Have you ever found yourself going home with a new pair of shoes that didn’t really go with anything in your closet? Ever gone to the grocery for a carton of milk and ended up buying the entire ingredient list for spaghetti with meatballs (and forgetting the milk altogether)?
Or better yet, did you ever hit the “book now” button during a seat sale, despite your bank account at risk of falling below the minimum maintaining balance?
We’re all familiar with impulse buying, and even the most disciplined among us have probably made a purchase they can’t really justify at some point. Yet, why does it happen? Why do we sometimes go ahead with buying stuff against our better judgment?
Apparently, there are ten things that can temporarily disable our financial common sense in everyday situations, and they are as follows:
1. Sales and Promotions.
This is at the top of the list for a very good reason. We all know that sales are notoriously good at tricking you into thinking that you’re saving money when the reverse is actually true.
Two-for-one promotions and seemingly huge markdowns can be quite tempting, after all, but when you buy, say two AU$100 sweaters you didn’t really need for AU$50, you didn’t really save AU$50. Rather, you spent AU$50.
How do I fight this? Unless you really need to buy something, such as a new appliance to replace a broken one, steer clear of retail stores during sales. If you shop online, you can unsubscribe to newsletters so you don’t get tempted by their sale announcements.
2. Subliminal Retail Tricks.
Do you ever wonder why some stores are lit a certain way or employ a signature scent? Or why supermarkets position bakeries at the front?
It might seem coincidental or even random, but retailers are known for using smells, sounds, lighting and even store layouts to lull customers into a relaxed, highly suggestible state so they’ll end up buying more of the goods on offer.
For instance, if you went grocery-shopping on an empty stomach, you’ll probably be more vulnerable to the aroma of freshly-baked goods at the entrance and are thus likely to veer away from your shopping list once you hit the aisles.
How do I fight this? Go shopping when you’re well-rested and full, just so your judgment isn’t impaired by fatigue or hunger. Making a shopping list and sticking to it helps too, as does leaving the store once you’ve got everything you came for. Lingering will just lower your resistance further, and make you more susceptible to the sensory cues present within the space.
3. Emotional Triggers.
I blew Php20,000 (about AUD521) in one weekend the first time I had my heart broken. I spent it on the most useless things too: several pairs of jeans I didn’t really need, outlandish stilettos I could barely walk in, and a few other accessories that didn’t make sense to me after I got over the dude who dumped me.
As you might imagine, I spent more time coming to terms with the fact that I spent nearly a year’s worth of my savings as a student rather than the actual break-up itself. Ah, well.
That’s precisely how emotional triggers work. Anger, sadness, or even boredom can make us temporarily believe that a ridiculous purchase will help us feel better, even when we’ll inevitably struggle with buyer’s remorse once our conscience (and common sense) kicks in.
How do I fight this? Find other activities that will help you fight stress, boredom, or sadness. Meditation, for instance, costs nothing but is known to engender peace of mind. Going for a long walk, talking to a good friend, or even having a good cry are also good alternatives for when your emotions have gone through the wringer.
Remember when beyblades or Tamiya cars were all the rage? I’m willing to bet that just as with fidget spinners, a good portion of the kids who got the toys only wanted them because everyone else at school had them.
Such is bandwagoning; we’re convinced that something is desirable simply because everyone wants it or has it.
How do I fight this? If you’re in doubt about your intentions for buying something, ask yourself if you would even look twice at this item if your peers didn’t appear to value it.
5. The Snob Effect.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the snob effect. While bandwagoning is the result of wanting to fit in, the snob effect is all about wanting to stand out.
For instance, it can manifest in someone who buys the new iPhone X or whatever absurd crap Apple comes up with next, just so they’ll appear to be above their classmates. In such cases, the person doesn’t even want the item for its features (to be fair, what sane person would want a phone that lacks an earphone jack?), but for the prestige s/he thinks it’ll bring him or her.
How do I fight this? Make a list of qualities that make you unique. Is it your tenacity? Your ability to converse well with anyone? Your work ethic? Your sense of humor? Whatever it is, zero in on that and cultivate it further so that you won’t need to spend money to build up your self-confidence.
Strolling around a mall without a purpose can be dangerous, if only because you’re more likely to be taken in by some very persuasive salespeople. Being unsure of what you’re looking for in a product or service likewise makes you easy prey for shop attendants who are looking to discard past inventory or to upsell so that they can meet their monthly quota.
How do I fight this? Again, don’t go shopping without a clear goal in mind. Do you need new clothes? Are you there to replace a broken piece of equipment?
If so, take advantage of the Internet and look up your options online so that by the time you come in to the store, you know exactly what to ask for and will be much harder to sway.
7. The Illusion of Savings.
Springing for cheap knock-offs seems like a no-brainer….until you’re shelling out loads of cash to keep repairing a poor-quality refrigerator or phone. Bargains are great and all, but in most cases, you really do get what you pay for.
How do I fight this? Buy nice or buy twice. A solid, one-time purchase that lasts you years is more cost-efficient than having to buy a cheap version of the same item several times.
8. Misguided Optimism.
Having healthy weight loss goals is great. Buying clothes that are two sizes smaller than your actual size when you can’t fit into them yet are a different story altogether.
How do I fight this? Look, having an optimistic outlook for the future is great and all, but pre-empting it by buying stuff you aren’t ready for isn’t healthy for you or your wallet.
So, rather than motivating yourself by purchasing things you can only use once you’ve achieved your goals, use that extra energy and cash towards your actual goals instead. For example, rather than buying tiny clothes, go for a gym membership and/or healthy, organic meals instead. You can always buy new clothes in any size anyway.
9. The Diderot Effect.
Denis Diderot was a French philosopher famous for buying a gorgeous scarlet dressing gown after receiving a huge windfall. The purchase made all his other clothes look dowdy in comparison, forcing him to replace them with new ones.
How do I fight this? Whenever you’re about to splurge on something, especially on a piece of clothing, a shoe, or an accessory, check first if it would go with at least five outfits from your wardrobe.
10. Deeply-Rooted Fears and Trauma.
Things that happened in childhood can have far-reaching consequences on our lives. If you come from humble origins and/or if your parents always denied your requests as a kid, you’re probably likely to reward yourself with things once you start earning your own money.
How do I fight this? Well, this is perhaps one of the tougher issues to deal with on this list. You can try keeping a journal of your purchases and examining your reasons for them. Did you buy a certain dress because there was no way your family could have afforded it when you were younger? Did you splurge on a huge pizza for dinner since you often went hungry as a kid?
Once you’ve done that, you can better recognize your spending triggers and look out for them, but if you feel that your fears and trauma run far deeper, you can also try seeing a therapist to sort things out.
While it shouldn’t be the end-all and be-all of your life, money can make a lot of things easier for you and your loved ones, provided that you’re able to accumulate enough of it to support your basic needs and perhaps a few creature comforts.
Earning money is, of course, one half of the equation, and saving up is the other, arguably more important half. Being aware of the pitfalls that come with the latter and mindfully avoiding or minimizing them can hopefully make anyone’s journey to financial stability considerably easier.