Identify Why You Spend Impulsively
This Will Help You Find Ways to Change
Spending when you’re in a good mood is easy. At the clothing store, everything you try on looks great, they’ve got your size and since the red one suits you so well, you may as well grab a blue and black one at the same time. At the home improvement store, they’ve got the light fixture you wanted, but they’ve also got the flooring displayed that you think you may want next Spring for the kitchen; you may as well get that too while you’re there anyways. You often make good mood purchases in a subconscious effort to make your good mood last longer, a mood which fades quickly when you realize you’ve just spent the grocery money.
When you’ve had a rough day and are feeling down, you’ll try almost anything to improve your mood and make yourself feel better. A new book or cell phone with a catchy ring tone will make those three customers who argued with you at work seem like a distant memory. While your mood may improve temporarily, when the credit line statement arrives and you’re short for the rent, the good mood will feel like a distant memory!
Regardless of your mood, buying for friends or family is easy to justify – you’re returning a favour, needing a thank-you gift, it’s the perfect thing for their front room, you want her to know you’ve been thinking about her, or you know that he just can’t live without it!
When you try to justify an impulse purchase, you can be very creative and come up with a list of reasons to put your mind at ease. All the creative calculations in the world, however, won’t make it easier to pay the credit card balance at the end of the month.
But maybe you feel that you just deserve something new, or better yet, you’ll buy it now rather than wait for your commission cheque – a newer pair of jeans or the new plasma television, which has no interest or payments until next year if purchased on the store’s credit plan.
Money is always harder to earn than it is to spend and while it may be time for a new pair of jeans or a new TV, planning such purchases into your budget so that you have the funds in your account before you go to the store, allows you to maintain greater control over your money – not the other way around.
Impulse spending can cause debt; in some cases, a significant and unmanageable amount of debt. It’s easy to let balances accumulate on 2 or 3 credit cards with the intention of paying them off in a few months. Add one or two “buy now – pay later” debts to the list and all of a sudden your future pay cheques are spent before you even see them in your account. When your debts start to get out of hand, so does your sense of control over your money. Looking at the mail and answering the telephone may become stressful activities and you may start to feel that your finances are controlling you. The feeling of losing control over your money can be frustrating, discouraging and extremely stressful, especially considering how hard you need to work for each pay cheque!
A little stress can be a good thing. It can motivate you to be effective at work, it can promote productivity at school and it can give you energy to accomplish things at home. Think of how quickly the yard can be cleaned up when you’ve decided to host a summer barbeque… next weekend! Too much stress can have the opposite effect. It can overshadow productive thoughts, de-motivate you and wear you out physically, mentally and emotionally. It can impair your communication ability with family, friends and co-workers and cause you to make poor decisions and judgements at work as well as in your personal life. A lot of stress can also lead to more impulse spending because a pattern of mood-related, self-justified and defensive spending develops.
Consider this situation: imagine that you’ve had a frustrating day at work trying to complete a project with your co-worker. It needs to be done for a meeting tomorrow morning where you’ll be presenting the results to your boss as well as the district manager. However, you just don’t seem to be able to convey your thoughts effectively to your co-worker so that the two of you together can complete the project by the deadline. You’re drained from lying awake the last few nights wondering where the next mortgage payment will come from, not to mention the registration fees for your son’s hockey and your daughter’s gymnastics. Your mood is really low, so on your way home from work you decide to swing by the mall. Even though you don’t need them, you rationalize that if you buy a new shirt and tie for the meeting, at least you could look successful.
Looking at this example, it seems that the poor mood caused the stop at the mall. The purchase was intended to improve the poor mood. Truthfully, the poor mood was caused by the financial worries, which caused the sleepless nights, which in turn, caused the distractions at work. Although the poor mood didn’t cause the bad day, for the person experiencing this situation it may feel that way. Since the project results are still needed for tomorrow’s meeting, the new shirt and tie (and new shoes as well) could be a justified expense in their mind. However, the money that was spent on these new items won’t actually improve the poor mood. In fact, the opposite will happen because the sleepless nights spent worrying about finances will continue now that even more money has been spent… and the cycle of mood-related, defensive spending continues.
Consider the Following Example
You like to stroll through the mall on your lunch break. Often you pick up a few items when you do that; a card for your friend who’s moving, a little gift for your sister who’s having a rough time with her boyfriend, a t-shirt for yourself to wear this weekend. To help avoid these impulse purchases, decide ahead of time what else you can do on your lunch break that will keep you out of the mall. By taking the time to plan ahead, you will have more energy to find a different activity to do or a different place to walk. Work to find solutions at a time when you’re able to devote energy to think about it; then be ready to put your plan into action!
We only have so much energy and personal resources to draw upon to maximize our ability to resist impulse purchasing. Our personal “battery,” our energy reserve, wears out as we go through each day and week. Life happens; our family members and friends need our attention, our work makes demands of us, our personal calendar becomes full of commitments. To avoid impulse spending, learn how to charge your batteries, as well as re-charge them on short notice when necessary, so that you have the energy to make wise choices more often than not.
Finally, keep in mind that setting boundaries for yourself is a personal choice, not a punishment. Deciding on a spending plan and setting a budget that allows you to meet all of your monthly and seasonal expenses without incurring further debt, gives you personal freedom to make choices rather than set limitations which you may resent. When you are able to balance the money extremes effectively – too much spending versus too much saving, you are able to spend guilt-free and without shame or resentment, knowing that your needs are met. Just think how quickly shame, guilt and resentment can deplete your energy reserve and personal sense of control – it’ll happen faster than signing on the dotted line!
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t quite know how to start – contact us and get help. Our counsellors are able to give you a confidential, unbiased and non-judgemental assessment of your financial situation as well as assist you with developing a plan that puts you in control of your money.
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