Mrs YFG: fighting the Twitch

Contributing to a Financial Independence blog kind of makes it appear like I have my stuff together. Like I’m frugal, organised and careful with money. I’m like that sometimes. But I’m not going to pretend that I don’t make poor financial decisions on a regular basis (mostly daily).

I was listening to the Bigger Pockets podcast this week – the episode on Impulse Shopping Twitch.

The guest on the podcast, Anthony Ongaro, author of Break the Twitch, was completely right. He had changed his life and imposed a shopping ban after realising his “one click” purchases on Amazon had cost him £12,000 in only a couple of years.

He realised that he bought things to get himself out of momentary discomfort. We buy something to rid ourselves of temporary inconvenience or to get a hit or dopamine. Until the next issue crops up for us to solve with the click of a button…

I realised when listening that I do that too. There’s usually one of three causes for most of my online shopping: I’m either bored, tired, or anxious. Often a mixture of all three.

I’ve nicknamed this the Twitch.

Bored? Buy something.

My danger zone (hearing Kenny Loggins) is my commute. I listen to music or a podcast. But my mind roams. I end up flicking through my phone. My Pinterest (and my browsing history) is full of home decor and professional organisers’ pages. Beautiful but envy-inducing.

Pre-coffee, my mind wanders. I get that little flash of jealousy and then I click-through to the website. Either that or I go and browse John Lewis, Dunelm or M&S for something similar.

The worst thing is I’ll often buy something and then forget I did so. Mr YFG gets a surprise package at home. He opens the parcels for me dutifully and never questions the purchase. I mean unless it’s a frigging live parrot or something (p.s. that hasn’t happened… yet).

Out of guilt sometimes I gift it (realising I don’t want it any more) or I save it for another day. It ends up a year later in the charity shop.

Low self worth? Buy something.

It’s dangerous to scroll through Instagram these days. I see a blogger or another woman with a beautiful outfit (most likely a stylist with tonnes of money). I think “I would love to look like that, if I bought that outfit I might feel better”. The post is usually tagged with the shop. I get the Twitch. Off I go into the online shopping underworld.

The most dangerous trigger for me is skincare. Entering my mid-twenties sent my hormones and my skin into meltdown. I’ve spent the past five years buying promise after promise. Ridiculous amounts of money in the hope of “fixing” myself. I’ve spent hours of my life and thousands of hard-earned pounds trying to rectify my (in my eyes) awful flaws.

Skin looks shit? Let’s buy some overpriced serum or cleanser to help with that. I’ve already spoken at length about how my low self worth costs me thousands of pounds a year.

Around £350 worth of products in my bathroom cabinets right now. Some never used/opened. Most bought in the hope they will “fix” my face. This is a fraction of the products I’ve bought over the past year.

If I feel uncomfortable or fat in a certain piece of clothing, or frustrated that something doesn’t fit right, I banish it to the back of my wardrobe and logon to try to find something to replace it. I’m still in search of that one piece of clothing that is comfortable and makes me not feel shit about myself.

Feel guilty? buy flowers

I love to give and receive fresh flowers, and the Bloom & Wild app is one of the most dangerous (expensive) apps on my phone.

Unfortunately, flowers are something easy to send when I feel guilty. Guilty that I cancelled plans, or can’t go to a housewarming, or haven’t visited a sick friend. I am usually at work most of my life. So I can’t always be where I want to be. The Twitch appears. A few clicks on my phone and that uncomfortable guilt is temporarily gone. Along with £25 permanently. The recipient will love them, but that’s not the point.

I can spend easily £70-80 a month if there’s a few birthdays, new homes, babies or engagements. At our age our friends are prolific so it’s monthly.

Unfortunately, I do this and not deal with the issue at hand. I feel guilty for saying no and a bad person for not being present for my friends.

Home doesn’t feel luxurious enough? Buy reed diffusers and candles

I have an obsession with nice smelling expensive shit. Both Mr YFG and I enjoy our home smelling fancy. I spend around £50 a month on candles and diffusers. ESPA, Diptyque, Anthropologie.

Yes, I am completely aware that this is literally pissing away money. I justify it by saying I could have spent it on having my nails or my hair done or on eating out. And it’s something that genuinely gives me joy.

But I will not pretend I haven’t bought these things after scrolling through home decorating pictures on Instagram. I see a nice home, realise it’s a home I will never have, and promptly the Twitch nags me to buy something fancy just because I can. So that I can show off a £40 candle in my front room. Our house is lovely and we have everything we need. But it’s not like a home out of a magazine – I get house envy on a regular basis.

But I’m getting better….

I’m better than I was. My purchasing now at least results in things I use, or want to use (most of the time…)

There are a few things that help:

  • Wait 24 hours. Often I find that after closing a browser window, I never reopen it or go back to that purchase.
  • Buy on your debit card or in cash where you can. The immediate loss of money (as opposed to the delay from a credit card) often stings more than just swiping my phone or credit card.
  • Don’t save login or card information on websites. This means you have to type in your login and credit card details each time. You’d be surprised how the thought of this 1-2 minute task puts me off. I lose interest and close the browser window. This probably shows my impatience and pure laziness. But it demonstrates how easy it is to make a purchase without noticing – and how retailers prey on the Twitch auto-pilot.
  • It’s powerful to imagine purchases in units of time rather than money. I’ve worked out I earn (post-tax) about £25 an hour. A £50 purchase is two more hours at work. Often that thought will make the purchase not worth it (or I might be prepared to pay that price). Either way, it’s a hurdle you place in front of mindless purchases.
  • If you can, disable Apple Pay, contactless or those other methods of easy spending. I’ve lost count of the times having to drag my purse out of the bottom of my bag has been too grim a thought to order a coffee. Again, my laziness is epic.

