10 Ways to Redefine Your Purchase Process


The typical purchase process looks something like this: Walk into the store for one thing, come home with ten things. Those other nine things weren’t on your list or part of the plan, but they were on sale, or you thought you deserved something extra, or it was too cute, revolutionary, cool or delicious to pass up. Maybe you used cash, or maybe it was easier to throw it on a credit card. Fast forward 6-12 weeks or months and the stuff that lifted you up for a moment is now just part of your clutter or debt struggle. You don’t remember why you bought it.

Simplicity isn’t just about the outgoing stuff. The incoming is just as important. If you are working towards a clutter-free home, you want more outgoing than incoming and when you are maintaining a clutter-free home, the incoming should at least match the outgoing.

I’m assuming that you have what you need, and probably more in your home. There may be other new, shiny things that you think could make your life better, easier, or more glamorous. Or maybe things that you think could make you better or more glamorous. Advertisers are working hard everyday to make sure you think you need more.

10 Ways to Redefine Your Purchase Process

  • Cultivate a museum mentality. Living more simply doesn’t mean you don’t want more. The desire for more dissipates but in my experience, it doesn’t go away completely. Instead of finding gratification in the owning, find it in appreciation for the item. For instance, when you walk through a museum you can fully appreciate the art without owning it. The same goes for new clothing, gadgets and other things. When you desire, admire. Don’t acquire.
  • Wait and see. That thing you must own will still be available next month. Wait 30 days for any purchase and see if is still as necessary or appealing.
  • Spend it on paper. Carry a small notebook with you and whenever you think about buying something, write down what it is and how much it costs. Do this for 30 days and see how much money you’ve saved. If you want to take this a step further, set the cash aside for every purchase you don’t make. At the end of 30 days, you’ll have a good contribution to put towards debt or an emergency fund.
  • Make your purchase matter. Try to purchase when it pays back in the way of supporting local artists and causes. Also consider the pass along factor. Can you pass on your purchase when you are done with it? For instance, if you buy a glue gun, but only need it once, will you pass it on to someone who needs it instead of storing it with all of the other things you thought you might need someday?
  • Establish gift policies. Talk to your friends and family and come up with a way to reduce gift purchasing. Some people will be relieved to stop the gift exchange and others may be completely closed to the idea. For the most part, people will fall in the middle with the interest of preserving tradition. They may consider a new twist like gifting experiences over stuff or spending money on a dinner or weekend getaway in lieu of gifts. If you are ready to call gift giving off, be gentle with people who aren’t there yet, but hold your ground.
  • Declare a shopping fast. Let everyone around you know that you won’t be shopping for 3 months for anything besides food and essentials. It’s easier to recognize behaviors and patterns when you break away from them for awhile.
  • Remove your emotional expectations. Your stuff does not have the power to change your life. Nothing you buy will make you a better person.
  • Unsubscribe. You are bombed with unsolicited advertising messages all day so you might as well control what you can. Unsubscribe from digital updates from your favorite retailers. Opt out of catalog mailings and stop reading the sales flyers if you haven’t already. ¬†You won’t miss what you don’t know about.
  • The buddy system. If you have shopaholic tendencies, team up with a friend or family member that likes to shop too. Whenever you are about to make an impulse purchase, call your friend and talk through it. Do you need it? Do you need it today? Ask questions and be supported and supportive. We all need a little help sometimes.
  • Challenge Yourself. When you take on The 100 Thing Challenge or Project 333, shopping less is not part of the rules, but it is a pleasant side effect of living with less. A challenge will bring more intention to your desire to simplify your life.

I need to buy a new pair of shoes. My shoes are literally falling apart, but I am resisting the mall as long as I can. I remember when going to buy a pair of shoes was a day long event including several pairs of shoes and bags of other things I found along the way. Now I can think of a million things I would rather do than shop for shoes.

When you encourage simplicity, you discover how you really want to spend your time. Afternoons at Target and weekends at the mall become chores instead of outings. Shopping loses its¬†appeal, or at least it did for me. That doesn’t mean you’ll never want or buy things again, but when you redefine your purchase process, you can buy what you want or need without compulsion, greed or guilt.

When you stop buying to feel something, you can recognize what you really need.


  1. says

    I’ve cut a lot of this down when it comes to shopping; however, I’m still overspending on groceries. And it’s not like I’m NOT using the groceries, I am. I am just spending too much per week. I live alone and I shouldn’t spend so much. I don’t know if it’s that I’m buying more healthy food, which mostly costs more or what. I’m buying fruit and veggies now that are in season, which means on sale. I need to get better at that and wondered if you wrote a post about grocery spending and budgets. If not, could you?

