What Is ‘Slow Shopping’?

From TikTok Shop and targeted Instagram ads to influencer hauls and product roundups, our modern commercial landscape allows consumers to spend half their paychecks in mere minutes.

“Online shopping makes impulse purchases easier than ever,” said Jack Howard, head of money wellness at Ally Financial. “Stores are literally right at our fingertips. In the moment, buying exactly what you want, when you want it, feels great. But after? That’s when the regret starts seeping in, and it’s all too common.”

She noted that in a recent Ally survey, over 1 in 3 shoppers said they are likely to buy something impulsively to feel better about themselves, but only half said they felt happy after doing so.

To combat this toxic temptation, many consumers are taking a completely different approach: slow shopping.

What is ‘slow shopping’?

“Slow shopping is a financial trend that pushes people to be more intentional with their spending and purchases, focusing on being more mindful with what you’re buying, why you’re buying it and how much you’re spending on the purchase,” said consumer finance and budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “Rather than jumping on impulse to buy something as soon as a want or desire arises, slow shopping encourages you to think through the purchase in order to make the best buying decision for your budget, giving you time to evaluate need, cost and value.”

There’s an emphasis on quality over quantity as you shop with intentionality ― the opposite of impulse buying. Through this practice, you consider your budget and financial situation, and appraise your purchases as investments.

“Slow shopping is essentially taking a more deliberate and mindful approach to shopping,” said Bola Sokunbi, the founder of Clever Girl Finance. “This means making thoughtful purchases by taking your time and assessing the reason for the purchase, eliminating impulsive or rushed purchases and in turn, minimizing regret and allowing you to save more money.”

What are the benefits?

“Slow shopping can help you dodge impulse purchases driven by emotions or fear of missing out on a deal,” Woroch noted. “This trend also gives you time to shop around, compare prices, look for coupons, wait for a deal to drop and also save up for the purchase so you don’t put it on a credit card that can drive you into debt.”

She extolled the value of properly timing your purchases by snagging personal gadgets around Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday, investing in new home appliances during Maytag Month, and buying mattresses and furniture over holiday weekends like Memorial Day.

“You can score big discounts on seasonal merchandise by waiting for sales to hit around mid- to end-of-season,” Woroch said. “There’s a better time to buy just about everything, and [using] slow shopping can help you time your purchase right to get the best deals, especially if you know in advance when certain sales are coming up as you can then prepare in advance to think about what you really need, how much you can afford to spend and where to shop.”

Slow shopping can also give you more time to save up money or rack up credit card points and cash back from buying the essentials, so that when it comes time to make that special purchase, you don’t even have to pay as much.

“You can be more methodical about your purchases, whether it’s saving for a car, a home, or even a vacation to Europe,” said Brian Steiner, executive director of the life insurance and financial planning nonprofit Life Happens. “It’s a good way to assess your finances and not overextend your budget because of things like lifestyle creep or societal pressure. It makes you think about what you can afford, not just about what you want at the moment.”

As people get older and their discretionary income rises, there’s a tendency to spend more money on things that they previously would’ve seen as unnecessary luxuries ― a phenomenon known as “lifestyle creep.” In the age of social media, that spending evolution can spiral out of control as consumers see the splurge items and experiences their peers are buying, and come to perceive these things as a right rather than a choice.

Woroch pointed to a recent survey from Bread Financial, which found that 62% of Gen Z consumers admit to spending unnecessary money to keep up with trends they see online, and 79% say that social media influences their guilty-pleasure purchases. The result is more regretful purchases and waste.

“Because social media and other social influences can often lead to overspending and impulsive purchases, slow shopping can help you break this bad money habit and help you avoid FOMO,” Woroch noted.

Freeing yourself from this harmful social media cycle is just one of many potential mental health benefits from slow shopping. In contrast to “retail therapy,” being more mindful about how you use your hard-earned cash reduces financial anxiety and spending regrets.

“By taking that pause and saving money on unnecessary purchases, you ultimately begin fostering more joyful, intentional spending habits, instead of instant gratification and regret,” Howard said. “Asking yourself ‘Why am I spending money on this specific purchase?’ before hitting ‘pay now’ gives you ― the real you ― time to catch up to your first impulse and carefully think through your purchase. This practice of asking ‘why’ before you spend money helps incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine and, with consistency, empowers you to own your money story.”

According to a recent study from Intuit Credit Karma, 24% of Americans say their emotional spending ― that is, buying things to cope with emotional highs and lows ― is out of control, leading many to overspend and even go into debt.

