5 Situations Where People Spend Way Too Much

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Money comes with emotional baggage.


Key points

  • Money ties into a lot of our formative experiences.
  • It’s easy to get carried away with spending for special occasions or the holidays.
  • Watch out for overspending at big sales and on vacation, too.

For a lot of people, myself included, money management is tied to emotions. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Money is part of many of our formative experiences. Think back to being a kid and getting cash for your birthday and feeling rich (I’ve never felt as rich as I did when I turned 10 and held $40 cash in my hand; I got to spend it on cassette tapes at the mall) . Or remember watching your parents pay bills (and for a lot of people, seeing them stress about how to find the money for those bills).

Once you’re an adult, you’re responsible for your own money in most cases, and this can be a scary situation. There’s so many opportunities to make poor decisions with your money, like buying a house for the wrong reasons. Or you might end up in debt and have to find a way to get out of it. Life is full of potential money pitfalls. Here are a few everyday occurrences where you might find yourself spending too much money.

1. You’re feeling emotional

Ever hear the phrase “retail therapy”? This is when you go shopping for the express purpose of making yourself feel better. A survey found that 62% of shoppers had bought something to cheer themselves up, per WebMD. This can be a very dangerous game indeed, especially if you have a weakness for online shopping. It used to be that you had to physically leave your home to indulge the shopping itch, but now all you need is an internet-enabled device and a credit card. Incidentally, you don’t have to be feeling bad to do this; sometimes you might be happy and have the urge to buy yourself a present to celebrate.

2. You have to buy a gift

Speaking of happy occasions, it’s all too easy to go overboard with your spending if you’re buying a gift — especially if it’s for someone you love and want to make happy. I once spent a few hundred dollars I could ill afford (I was then a graduate student) to buy my dad an archery set for Father’s Day. It may have been 15 years ago, but I still remember it, as well as the hit to my checking account. (He did love it, by the way.) Remember that for the people you love, it’s often your presence that makes them the happiest, rather than your presents.

It’s very easy to throw all caution (as well as your shopping list) to the wind when you’re in the midst of a big sale. For events like Black Friday or Amazon Prime Day, it can be helpful to make a plan ahead of time — even if part of the plan is just setting yourself a certain amount of money (say, $50-$100) that you’re allowed to spend without a larger justification.

4. You’re celebrating the holidays

Many people just went through the cycle of holiday spending, and I hope that for you, it wasn’t a season of overspending. The holidays are another time when we forget that the important thing is time with people we love, rather than going into debt to buy them just the perfect gift.

5. You’re on vacation

Sometimes vacations don’t feel like real life. You’re away from home, you’re seeing beautiful scenery and eating in fun new restaurants, so you might end up feeling as if the money you spend doesn’t matter. And after all, spending for experiences makes us happier than merely buying items, according to 2020 research from the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin. Be wary of overspending on vacations, because like memories, credit card debt can stick around for a long, long time.

How can you better manage your spending?

If you struggle with your spending habits, I sympathize. It’s never as simple as “stop spending so much money,” is it? Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to keep a tighter rein on your money:

  • Make a budget: It’s not sexy, but having a clear-eyed look at your income versus your expenses can really help. If you’re not a spreadsheet fan, try a budgeting app.
  • Talk to a professional: I think it’s great to talk about money with everyone in your life, but I have become a big believer especially in talking to a money professional like a financial planner. They have no personal stake in your finances, and can make recommendations for your spending, saving, and future planning.
  • Increase your income: In a very real sense, you can only cut back so far. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck even after taking steps to spend less on the fun stuff, consider increasing your income, if you can. This could be in the form of a raise at work, a side hustle, or even getting a new full-time job (or career) altogether.

Most of all, don’t stop paying attention and don’t give up. Every single day is a chance to get better with money and figure out how to defeat your overspending triggers.

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