    • Courtney Carver says

      Kristi, That is a great suggestion. Mark and I are getting used to cooking for 2 instead of 3 now that our daughter is away at school, but once we settle in, I’ll see if I notice ways we are saving money. I think the easiest way is to eat more of the same thing thing each week, but will have more for you soon!

    • says

      Other than my mortgage (which is my only debt), groceries is my largest monthly expenditure. I am only buying for three but, because I am determined to eat organic and GMO-free as much as possible, my groceries do cost a lot even though we don’t buy very much that is processed but fresh produce and bulk grains instead. I also only buy cruelty free health & beauty and cleaning products, which tend to cost more as well. I struggle with this – thinking about how much money I could be saving every month if I purchased based on price alone and not health. But I think it all comes down to priorities, and this just may be the way it is for me.

    • says

      I agree, I also overspend on healthy groceries. I thought the recent post here, “One Simple Meal,” was helpful, because even though I feel justified in buying somewhat expensive whole foods, I think I go overboard on the variety each week. Variation from week to week (instead of within each week) is probably less expensive than buying a large assortment of foods in a single grocery trip. I’m going to try to have a little more restraint for a while and see if that helps.

    • Lisa says

      I think I can offer some advice here. :)

      We operate on a cash system, which means when my grocery envelope is empty, that’s it. No more food purchases until the next paycheck. As such, I very carefully plan my menu for each two-week period, taking into account any times we might have guests or be away from home (or be at home more). Then I make my grocery list based off that menu and add in any staples, like milk, butter, bread, etc. You have to get a little creative with fresh produce…I buy lots of frozen veggies for week two of the meal plan, and I also look for things that keep longer (sweet potatoes, apples, etc.) and rotate those into week two so that we can have the things that spoil more quickly in week one.

      We also buy grass-fed beef in bulk once a year to fill the freezer, and at about $3/lb. for everything from ground beef to choice cuts of steak, that is a huge money saver. Buying into a CSA this year has helped us to have more fresh produce on the weeks I don’t grocery shop as well. Anything I can’t find locally (like soy-free chocolate chips, a large quantity of coconut oil, etc.), I order from places like Vitacost.com and save quite a bit of money that way.

      By only shopping every other week instead of every week or every time I feel like it, I save about 30% on groceries compared to what I used to spend. Paying in cash has made a huge difference as well, as it has forced me to prioritize during the weeks the budget is tight but has also allowed me room to buy extra during the weeks where I have a little more wiggle room. And, best of all, I get about two hours of my life back on the weeks I no longer grocery shop. :)

    • Michele says

      My question to you is: How you do you know you’re spending too much? You need to make sure you have a proper gauge for your grocery budget. If you are truly consuming the food you purchase and you aren’t buying extravagant foods, you may simply live in an area with high food costs.

      I had to come to terms with this for my family. I read blogs where families of 5 live off of $40 a week for groceries. My family of 3 spends closer to $100. The families in the blogs live in areas where they can get a gallon of milk for less than $2. In my area, there is a government-mandated minimum price on milk: $3 for a gallon. And you almost never see milk priced for that. One fun gauge I have is what I call the Chicken Factor. Ask someone the price of a store-bought rotisserie chicken, but make sure it’s not a sale price and not a specialty-discount-store price. What you’re looking for is the cost of a rotisserie chicken on a typical day at standard grocery store so you can get an idea of how food prices differ from one region to the next. Near my mom, it’s $5. In the stores around my house, it’s $8. My in-laws live only an hour away, and their rotisserie chickens are $6. That’s a two dollar difference in 30 miles.

      So, now I know: When I’m talking to my mom about a great sale I just got on meat and she wonders aloud if that was truly a sale price, I have to remind both of us that food costs more in my area. She can find sale prices in her grocery stores that I will never see in even the discount stores near my house. What is a sale for you might blow the budget for someone else. You have to gauge your grocery spending based on realistic prices for your region.

      • Michele says

        Note: Don’t judge your grocery costs by the type of neighborhood you live in, either. My in-laws live in a gorgeous suburban cul-de-sac nestled in the heart of a desirable community. They have a spacious 4 bedroom house with vaulted ceilings and an acre of property with a stream running through the back yard.

        My husband and I, on the other hand, live in a small three-bedroom twin (duplex) just a few miles outside of the city. It’s the kind of place where you would expect a low cost of living, but that’s often not the case. Despite the poor communities around us, grocery costs are higher here than they are in the well-to-do communities near my in-laws.

        Do a little research to see what the actual costs of groceries are. While you’re doing that, you might see some things you can do to save.

  2. says

    Great tips. To encourage people who are depressed by the thought of cutting back on shopping, I’d like to say that my husband and I found that a year of cutting back (due to a layoff) changed our habits so completely that with very few exceptions, we were never even tempted to buy something unless we really needed it. And it’s been 4 years we’ve kept that attitude, so it appears to stick.

