An Easy Tool to Curb Spending

An Easy Tool to Curb Spending


Reflecting on what we own can help us shop less.

I’m always struggling with clutter, and I know one of the reasons is the deluge of belongings coming into our home. I’m good at getting stuff out of the place—sorting, donating and recycling, but not so good at saying “no” when it comes to shopping in the first place. That’s why I was excited to see a new paper from Rice University that has a simple solution for slowing impulse spending.

Business professor Utpal Dholakia and two doctoral students advanced the theory that reflecting on recently used belonging leads to a lessened desire to obtain more material possessions, lowering the overall urge to shop. “Reflection is about thinking deeply and remembering in detail how you used any one of your possessions recently,” wrote Dholakia. “In our research, we've found it helps if the reflected-upon possession is something functional, like a kitchen implement, a lawn mower or a wristwatch.”

In their study, the research team asked male and female participants to describe a recent experience with a product they had recently purchased and used. (A control group did not reflect.) For example, someone might write something such as, “I have a rolling cooler I bought for $29. I took it to the beach last weekend for a picnic with some friends and it kept our lunch cold.” Then, they were given a list of five products: a cashmere sweater, a stainless-steel watch, a coffee maker, a chair and a box of high-quality chocolates, and asked how much they would be willing to pay for each item. The researchers called this the “WTP” index, and found that those who had reflected on their recently used purchases were less willing to spend money. In fact, it lowered their willingness by about 14 percent compared with the control group. In another part of the study, they tested if recalling a possession would affect the desire to buy impulsively, and found it did.

Whether you are looking to save money, go more minimalist in your home, or both, try reflecting, instead of reflexively reaching for your wallet.

Enjoying this content?

Get this article and many more delivered straight to your inbox weekly.