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How a do-not-buy list can save you hundreds of dollars a month

Freelance writer Sarah Winfrey has a trick to get impulse spending under control. And it works.
Image: A woman carrying a shopping bag drinks coffee while looking at her mobile phone
If you spend $6 a day on lattes, you probably already know what needs to go on your do-not-buy list.Eva-Katalin / Getty Images

Do you spend too much on coffee? Electronics? Eating out? Adding your spending binges to a ‘do-not-buy’ list can keep money in your wallet, according to freelance writer Sarah Winfrey.

A do-not-buy list is a list of items you’re not going to buy for a certain period of time, according to Winfrey.

“The aim of it is to help you save money, to help you spend less, [and] it can be to help get out-of-control spending under control,” Winfrey tells NBC News BETTER.

Winfrey says she created a do-not-buy list in 2016.

“For a period of time I totally stopped buying clothes,” she says.

A fitness junkie, Winfrey says she had a tendency to splurge on gym wear.

“I’d look in my closet and there were just all of these shirts I never wear that I would just skip all of the time,” she says. “I’d wear maybe 8 or 9 of them in rotation and there were at least that many that I almost never wore, and I think that was eye opening for me.”

Winfrey made a decision to stop buying clothes altogether for a few months, she says, and saved hundreds of dollars in the process.

“I think the number-one thing in terms of powerfulness is just that I could say ‘no,’ that I didn’t have to follow those impulses,” she says.

Winfrey has a few tips on how to create your own do-not-buy list.

Know your cravings

What do you desire? Whether it’s chocolate or the latest Apple gadget, understanding your cravings will help you figure out what should go on the top of your do-not-buy list, according to the writer.

“I think a lot of times we crave things when we’re trying to meet an emotional need, and so to realize what you crave and when you crave it can be powerful in helping you figure out ‘Do I actually want to try to meet this need by satisfying this craving, or is there a better way for me to meet it?’” she says.

Track your spending

If you spend $6 a day on lattes, you probably already know what needs to go on your list, says Winfrey. But if you’re not sure, she says, you may need to go through your bank statements to figure it out. Tracking your spending for a period of time will also give you insight into negative spending habits you’re not away of, she says.

“Even tracking for a month or two, you know how much you spend eating out, how much you spend on clothes, how much you spend on different things, asking ‘Where is your money going?,’ and then looking at that objectively,” she says.

Ask yourself: “Where do I feel like I’m spending more than I want to spend?” she says.

Once you’ve figured it out, put it down on your list.

Ask yourself: What do I regret buying?

Another way to assess your negative spending habits is guilt, explains Winfrey. If you feel bad about certain purchases, put them on your list, she advises.

“I think that tells you where you’re spending money that might be against your values ultimately or it might not be according to your real priorities,” she says.

She says writing down your guilty purchases will help you visualize your problem spending.

“If all of your regrets are clothing, if all of your regrets are electronics, [if] most of them are nights out, I think that that can really be a really powerful way of showing yourself, ’Oh, I often spend money in this category and I often always wish I hadn’t,’” she says.

Keep track of your emotional state during purchases

Some people have a tendency to shop when they are bored or depressed, says Winfrey. It may help you to track not only what you buy but what you were feeling when you bought it, she says.

“It can be a way to see that, wow, I’m not actually buying because I want these things, I’m buying because I want to solve some other problem in me,” Winfrey says.

When you know how your emotions affect your spending, you’ll be better at curbing those impulses, she explains.

Don’t be too strict

It’s ok to buy something on your list if it’s absolutely necessary, Winfrey explains.

“I feel like it’s very common sense,” she says. “You say you’re not buying electronics, but you’re a freelance graphic designer and your computer pukes out, you probably need to let yourself buy a computer. So I feel like it comes down to need versus want. I think if you really legitimately need something that’s on your do-not-buy list, you should probably go buy it if you can.”

Make rules

Once you’ve saved enough money, you can start buying items on your do-not-buy list again, says Winfrey. But you should establish a set of spending rules to make sure you don’t go back to your old ways, she says.

When Winfrey started buying clothes again, she made several rules. For example, if she bought a shirt, she had to get rid of an old one. And if she decided after a few days that she didn’t like the new shirt, she had to return it.

“And that was really helpful for me,” Winfrey says. “I think after you make the rule then you’re more aware of your impulses.”

How to make a do-not- buy list:

  • Know what you crave. Do you always have to have a latte on your way to work? Are you always the first in line to buy the newest technology? Understanding your cravings will help you figure out which items should be on the top of your list.
  • Track your spending. While you may already be aware of your worst spending habits, it will help to track your spending, as well. Doing so will give you insight into habits you might not be aware of.
  • Tap into your guilt. What do I regret buying? Guilt is a great indicator of negative spending habits. What recent purchases do you felt bad about? Add them to your list.
  • Check your emotions. Keep track of the emotions you experience when you buy certain things. Doing so will help you understand how your feelings influence impulse buying.
  • Don’t cut yourself off completely. It’s ok to purchase something on your do-not-buy list, but only if it’s absolutely necessary. For example, if clothing is on your list but you need a new outfit for a job interview, you should probably make an exception.
  • Have some guidelines. When you’ve saved enough and you’re ready to start shopping again, establish spending rules that will curb impulse buying. For example, if you love electronics, make a rule that you can only buy a new gadget if you sell an old one.

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