“By slow shopping, you’re less likely to let a passing feeling of happiness, boredom, or depression (the leading causes of emotional spending reported in the survey) motivate you to spend money you’d be better off saving,” Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma, told HuffPost.

There are mental health benefits to taking a more mindful approach to shopping.

Dimensions via Getty Images

There are mental health benefits to taking a more mindful approach to shopping.

What are the downsides?

Although personal finance experts point to many potential benefits from slow shopping, the concept is not without its drawbacks.

“Thinking through your purchases thoroughly can be time-consuming, especially if you are an overthinker,” Sokunbi said. “You might miss out on sales or specials tied to limited time frames, which in turn may cause you to pay more when you finally decide on your purchase. But minimizing regrets and thoughtful spending far outweigh the downsides.”

There is indeed a risk that you might miss out on a limited-time deal, but those fleeting discounts should not be the main drivers of your spending choices.

“Deals will come and go, so just wait for the next sale cycle if you decide you want the item!” Woroch urged.

The same goes for concerns about inventory running out. You can always sign up for notifications when the item comes back in stock.

“I’m the world’s slowest shopper and was eyeing a bed for my daughter for about a year when I finally decided to make the purchase, and after much comparison shopping and budget consideration, I realized the item was out of stock,” Woroch explained. “I signed up for the in-stock alert and got a message about a month later that it was available in the size and color I was looking for. Good news, too, because it was still on sale!”

Restrictive practices like slow shopping can also reach their own extreme, so it’s important to focus on balance.

“If you take slow shopping too slowly, you may find yourself obsessing about every purchase, even those you may need to make,” Alev said.

Another potential downside of slow shopping is that it might distract you from exploring the fundamental causes of your financial habits. Resist the urge to let quippy personal finance trends get in the way of a more holistic approach.

“As with anything, what works for one person’s finances doesn’t always work for the next person,” Howard said. “It’s important to have a game plan when it comes to spending and saving, but you should ultimately focus on implementing habits that work best for you. Slow shopping is a helpful mindset, and I’d encourage anyone who’s become a serial overspender to try to pinpoint when and why they picked up this behavior, digging for the root issue behind the spending.”

She noted that overspending can be related to social pressure, FOMO, the temptation of status symbols like designer handbags, and even the rise of “little treat” culture. But there are deeper influences as well.

“Early memories of money often have an impact on current spending habits,” Howard said. “For example, if your family didn’t have the disposable income that you do now, you may overspend as an adult to compensate for what you missed out on as a child. Or if your parents practiced ‘retail therapy,’ you might also use that as a coping mechanism or distraction. Uncovering how your money story began is the first step to start contextualizing spending habits to inform a personalized, effective strategy to avoid overspending.”

What’s the best way to implement ‘slow shopping’?

Once you’ve resolved to try slow shopping to improve your spending habits and cut down on frivolous purchases and waste, you might feel overwhelmed wondering where to begin.

“If you are new to slow spending, pick an area of your finances to start with ― clothing, personal care items or groceries,” Sokunbi recommended. “Set up your shopping lists, assess and review them, compare prices and decide what purchase you’d like to make and for what reason.”

You don’t have to immediately apply this approach to every aspect of your spending, and you might have to figure out what timing works best for you.

“I often recommend the ‘48-hour rule,’ or waiting a full two days from that first impulse to purchase before following through with buying it,” Howard said. “And yes, this applies even if it’s on sale! This 48-hour window allows just enough time to calm your emotions and that perceived urgency, which adds clarity in determining if you really need or actually want the item.”

She recommended practicing “values-based spending” ― buying only the things and experiences that align with your values.

“The first step in this process is identifying what matters most to you above all else,” Howard explained. “For example, my values are creating generational wealth, nature and sustainability, experiences, and design that is really beautiful. Your values should really reflect what brings you joy and purpose. After you have identified your values, use it to guide your decisions the next time you are tempted to spend.”

Ask yourself honestly whether a discretionary purchase supports your values. That way you will spend money on what is authentic to you and promotes your happiness.

Howard also recommended putting together a practical budget with different categories that you can reference and prioritize.

“Setting aside a percentage of your paycheck as ‘guilt-free spending money’ is another easy way to stick to a budget, while still giving some freedom for fun purchases,” she said.

For Steiner, slow shopping is about fostering a sense of certainty and confidence ― no matter what your individual needs are.

“Whether it’s a new set of golf clubs or a big vacation, doing extensive research and understanding the investment proves to be beneficial in the end because you can be certain what works for you financially without breaking the bank,” he said. “Remember that slow shopping looks different for everyone. How two people slow shop could be two different timelines. Be comfortable with however much time you need to make a smart decision.”

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