Dear 3Rivers: Help! I Can’t Stop Overspending
I'm lucky. I'm a 27-year-old college graduate and I landed a well-paying gig right out of school. I'm making $50,000 a year in the finance industry, and have a guilt-ridden confession: I cannot stop overspending. I do manage to pay my bills on time and am working to pay off my debts, but when it comes down to it, I'm just not saving like I could be. My checking and savings accounts seem to have sat at the same amount month after month for a few years now, and I'm aware that it's because of my love for shopping, even when I don't need the stuff. I'm extra concerned because of the field I'm working in - it's especially (and ironically) frustrating when your job is to help other people manage their money and you're not an all-star dealing with your own. Help!
Well, you've taken the first step - an incredibly important one at that: You are aware that you're overspending. You deserve a pat on the back for coming to terms with that fact! Now, about fixing that problem.
Many factors contribute to overspending and why it is we do it. The key to solving the problem is identifying what kind of overspending habit(s) you have. From there, you can get to the root of the problem and take steps to fix it. Here are eight common reasons we overspend, and ways in which we can combat them in order to save our hard-earned dollars!
What's the Cause of Your Overspending?
YOU'RE USING PLASTIC
It's not quite the same swiping a credit or debit card as it is paying with physical, hard-earned cash. While carrying plastic might prevent you from losing paper bills and help your credit, it can also up your chances of experiencing identity theft and overspending.
Try This: Experience living on cash for one month - even one week - to get a feel for how much you're comfortable spending and it might just stick when you go back to the card. Take out a set amount at the beginning of each week and push yourself to stick to just that withdrawn amount. Not comfortable carrying around large amounts of cash? Try stashing it in different places and carrying a smaller amount with you day-to-day.
YOUR LIFESTYLE IS BIGGER THAN YOUR BUDGET
Maybe you experienced the luxury of hefty amounts of student loan money in college and were able to afford meals out and mall visits on the regular, or maybe you've been in a well-paying job for years that has allowed you to live a more-than-comfortable lifestyle but times have changed. Having kids, experiencing a paycut, switching jobs, or struggling to find one after graduation can all restrict you from living the lifestyle you were used to before (or wish you could be living.)
Try This: Focus on living below your means, even when finances are at an all-time high for you. This will help you set enough aside for times of hardship or major life changes that are more costly than normal. Try to get at least three to six months worth of pay set aside as an emergency fund. Completing something like the 52 Week Money Challenge can help you kickstart this endeavor.
If you grew up poor, you might feel the need to overspend to make up for what you didn't have as a kid. On the other hand, if you grew up very well off, you might feel the need to overspend to maintain the lifestyle you've always known, even if it's not in your best (financial) interest right now. And in either case, it's not uncommon for us to mimic our parents' spending habits - good or bad.
Try This: If you didn't have the best financial role models or situations as a young'un, it's never too late to seek them out. For starters, schedule a conversation with someone at your financial institution to help you get your money matters sorted out. They can help you consolidate your debts, create a budget, and discuss any and all options you have to better your finances, both long and short-term. There are plenty of online sources and financially-focused books out there to learn from, too.
YOU'RE TRYING TO KEEP UP APPEARANCES
Whether you're aware of it or not, in one area of your life or another, you're likely trying to keep up an image of yourself that you simply cannot afford - and more often than not, it involves money. Trying to keep up with the Joneses can be a dangerous cycle for your finances.
Try This: Create and focus on your own goals, not trying to measure up and compete with others'. Make a list of 3-5 major financial goals you hope to accomplish and create a timeline, then focus your efforts and attention on making it happen.
YOU'RE FEELING PEER PRESSURE
Chances are, you've spent an incredible amount of money when you knew you shouldn't have because a group of friends (likely unknowingly) peer-pressured you into grabbing a bite to eat, ordering one more drink, or buying those shoes. But ask yourself this: Are those people and their influence worth going into debt for? Probably not.
Try This: Don't be afraid to speak up and say you've already spent too much on going out this week (it might even open your friends' eyes to the fact that they have, too.) Also, recommend alternative options to what your group normally does. Try grabbing a coffee instead of dinner or offer to host a movie night at home instead of heading to the cinema.
YOU'RE FILLING AN EMOTIONAL VOID
We admit - after a stressful or emotional day, a quick stroll through our favorite store sounds so satisfying. Just a little window shopping, that's all. And BOOM. Suddenly, we're checking out with three bags worth of stuff we don't really need. If you're experiencing stress, anxiety, sadness, or anger, you're way more vulnerable to overspending - because, for a split second, it makes you "feel better." But at what cost?
Try This: If you experience regular and extremely pricy bouts of retail therapy, you might need to swap them out for real therapy so you can get to the core of what's going on with your emotions. Also, try having a go-to form of release when you feel those negative feelings coming on. Whether it's a walk around the block with your dog, a phone call to a supportive friend, or watching an episode of your favorite TV show - find something that doesn't cost a thing to get you back on track.
YOU JUST CAN'T SAY "NO"
Overindulging those you care about can feel great, but eventually leave you penniless. Your kid throws a tantrum in the checkout line over a candy bar, your significant other insists on having the latest tech gadgets - sometimes it just seems impossible to say "no." And if you do, you feel like you've failed and let loved ones down - and likely make up for it in a very costly way later.
Try This: Give your kids allowance so they can decide where their money goes (and get a feel for how it works) and buy that candy bar for themselves. Be open and honest with your partner about finances so that they're aware of the money situation and a budget can be agreed upon. Making others aware of your (and their) financial standing will make you (and them) feel way more comfortable about saving, spending, and not overindulging.
YOU DON'T HAVE CLEARLY DEFINED GOALS
Maybe you're not sure when you plan to buy your first home, or when you should start saving for a wedding or a new car. Maybe you don't foresee any medical emergencies, or aren't sure you really want to stick with the job you're in. It's okay to not have every detail of your short-term and long-term life goals planned out, but not having a firm idea and plan for at least some of your biggest goals could mean you're overspending on little things and sinking yourself for future spending - where it matters most.
Try This: Set a handful of goals for both the next few weeks and the next few years. Reach out to a financial professional who can help you build a plan for those pricier, long-term goals, and take some time to map out your short-term goals for yourself. Again, be open with your significant other, too.
There are lots of reasons we overspend, but nearly all of them can be managed. We hope you're able to step back and find out where your money is going so you can get back on track and save the money you've worked so hard to earn.