How to Curb Your Unnecessary Spending

By Ali Luke

March 15, 2011   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

We all buy stuff that we don’t really need or want – and this can be a big problem. You don’t just end up with the frustration of throwing away good money, or the annoyance of a lot of junk cluttering up your house; you can end up in serious debt problems. If you are in a relationship, this is often times the nucleus of stress and huge arguments.

Regardless of the economy and forgetting how much money you earn, wise spending should become a priority. Just because your debit card is smiling at you doesn’t mean it needs to come out of your wallet. So. How do we end up spending money when we don’t really want something, let alone need it? And how can we stop?

Peer Pressure
When I was a kid, the phrase “peer pressure” was popular – kids and teens often do stupid things because their friends are encouraging them. Well, guess what, we’re not immune to peer pressure as adults either. If you’ve got colleagues who are always flashing around their new iPad or their 1.21 gigawatt Android phone, or if your friends all shop in expensive clothes stores, you may well end up matching their spending … not because you really want what you’re buying, but because you want to fit in.

If you’d never admit to buying something at a thrift store because you’re worried what your friends would think, or if you can’t imagine taking a packed lunch to work because of the reactions you’d get, then peer pressure’s got a hold on you.

Crafty Advertising
Advertising is a huge business – devoted to making you buy stuff which you wouldn’t otherwise have bought. Whenever you see an ad online or in a magazine and think “I need that”, force yourself to think again. Do you really need it? After all, you were managing just fine before seeing that ad! Can you get a friend’s recommendation or second opinion?

Pay close attention to advertising wording and images, too. Marketers will often imply that products will make you look younger, or make more money, or attract your dream partner … when of course their product can’t do anything of the sort.

Believing Expensive = Better

With many products – particularly beauty ones – there’s not necessarily any significant difference whatsoever between a generic, cheap product and an expensive, top-of-the-range one. Studies have shown that we actually believe the exact same product is having more effect, when it costs more. (The book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely has great information on this, and there’s a study linked to on his website.)

Don’t buy into the hype. Try a blind taste-test (or equivalent) – you might find that you can’t tell the difference between cheap and expensive brands, and you might even find you prefer the cheaper one! When I was a teen, a group of us taste-tested different brands of cola and we found that the cheapest one was the most popular (even though we’d all have insisted on “real coke” before that taste test).

Impulse Buys
If you’re prone to buying on impulse, then set about breaking yourself of this habit. Some good ways to help yourself avoid impulse buys (which tend to be things we don’t need and are often overpriced):

  • Always make a list before going shopping of what you need
  • Don’t go into stores “just to look” if you know you usually end up buying something
  • Never add items to your basket when you’re standing in line at the checkout: these products are deliberately chosen to encourage you to pick up something extra that you don’t need
  • Avoid clicking on adverts online and don’t “browse” on sites like ebay and Amazon
  • Uninstall shopping apps that you are hooked on

Do you find yourself spending money on things which don’t really improve your life? Share your experiences and tips in the comments.

Written on 3/15/2011 by Ali Luke. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: kevindooley
Ali Luke

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