime.

I also needed it for casting my Macbook’s screen to be able to work better from home. In other words, I had valid reasons to purchase it.

But the reality is different. Fast forward to a month later, and I can count on one hand the number of times I used it.

I don’t regret the purchase. I will still have lots of uses for it soon, but I had to sit down and learn something from this experience. I could have lived without that black box on my desk.

Buying Electronics isn’t cheap, and I had to make sure I could be accountable for my purchases. I decided to use writing to do it.

Here’s what worked for me and how you can use this, too.

Write How Life Would Change For You

I wrote in a few sentences what life would be like after I bought something I wanted.

How would a typical day be? How would I use this new purchase? Will it save me time? Will it change my schedule in any way?

The trick is not judging what you write as you write it, just like in actual story writing. You’re writing this short paragraph just for yourself, nobody else.

You don’t have to be a professional writer to practice this exercise in self-restraint.

The only thing that matters is to write it down. Write it all down.

Here’s an example of the 2020 Macbook Pro I wanted to buy.

After buying the new Macbook, I will be able to run mighty software on it. I will also have the newest hardware and could potentially use it for software development. I will need to sell my other Macbook to cover some of the expenses. I will also need to use a credit card to pay the rest to divide the payments.

Now that you have this snippet you wrote about your own purchase, the fun part begins.

Read Your Reasoning Snippet Out Loud

It’s time to reflect on your reasoning.

The exercise is simple — do you find your reasoning enough to merit the purchase? Let’s reflect on mine.

Run really powerful software? I can already do that with my current Macbook pro. It’s from 2018. Have the latest hardware and use it for software development? I already use it for software development, and I need clarification on the difference between the newest hardware and my mac’s hardware. The last two sentences aren’t convincing; they’re just what life would be like after I purchased this computer.

Does it merit the purchase? Probably not.

Let’s do the same trick but this time for something basic like bottled water:

After I buy bottled water, I will be able to keep myself from being thirsty. This will help me prevent dying of thirst. I may also be criticized for buying plastic bottles when the modern plumbing system in the city supports clean tap water.

So, you see? You can even reason yourself out of buying bottled water if you take the time to write down how life will change.

Will I still buy bottled water? Probably. I recycle.

The important thing is that I decided with my mind and not my heart. I spent the impulse on creating the reasoning snippet, and now I was effectively criticizing it as an editor would criticize a book — a logical action.

When you succeed in overruling the impulse decision with something more logical, you will find that many of our purchases are made to give us a small boost to our mood.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that every optional purchase will be avoided, only that purchases will be a product of a thought process instead of an emotion. I can definitely see myself buying nice shoes even if my current ones are still useful. It just won’t be an impulse decision like so many things we buy every day.

How To Enforce the Writing Process?

I bought my Apple TV in person. Not from an internet page. As I was working on my finances, I decided to remove my credit card from PayPal.

Do whatever you need to do to add a mandatory phase between you and your purchase. Don’t have credit cards saved in your browser (security-risk aside), don’t have a credit card registered to be the default payment method. If your purchases are made in person, consider removing the credit card from your wallet, so you will have to make a conscious effort to bring it to the store.

Then, when you know you need to work for it, make sure that writing that short reasoning also stands between you and getting the credit card.

You don’t really have to prevent yourself from the credit card, only to keep it away for enough time to realize whether you truly need the purchase or not.

Think about how companies make it hard for you to exit a contract but so easy to enroll in it. Cellphone companies, internet, and TV companies, all of these have a super helpful quick service to help you buy. But when you want customer support or god-forbid to cancel? They put you on hold and take their time until they get to you.

So, do that with your purchasing process as well. Be the type of person to buy slow but sell fast. Whatever brings in money to your bank account should be done super fast. Whatever tries to take money away should take longer. Use writing to prove to yourself why you need something and then criticize that.

At least try it for 30 days. You’ll see the difference in your bank account sooner rather than later.

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I'm a geeky content creator. My content will usually be helpful articles for other content creators like me or some fun geeky articles about shows, video games, and literature. Recommend me a new fantasy book! Also, I'm working on my own fantasy story so stay tuned for that, too.

New York City, NY

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