14 thoughts on “Mrs YFG: fighting the Twitch

  1. My weakness is books. What I find helpful is to put any book recommendations into my Amazon basket and then…just leave them there! Every so often I go through the basket and buy maybe one or two that I still want. I have about 500 items ‘saved for later’….

    1. Hi redkite this is also another great trick. I use wish lists or similar on websites so I can come back to things later. I find if I genuinely want something I make the effort to go back.

  2. Interesting post and I definitely think as you’ve alluded to women feel this pressure more than men. For what it’s worth I doubt anyone is judging you for your skin except you. That said men in my experience are more competitive around cars (something I’ve been guilty of and am trying to change) so we all have our weak spots

    There’s a salutary lesson here though about those little regular habit purchases and how they add up. A group of work colleagues go to pub nearly every lunchtime. I was sat listening when one asked one of the regulars if he was coming to the pub . He said ‘no I can’t afford every day I’m not sure how much 2 pints a day at 3.50 each costs me’ Without looking up from my book I said ‘£1680’ .

    He said huh? I said 1680 quid a year that’s what it costs you. He said ‘ you can’t count weekends I’m only here 5 days a week’ I said that is 5 days a week and bearing in mind you probably spend more on beer at the weekends. He looked quite ill. I smiled and said have I just ruined booze for you? 😂😂😂

    1. Thank you, and I agree I buy things out of some perceived judgment only I pass…..and sometimes it takes that shock to make you reassess whether you want to continue spending that money. Armed with the knowledge of his yearly spend, maybe that guy decides his beer is worth the money as he enjoys it, great, but if not, he can make a different decision.

      1. Yep it’s the intentionality that’s important. When I worked out I’d spent 40k on cars over the last 6 years (and with the loss of gains probably 50k 60k) it completely crystallised that it wasn’t worth it. I don’t get enough enjoyment from a brand new car to spend that much

  3. I know what you mean about the skincare Twitch. I’ve always been fairly frugal about everything else but that was my one weakness. If I hadn’t discovered FI last year I’d have probably got Belkyra treatment as soon as it was approved in the UK (basically an injection that dissolves neck fat). That’s a pretty major Twitch.

    I’m not saying I’ll never get it now I’ve “seen the light” but it would take my investments doing better than expected so I can indulge myself and not derail my retirement forecast.

    1. Hi FF, completely know where you’re coming from, the weird, expensive and painful cosmetic treatments I’ve considered in order to fix flaws nobody else cares about….unfortunately in the City (and elsewhere) it’s quite common to just pop out and get your lips done, or have makeup tattooed on etc. It’s hard to ignore the lure!

  4. My ‘Twitch’ took a different form because back when I had it (when I could least afford it), internet shopping wasn’t the thing, you had to physically go to the shops to buy things and I duly did, every weekend without fail to buy….stuff. I think the reason I did it was just habit. These days, I don’t go to shops unless I have something specific to buy.

    Online shopping has got a lot to answer for. As a matter of interest, I’ve just checked my Amazon account, which I’ve been using since 2000. That year, I purchased a grand total of 2 things. The following year, I bought nothing! I know, quite unthinkable!

    As for beauty routines, I decided many years ago not to jump on the Clarins/Clinque bandwagon that my friends were on and think I’ve saved a lot of money there, without any detriment to my skin. It is very much about being comfortable with yourself and your own self-esteem and I’m fortunate that I’m fine with how I look.

    It’s good that you have recognised how you can control your Twitch so good luck and hope you can continue to do so.

    1. Hi weenie thanks for the insight! I am very much on the Clarins bandwagon, although I do actually think select products are worth the money. If I had to go into a shop and buy something I think it would stop me in my tracks….

  5. It’s interesting that you talk about how many hours that you would have to work to pay for an item. Grant Sabatier considers this in his new book ‘ Financial Freedom’ . He also thinks about how much the money to spend on something would be worth in the future. One item on its own may not be much, but when you add it up it could mean having to work for many more months or years before achieving FI.

    1. Hi Sam, I think I heard Grant on a podcast recently and heard about his book. I think I considered the hourly wage point when I read the Escape Everything book by Robert Wringham, and of course Vicki Robin’s Your Money or Your Life. I think it’s something very few people calculate or consider. I will check out Grant’s book!

  6. Have you ever come across The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg? He talks about habits having a trigger, a program and a reward. Imagine someone who eats a cookie every day at 11am. The trigger is boredom at work; the program is the unfolding sequence of events: go to canteen, buy cookie, talk to people in queue and at counter. The reward is not the cookie sugar rush but is actually interacting with people. Duhigg’s thesis is that you can change habits by properly identifying your reward and then changing the program when your trigger is activated. To continue the cookie example: bored at work; go have a chat with a co-worker – the reward remains the same but the original program is changed to something less harmful or positively beneficial.

    1. Hi TA, yes I have read the start of this book (one of Mr YFG’s that he foisted on me). I’m very much bad for starting and not finishing books, so I will pick that back up again!! I agree this is very much a matter of habit, as the reward for the Twitch is to buy something and get that little adrenaline rush….Thank you

  7. I suspect we all have hobbies & interests we spend too much on. It can be counterproductive to our goals but there is a balance to be had. Mine is cycling. I tend to justify it by telling myself that sailing, equestrianism or motorsport (eh fatbritabroad 😉 ? ) would be many, many times more expensive…

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