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You open your wallet to pull out a $20 bill, only to remember that you spent it yesterday on a latte and two new magazines. Your credit card bill arrives with a total twice the size you had expected. You think there must be a mistake until you see the late-night dinner with friends and the new pair of shoes sandwiched between other impulse buys. If you're a "zombie" shopper - you buy before thinking - here are a few simple tricks to becoming a more conscious spender.

The first step to conscious spending is determining what you actually want to spend your money on. I know it sounds obvious, but very few people actually take the time to stop and think about this. There are a number of online tools that allow you to quickly and easily determine your top spending goals.

If you have just ten minutes, then The Prioritizer, a tool from CNN Money, will help you pinpoint your financial focus. You put in up to 15 goals and then the site asks you to run through a quick series of questions to narrow your focus. Within minutes, your goals are prioritized.

Story continues below advertisement provides a more in-depth look at your financial goals. You enter your core values and then set specific, measurable, and relevant actions based on your goals and timelines.

You now have set intention for what you want to do with your money. In other words, you have developed your own "rather factor". When someone asks you to do something or you're tempted to spend on an item that isn't included in your priorities list, you now have a clear idea of what you'd rather be spending your money on.

Setting up a list of questions helps you stay focused on your priorities. My girlfriend Sandra and her husband, who are saving for the arrival of their first child, have created a set of questions they both ask before every single purchase. Their line of questions goes something like this: Can I afford this? If no, don't buy it. If yes, determine if this is a need or a want. If it's a want, don't buy it. If it's a need, is there a less expensive alternative? The final question is key.

Sandra determined that regular yoga was necessary for her well-being, but yoga in a studio is not cheap. After exploring answers to her last question, she decided she would approach her neighbourhood studio and ask the owner if she could do some freelance PR work for them - in exchange for six months of free yoga. The barter saved her more than $500.

A visual blueprint to match your goals is key to staying the course and making smart spending choices. is a beautiful and effective place to organize and catalog your goals with visuals. Marisa LeVeque, a new homeowner in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, says she looks at online pictures for her new home, the places she wants to go, and the items she wants to own. "With a more focused idea of what I like and find inspiring, I have a clearer picture of the decisions I need to make to get to where I want to go," she says.

Changing our bank accounts starts with being more conscious of our daily actions. Grabbing a coffee on the way to work or grabbing a cab instead of taking public transit are often things we do on impulse. If you have unlimited discretionary funds, that's okay. If not, putting checks in place before spending money will make a difference. So the next time you open your wallet to pull out that $20 bill, it will be there.

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About the Author
Angela Self

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies, a group of five women who specialize in personal finance. They are hosts of a self-titled show on the W Network and the authors of The Smart Cookies' Guide to Making More Dough. More

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