  3. says

    I find that flipping through well edited fashion magazines is enough fulfill my curiosity for the latest fads & sparks my imagination to fantasize about what is depicted on the glossies. That’s how I desire & admire. I rarely, if at all, feel the compulsion to acquire. The beauty of the internet is that I don’t even need to purchase magazines anymore – I can indulge in my fashion fantasies for free. And then I can go on and focus on what truly matters to me – mothering my son, writing, reading, connecting with kindred souls.

    Wonderful quote. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Ali says

    Hi Courtney — I’ve been a longtime admirer of your blog and Project 333 (one day! I keep telling myself :). A few years ago I started to read a lot about simplicity and much of it resonated with me, particularly the idea of cutting out the clutter to make room for what really matters. I gave carloads of stuff away.

    My closet, however, has its own story to tell and I’d love your perspective. In my head, I’d love to have a streamlined, minimal wardrobe where everything is fabulous and carries me through my day. In practice, though, this fails largely because I’m a seamstress who can make much of my own clothing, if I choose.

    Sewing garments is a hobby, something that allows me to be creative, feel capable, and channel anxiety about other things in a positive way. It’s also a way I can connect with other women through this shared hobby and has vastly improved my relationship to my body since I have so much control over fit. I’ve tried sewing stuff for others (to accrue less stuff myself) but that triggers a desire to please, to be a perfectionist and then the whole thing becomes less fun for me. I probably buy 1/3 of my clothing. Seasonally, I also try to follow the one-in, one-out rule so the size of my wardrobe doesn’t really grow, but there’s certainly more than 33 garments that pass through my hands on the regular.

    So how does minimalism, in your opinion, fit with those of us who have fulfilling hobbies that partly rely on accruing more stuff, be it raw materials and supplies or finished objects? I’m thinking of seamstresses and knitters, but I suppose this can be true of many hobbies that require working with your hands.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. says

    So many great tips here! I especially love adopting a museum mentality and writing down the cost of items you like but don’t purchase and seeing what we save. The reward of knowing I saved money is a pretty good incentive for not buying.

    This post reminded me of my grandparents. My grandma loves to shop sales and buys lots of stuff she doesn’t need because it’s “on sale.” My grandpa has a different philosophy: “If you buy something you didn’t plan on buying just because it’s “on sale,” you didn’t save any money.” They’re pretty much polar opposites and it’s hilarious watching them argue about shopping.

  6. Lisa says

    I completely relate to what you said about how running errands becomes a chore. I used to spend almost every Saturday running all over town to Target, Wal-Mart, etc., to stock up on a few things we needed, but mostly to “get out of the house”. I always came home exhausted and with more stuff than I had intended to buy, and somehow had to do it all again the next weekend.

    I have since discovered that the grocery store two blocks from our house carries most of the non-food staples we were buying at those other stores, without the temptation of other things I would like to have. So I might spend $1 more on a box of diapers, but I also save half an hour of driving time and who knows how many hours of wandering time. Also, I’ve learned the power of making a list and waiting to buy all of our staples until we absolutely can’t wait any more. Rather than running errands every week, I’m doing it more like once a month now…and even that seems like a pain!

  7. says

    I used to buy things because they were on sale, but then it clicked that no matter how much I saved from the sale, I was still spending more than not spending at all.

    I really liked the “museum” mentality. I haven’t thought about it that way.

    I try to wait and see if I really need something, and always see if I can borrow it or get it second hand first. (A glue gun would be an example of something I would try to borrow.)

    Also, the library is a really great place to go when you want to “leave” with something and have it be free. My library is really great for my son too, I can check him out books, dvds, and even puppet stuffed animals without spending a dime. It is possibly my favorite place :)


    • Vickie says

      I use the Library too, Katie.

      I browse the Library like I’m shopping. I’m listening to audiobooks during my work commute and while I’m out driving to and from places I go and such.

      I get excited when I finish the ones I’ve chosen and then I can go “shop” for more. Now that the Library has a Movie Box with free rentals, I have them send me the monthly list of newly acquired movies by email. That way I don’t spend on movie rentals – unless I get a coupon by email or text from Redbox. Maybe once a month I’ll rent a Redbox movie, with a coupon, so I either end up with a free movie to view or one I’ve gotten with a 50 cent movie coupon code.

      Instead of shopping I browse for free events to attend with my husband, or daughter and grandkids. So I feel like I’m getting something – a fun experience – instead of stuff.

      If I have monthly purchases to make, I take a list and avoid browsing aisles.

