Overspending: Why we do it, and how to avoid it
We’ve probably all been there at least a few times: looking at a bank statement or a stack of receipts and thinking we spent too much. Sometimes the overspending is connected to something notable, like a vacation or a holiday season. Other times, it seems to occur out of the blue. Either way, the experience can leave you wondering what happened.
The reality is that there are some fairly common reasons behind why we overspend. Understanding them can help you recognize the circumstances when they pop up – and help you be more thoughtful about how you respond.
Let’s look at some of the factors that might give you the urge to splurge.
What a deal!
Everyone loves a bargain. Getting a good price on something can make you feel downright awesome. Sometimes it can even cause a feeling of euphoria.
Retailers know this, of course, and splash the word “sale” throughout their stores and websites. Unfortunately, not every sale is a good deal. Sometimes retailers raise prices just so they can mark them down later.
There’s also a school of thought that says there’s no such thing as a good deal when it’s on an item that you wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. If you’re looking for a throw rug and find one on sale, great. But if you were shopping for something else and only bought the rug because it was marked down, you’ve just spent money you could have used on something you really did need or want.
One way to avoid overspending on sales is to know what you’re looking to buy before you shop. Stick to your list and find the best prices you can but avoid the urge to browse around “just to see.” That’s the danger zone. And if you buy one thing you didn’t need just to nab a bargain, you’re more likely to keep hunting for more. Next thing you know, your cart is full – and your wallet is empty.
Good old-fashioned peer pressure
Social pressures can make us want to spend more than perhaps we should. Going out in groups is a prime setting for it.
Let’s say you’re meeting friends for dinner and they pick an expensive restaurant. It can be tough to feel like you’re the only one scouring the prices on the menu, or the lone holdout when others suggest splitting the bill evenly after everyone else had wine and you didn’t. It’s a tough choice – being smart with your money vs. wincing at the total on your credit card.
One possible solution is to find a “budget buddy” in the group. There’s a good chance at least one other person in the group is also trying to be mindful of costs. Such people can help you avoid overspending and be an ally when you politely suggest not splitting the bill evenly.
It can be very easy to overspend on gifts, especially when they’re for loved ones. Many of us want the person to feel that the gift reflects how we feel about them, and we don’t want to come across as being cheap. The decision about how much to spend often ends up being based on emotion over practicality. So, we splurge.
There are two things you can do to respect your budget but also be known as an outstanding gift-giver. The first is to set aside a little money each month to build up a slush fund you can use to buy gifts. That way the cost isn’t such an all-at-once hit. It may not save you money, but you can manage things better.
The second idea is to substitute creativity and effort for money. Create a hand-made gift or write a letter. Offer to do something nice for the person, like helping with a house project they haven’t found time to complete or making them a nice meal. Sometimes a gift that emphasizes time and thought over retail cost is far more memorable.
Too depleted to think
Psychologists believe most people have a finite amount of willpower, and it can be depleted after a long, busy day. When you’re mentally fried, the theory goes, you are less able to resist the siren song of impulse buying, and more likely to rack up expenditures you regret later.
The solution for this one is simple: don’t shop tired. When you’re feeling frazzled, avoid situations where you need to use your willpower. For that reason, it’s better to do your shopping early in the day, when your head is clear. As the saying goes, the early bird makes coherent decisions and enjoys brunch afterwards.
Be mindful of money
It’s far too easy to overspend if you don’t have a budget. That’s like trying to determine the winner of a baseball game without actually keeping score; all you can do is guess. Even if it’s basic, it’s a good idea to build a budget for yourself.
And if you don’t like tracking your expenditures against your budget, there is an easier way to make sure you don’t overspend. Load your “spending money” budget onto a prepaid debit card, like Commerce Bank’s mySpending Card®.
Once the money on the card is depleted, you’re done with spending until the next month, or your next paycheck, or however you prefer to do it. It never hurts to have a little help in the willpower department. Remember, the more you can stay aware of potential pitfalls, the better equipped you’ll be to avoid overspending. That said, if you do get separate checks at the restaurant, be sure to leave a nice tip. Even frugal people need good karma.