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How to pay more attention in the new year

Mindfulness and meditation can ease chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Now what money experts say that awareness tools such as these can help you avoid impulse buying and create a spending plan that matches your values.

There is no clear definition of mindfulness, but Leah Weiss, who learns to lead with mindfulness and compassion at the University of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, says that it can be seen as “the intentional use of attention.”

You want to save every penny, buy only “Made in USA” items, or reduce what you send to the landfill. Mindfulness can help you in making conscious choices so that your everyday purchases life to that goal.

CHECK YOUR SPENDING HABITS

Financial planner and educator Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz recommends starting with a “financial cleanse” to get a handle on where your money is going. Use cash to cover day-to-day expenses for one month. It is painful to part with cash than to pull out of plastic, so build your awareness.

Other ways to resist mindless buy:

— Wait a day or a week. Schwab-Pomerantz says taking the time to think before you spend is often enough to get past the temptation.

— If you just can’t wait, she advises buying from a retailer with a good return policy. If you realize that you made a mistake, a refund will help more than a gift card.

— Don’t be tempted yourself. Avoid the places where you tend to buy on impulse.

— If you’re already in the parking lot of for example a shop, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself why you’re there and what your intentions are, Weiss advises.

DEVELOP THE SKILL OF ATTENTION

Attention helps you pause and think before buying. Try out a number of simple exercises that can help you to get better.

Meditation — sometimes as little as five to 10 minutes a day of focused breathing has been shown to affect areas of the brain that control attention, emotion, and habit, says Cortland Dahl, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin Center for Healthy Minds. If you want to stop creating mindless, or waste money choices, meditation can help build the “muscle” that enables you to pay attention to your thoughts.

Money is a limited resource for most of us, and thinking — or thinking — can help us to make informed choices.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT

Certified financial planner Carrie Van Winkle of Louisville, Kentucky, uses a “vision board.” She collects photos and words that represent her goals for the year in a display on her fridge. It is a daily reminder of the type of expenditure most likely to bring her joy. You can be as simple as a photo of a vacation destination or a snapshot of your children, to remind yourself that you want to save for college, or improving the world in which they live.

More specifically, what your goals are, the more likely you are to act on them, Weiss says. “‘I want to be a conscious consumer’ is vague,” she says. “But,” I want to pay attention to the ecological consequences of what I buy and choose the items that can be recycled ” is more specific.”

Brent Kessel, a certified financial planner and the author of “it’s Not about the Money”, offers this exercise: Set your finances a year from now. What changes in the way the money would you feel good about? Maybe you have a spendy habit a once-in-a-while treat, then use the savings to get on a plane to a friend, or family member, or increasing your 401(k) contribution.

MAKE USE OF MORE MEANING

Kessel recommends tracking your spending to figure out what you value and what you’re likely to regret. Write down what you buy, pay attention to how you felt about it 24 hours later, three days later and a week later. Has your purchase do what you expect it to? This new sportswear to inspire you to workout?

Patterns should emerge that will help you make more conscious choices in the course of time.

Change is slow, Kessel says. He compares it with two people, rotate one degree per day. It will not seem to have changed all that, of course, 24 hours later, but in six months the head in the opposite direction.

“Give yourself a huge props” if you take a baby step in the direction of the reverse of a habit. “We need kindness and love,” he says. “We change our behavior by punishment.”

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. E-staff writer Bev O’shea: boshea@nerdwallet.com . Twitter: @Beverly_OShea.

RELATED LINKS:

NerdWallet: How to Build a Budget: https://nerd.me/2h4dWq7

“The financial cleanse” program: http://www.schwabmoneywise.com/public/moneywise/essentials/saving/surprising_costs

Simple mindfulness exercises: http://www.pocketmindfulness.com/6-mindfulness-exercises-you-can-try-today/

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