      When we go on vacation I window shop. I enjoy looking at cute crafts and clothes and rarely buy. If I do make a purchase it’s with a specific gift in mind and I think hard about gift purchases too, I don’t want to add to another persons clutter. My daughter likes it when I bring her a fridge magnet from someplace we’ve visited. That way she can use it for her reminders and such, without it taking up room in her house.
      If we purchase something for ourselves, it’s a unique food item. That way it gets eaten or shared at family/holiday meals and used up instead of adding to clutter at home.

      I like the “museum mentality” – that describes how I began to view things outside my home last year when I seriously started decluttering. I enjoy seeing things other people wear, use in their homes, yards, etc. – but I realized I don’t have to have it myself to enjoy it.

      Now, for me, I think first before I make a purchase. If something comes in – an item of clothing, shoes, a home purchase, or a gift – something else has to go out. That way I’m not adding to the clutter.
      If I receive a gift I know I won’t use, I regift it with serious thought about who else can use it, otherwise I donate it.

      It has become a paradigm shift in the way I think about “things”.

  8. says

    I have to say that in regard to the bullet point: Cultivate a museum mentality, my boyfriend and I went to this really wonderful exhibit in which we loved almost every piece. We played a game in which we joked (to ourselves- we thought) about which painting we would steal if we could get away with it. Well security overheard us and let me just say that were we heavily shadowed until we left.

    That’s our museum mentality

  9. says

    In an effort to stop the incoming flow of “stuff,” I stopped shopping a while back. Like you, I found that the less I was exposed, the less I wanted things. It was great! Then a few weeks ago I went to a store to exchange a very useful kitchen item that had broken. I bought it years ago, but they told me to go over and pick out a replacement. On my way to that part of the store, I noticed at least a half dozen things I wanted. I gave myself a mental shake and reminded myself that if I’ve gotten by without those things all this time then I don’t really need them. And then I promised myself I’d continue to avoid the temptation of stores! It’s sort of scary how easy it is to fall into the trap of wanting what we don’t need. Thanks for the reminder that it’s better to stick to my plan of “no incoming stuff.”

  10. Patricia C. says

    I had developed that same technique for myself – your Museum Mentality – to help me resist impulse buying, and shared it with friends. I described it more as an art gallery mindset. Admire items (clothing, jewelry, etc.)as art, and not feel that I needed to own them. It serves me well!

  11. says

    I agree with your first point. After becoming minimalist, I still had to visit stores like Target, which as my weakness until about a year ago. I realize I derived more pleasure from looking and imagining, rather than purchasing and wasting my money.

    I’ve managed to become totally debt free, living on cash rather than plastic.
    Love this post.

  12. Sandra says

    For grocery shopping I apply the same rules like for shopping clothing. I think hard about what I need and buy only this. I don’t go to the malls anymore to buy everything I like. So I don’t go through the markets buying everything that looks healthy and fresh. I plan my wardrobe according to matching colors and specific styles. So I plan my meals: I decide what I want to eat and cook, make a list and buy only the things on my list. It’s as easy as that. How often do you think about your wardrobe? What to wear and what to give away? Spend the same amount of thoughts on your food. I came to the conclusion that all you need to cut down the costs and save time is being more mindful about your food and eating habits. It’s what we live on, isn’t it?

  13. says

    Money is the last frontier in my letting go process. I still find myself swept away in purchasing emotionally. Sometimes i purchase a new logo or a different blog theme because of doubt or fear, rarely because I have truly surveyed my readers to ask how they feel about the current look and feel. I love how your article hits on every pain point when it comes to our buying habits – really great stuff. Thanks!

  14. Gail says

    I like the idea of writing down the things that you wanted to buy, but didn’t, and seeing how much you saved at the end of a week or month. I have not tried this for purchases, but I have done the same thing when dieting. Instead of eating the things that were forbidden on my diet, I wrote down what I had passed up and the number of calories I saved by not eating it. I especially liked seeing on my list the things that I said “no, thank you” to, like the cookies or birthday cake at the office, or the free samples at the grocery store. It was amazing how many extra calories could have been consumed if eaten mindlessly.
    Great topic today, Courtney!

  15. says

    Love this one especially: “Your stuff does not have the power to change your life. Nothing you buy will make you a better person.”

    My biggest consumer weakness is travel bags. I’ve noticed whenever I see I new rugged-looking bag that I start to crave, it usually means I’ve been denying myself adventure and I falsely think a new bag will make me feel adventurous… or make me look adventurous to others! :)

    Love your site, thanks for sharing!

  16. says

    Imagine the freedom of being able to work from
    your own home and tell me honestly that you have never considered the benefits.
    And, by diversifying your method of generating income, you can even create as many “mountains” as you like.

    There are a great many work from home ideas and opportunities that give many people the chance to create their own business and pursue a new