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How to Rein in Fall Spending (Without Missing a Thing)

Turn the season into a time to appreciate things more acutely, rather than accumulate them more mindlessly.
Image: A woman carrying a shopping bag drinks coffee while looking at her mobile phone
Avoid pumpkin spice overload by allowing yourself three pumpkin-y purchases this fall. Eva-Katalin / Getty Images

It has become perhaps the most unoriginal sentiment a woman can express on the internet at this point, but I’ll express it nonetheless: I love autumn. I love the crisp weather, the slow-braised food and the limitless amounts of velvet apparel one can wear. I love scattering my home with small gourds and candles and feeling incredibly cozy wherever I go. But I’d be lying if I said that autumn wasn’t, for those same reasons, a bit tough on my wallet from year to year. I can find any excuse to spend, and spend specifically on the kind of sensory pleasures that usually get shifted to the bottom of my budget.

Meals for one with a glass of red at a bar, a new pair of tights or cardigan on a walk home, farmer’s market trips that leave me with one bag of produce and one bag of fresh baked desserts: all of these perfect autumnal moments suddenly feel like must-haves, rather than luxuries that should be sparingly indulged in. (Don’t even get me started on any bar or restaurant that contains a working fireplace — they might as well have a sign on the door that reads “Chelsea come in here and spend stupid amounts of money.) The point is, my love for the season has resulted in a weirdly laissez-faire attitude that I don’t have the rest of the year about money, and it’s made me develop some concrete strategies to combat those bad impulses.

How I'm Tamping Down on My Worst Impulses

First and foremost, when it comes to the autumn fashion black hole I can get myself into, I’ve found that the vast majority of the fun comes from just thinking about and combining clothes, often just in my head. I’ve taken to making little Pinterest-esque collages that satisfy the deep urge in me to combine jewel tones and tweed-y, velvet-y textures. Between that and my personal challenge to only wear never-before-worn combinations of my own wardrobe for at least two weeks, I’ve seen my desire to go out and irrationally spend on new fall outfits wildly reduced. Making the habit into something that’s much more about the creativity and imagination than about the act of buying itself has left me spending and wanting less. And as New York is currently experiencing a much-delayed fall in sheer temperature terms, the whole outfit-ideation thing has given me the feeling of wearing the clothes without actually being able to wear them.

And in terms of the going-out bug, which seems to hit me more than ever on those crispy fall nights when everything feels like an adventure, I’ve found myself getting more and more into game nights at home. We’re lucky to have a few friends who live nearby and love games as much as we do, but even when it’s just the two of us, a bottle of red or some hoppy beer, a few snacks or a home-cooked meal, and you have the best of all worlds: a cozy, be-sweatered experience that gives you the sensation you want (warm, cozy conviviality) without having to spend a ton of money to get there. As a tradeoff, you can allow yourself to get as many discount candles (TJ Maxx and Marshalls are amazing for this) as you like to recreate the feeling of a fire at home. (I love to put them in little clusters at varied heights on different counters or tables, it creates the exact autumn vibe you most want.)

I'll Celebrate Pumpkin Spice Season — But Keep It in Check

Lastly, there is the market-going. Now, perhaps not all of you live down the street from an adorable farmer’s market that practically calls your name and entices you to go buy those ridiculously-expensive bottles of chocolate milk that come in actual glass bottles with a gentle sketch of a cow on them, but you almost certainly live near something like a Trader Joe’s, where the idea to stock up on every last pumpkin-themed item can become overwhelming. I’ve found that my solution is two-fold: when it comes to themed groceries, I allow myself three. I’ve learned my lesson on Pumpkin Spice Oreos, and was pleasantly surprised by Barbara's Pumpkin Puffins (now a yearly tradition), but I do not just allow myself to Supermarket Sweep everything with a leaf-motif on the packaging. This year, I’m doing my Puffins, plus I want to try pumpkin spice gelato and syrup for my morning coffee. (To be clear, I’m allowed to buy as much actual canned pumpkin as I like — and I love making loaf-bread with it — but that’s because it’s very cheap, as opposed to all the seasonal packaged items which are ludicrously expensive.) But my second strategy is if I allow myself to go to the farmer’s market on weekends, I am only allowed to buy produce. Not only is it actually often more cost-effective to do so than going to your local grocery store, it’s really the best use of those markets in the first place. There is no reason for me to be getting two dozen sugar cookies or an $8 jar of milk, but I can totally justify some fresh ears of corn or pears to make a nice tart. It’s all about balance.

In the end, I’ll never go cold turkey on the autumnal spending — there’s just too much about the season that I love, and which brings out my most epicurean and indulgent self. But in learning how to rein it in and ration myself, I’ve turned the season into a time to appreciate things more acutely, rather than accumulate them more mindlessly. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s left me with a whole lot less ill-fitting sweaters and questionable pumpkin-flavored snacks.

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