Become a Fearless Habit Breaker - Tips for Changing Your Shopping Habits

Since moving south of the Yarra I’ve been buying my free range chicken from the supermarket. But it’s vacuum-packed and far from fresh, and I’ve recently started a new shopping habit -- buying organic from a stall at my local food market. I made the change not just because organic chicken is healthier but because the animal welfare standards are higher.*

In the meantime, here I am, fronting up yet again to the organic meat stall. It’s not at all like the market’s organic groceries store, which has an unpretentious, down-to-earth atmosphere. Here, the whole look and feel goes against organic as earthy and embraces organic as superior tasting, premium meat, for the comfortably-off that have long gentrified this area, and Melbourne’s army of foodies.

The all-male staff are dressed in spiffy blue-and-white butchers aprons. On busy Saturday mornings a couple of them hover in the tiny shop floor area, which has a cash register so they’re not serving you from behind a counter.

I make my way to the stall, past the conventional slabs of meat set out on their antiseptic white trays, past the live lobsters in their tank that I feel so sorry for. The staff always ask me awkward questions, such as what I am planning to make the family for dinner (I live alone!). They sometimes overcharge me, as if so few people buy the chicken drumsticks that they’ve forgotten that they’re actually half the price of the thighs.

Still, it’s convenient and I know that if I keep at it this, too, will become routine. The market is close enough to home that if I’m organised enough I can tram it instead of driving. I’ll learn to bat off the silly questions that I know the stall managers have told the staff to ask, replying with a witty remark that will defeat their formulaic responses.

I’ll stop feeling guilty that I’m buying the cheaper cuts. I’ll resign myself to the fact that with my frugal ways and holier-than-thou questions about the origins of the meat, I am not their target market. And a new, more positive shopping habit will become second nature.

We know deep down that shopping isn’t trivial even though it’s often portrayed that way. How we shop has massive effects on our budget, our wellbeing and the producers of the things we buy, and also reflects our ethics. Consumers make the world by what, how and how much we buy.

Sometimes we get stuck in our ways when shopping. We’re stressed and busy, and it’s easier to do what we’ve always done.

Whether you’re trying to save money, go green or simply spend less time in recreational shopping, changing a shopping habit isn’t easy. It means getting out of your comfort zone when so much else in life is uncertain. Here are some tips that can help.

Recognise how habits work. The brain is very adaptable, and habits are sticky things. It can feel uncomfortable and take some willpower to change the way you do things. However, simply persevering with a new habit will mean it eventually becomes a seamless part of life. Recognise that you are going to feel uncomfortable for a while when you change an ingrained habit, and try to sit with the discomfort until the new way of doing things becomes a part of your routine.

Don’t make too many changes all at once. This could lead you to feel overwhelmed. Make one small change at a time and see if you can stick with it.

Don’t let small slip-ups stop you. If you backtrack on a goal, don’t worry. Just try again. If it doesn’t feel right to continue with the change, drop it (this is not the same as feeling uncomfortable).

Budget for the change.
If the change is going to cost more money, especially in the short term, you may need to budget for it by foregoing another expense.

Learn from the experiences of others. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. There is a ton of information on the internet about new ways to shop and live.

Don’t compare yourself with others. This is an easy mistake to make when starting to change the way you shop. Dramatic change garners attention. Social media means we know right away what everyone else is doing and it’s human nature to compare ourselves with others. People who produce zero waste, have stopped using plastic, or no longer buy new clothes or takeaway food are setting a fantastic example, but doing something, especially at the start, is still better than doing nothing. Start from where you are and use the experiences of others as inspiration for your own unique journey.

Find support. If you have friends who are making similar changes, become a motivator for each other. You could arrange to meet or talk regularly to compare notes, cheer each other on and affirm your goals. Start a blog or Facebook group, or join a group that has similar goals to yours; for instance, the Meetup website includes groups with goals of saving money or living a greener lifestyle, or you could start your own meet-up group.

Are there shopping habits you are trying to break?

What techniques have worked for you?

Until next time!
If you enjoyed this blog entry, you might also like Three Frugal Tips So Obvious You Probably Haven't Thought of Them.

I’m vegetarian at heart, but because of food intolerance and low blood sugar, my diet’s so limited I have little choice but to eat meat.

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