Whenever I’m walking through some of the more residential neighborhoods in Brooklyn, I think about what it might be like to live there. As I ponder aspects of living in that neighborhood, like rental prices or commute time, I usually end up questioning where residents spend their money.
I wonder if there’s a coffee shop in the area, or a bar, or where the nearest grocery store is. If I lived there, where would I buy things? One of the reasons why I moved to New York was to live in a highly-walkable and convenient neighborhood, where everything I needed could be obtained within a few short blocks.
I moved into a beautiful neighborhood fitting that criteria, but it took a long time for me to realize the impact of living with so much convenience.
The opportunity to consume–to spend money, eat unhealthy foods, and participate in our throwaway society–was entirely too easy and I did it too much.
With streets lined with cute storefronts and businesses catering to instant gratification, it is easy to over-consume.
On my commute home from work I pass hundreds of places where I can pull out my credit card, even though I want to spend less money. Every day, I walk past Sephora. I don’t have a shopping problem, and it doesn’t take that much willpower to resist, but on a bad day, it’s easy to stop in and treat myself to a nail polish or new mascara. Or if I’m feeling sluggish, it’s easy to walk to the fun Parisian coffee shop across the street, rather than make coffee at home.
How many times do we have bad days and want to treat ourselves? Or want to feel social and splurge on a few cocktails? Or feel lazy and succumb to ordering another Seamless meal?
The slow creep of increased consumption and spending was making a major impact on my bank account. It took a long time to notice, since my spending almost proportionally increased as I made more money, also known as lifestyle inflation. Even with multiple salary increases, money kept feeling tighter.
It wasn’t just my finances that suffered. The amount time spent consuming mind-numbing media, binging on netflix, and using cell phone apps has ballooned over the past few years. And the mental energy those activities suck up has pushed out other hobbies I love. A few years ago, I used to read twice as many books.
I’m sure we can all benefit from taking a moment to stay mindful of how much and the types of things we consume, especially when you live in a city that thrives on consumerism.
If you’re ready to take action, here’s what I’ve done to curb my consumption.
How to Spend Less Money and Consume Less
Monitor and Track Your Spending or Consuming
We manage what we monitor. That’s one of my favorite mantas. You have to know how much you’re consuming before you can know where to make change. Tracking your consumption is the first step. I found writing things down was even more helpful, since writing by hand forces you to focus your thoughts. But whether you use an app, a spreadsheet, or even keep a running tally somewhere, it will give you a baseline of how much you’re consuming.
On my personal journey, here’s what I did:
-I manually tracked all of my spending in a spreadsheet. You can use apps like mint.com, but I found the manual process of updating a customized spreadsheet gave me a clearer picture, helped me reach my goals, and spend less money.
-I tracked calories burned and consumed using myfitnesspal.
– I started a habit tracker to help me build good habits and motivate me to stick to them. I saw the significant improvement in tidying up around the house, cooking at home, exercising, and tracking my spending!
Minimize the Triggers
The next step to decreasing your consumption is minimizing the things that make us consume more. Moving out of my neighborhood with all the cute storefronts wasn’t an option, but there were still other triggers that sabotaged my efforts to consume less. Identify your triggers and try to get rid of them in your daily life.
For me, this involved:
-Deleting certain lifestyle blogs from my blog feed and removing influencers from my Instagram. The beautiful clothes, accessories, and products they promoted in each post became too much. I always felt like I needed more, but in truth, I have plenty.
-Unsubscribing from all marketing emails trying to sell me something. It was too easy to click on one of these and end up on a shopping website. If it’s not in my inbox, I’m less tempted to browse online.
-Deleting social media apps from my phone. Many millennials engage with their phones more than actual humans! With the average American checking their phone more than 50 times a day, I could tell my social media exposure had a negative and mind-numbing effect on me. I followed more influencers than friends! Now, I only check social media on my computer, and it’s usually once a day. I can definitely say I feel more focused and less brain dead.
-I cancelled my netflix account, but then re-activated it a few days later. Sigh. I’m still working on this one.
Make Spending or Consuming Inconvenient
Life in New York is tough. To combat that, New Yorkers try to make things more convenient. That’s why you can find a Starbucks on almost every corner in some places. One of the glories of living in New York is you can get anything you want delivered. The instant gratification from fast food deliveries was huge factor in my overconsumption of unhealthy foods. Sometimes, the simple convenience of something makes you more likely to overindulge.
Here’s what I did to make consuming inconvenient:
-Left my credit cards at home to avoid impulse spending
-Removed my saved payment method from Seamless (this helped tremendously)
-Logged out of the Lyft app, so I’d have to log in to use it.
I want to live a more mindful life filled with creating, not consuming, but find it’s challenging in New York. So what do you think, do you think that the culture of living in a large city like NYC prioritizes and celebrates consumption? Is it even something that concerns you? I’d love to hear your triggers and tips for reducing your spending and consumption.