Most of us are guilty of spending more than we had planned on an item or during a shopping trip from time to time. But when overspending happens frequently, your finances can suffer. Debt can pile up, savings can be neglected and bills might not get paid because spending sprees have left the checking account empty.
One way to avoid spending too much so you can actually save money is to recognize what prompts you to open your wallet. Here are nine common triggers that can cause you to spend too much and hurt your financial well-being.
One of the biggest spending triggers is stress, said Cullen Hardy, a clinical psychologist and owner of business consulting firm The Hardy Group. “Human beings hate feeling stressed and love quick relief,” he said. “Spending can give that feeling of quick relief.”
Although stress can lead some to increase spending on necessities to gain a sense of control, it can lead others to increase spending on nonessential items rather than save money, according to a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research. Be careful if you’re spending to relieve stress. It could create lasting financial problems and make your stress even worse, Hardy said.
2. An Emotional Event
The end of a relationship or other emotional event can trigger people to spend money, said Bruce D. Sanders, a consumer psychologist and author of “Sell Well.” A little retail therapy isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it can make you feel better, he said.
But you need to be careful about how often you’re dealing with your emotions this way so it doesn’t result in overspending and racking up debt.
3. Social Pressure
You might think you left your days of succumbing to peer pressure behind in middle school. But the desire to keep up with others can spur spending in adulthood.
A recent study by Stanford professor Pedro Gardete published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that social influence can lead people to spend more. By studying purchases made during flights, he found that airline passengers were 30 percent more likely to buy something if the person sitting next to them did.
Spending to keep up with others can be even more pronounced in elite social groups when people are buying expensive items, Sanders said. Problems arise when people spend more than they earn and go into debt to maintain a certain lifestyle. So before you make a purchase, ask yourself whether it’s something you actually want or something you want to impress others.
Find Out: 10 Ways the Wealthy De-Stress
4. Credit Cards
Americans have $712 billion in credit card debt, according to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That figure makes it hard to argue that there isn’t a link between credit card use and overspending.
But can using a credit card trigger you to spend more than you otherwise would? A study by two MIT professors found that customers are willing to pay more for the same item when using credit rather than cash. The reason this likely happens is because they don’t feel the pain of parting with cash.
So before you pull out your card to pay, ask yourself whether you’d be willing to pay the same price with cash. And only charge what you can afford to pay off each month.
5. Social Media
Your social media use might not just be gobbling up your spare time or distracting you from work. It could be leading you to overspend.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people tend to display less self-control after browsing a social network. And the more often people used Facebook, the greater their credit card debt was. Be aware of urges to spend after using social media and consider purchases carefully.
6. A Need to Please
Many people try to buy love, said relationship expert April Masini. So when they see something for sale that will make a person they’re trying to win over happy, they buy.
“The purchase is not really about the item at hand,” she said. “It’s about pleasing someone else and getting a positive, loving reaction in return.”
When people buy to please others, they tend to overspend because they’re not thinking about their finances, Masini said. They’re buying to get a feeling, and their finances suffer as a result.
Their relationship could also suffer. A GOBankingRates’ survey found that overspending was the biggest financial deal breaker in a relationship.
7. Retailer Tactics
Retailers use a variety of tactics to get consumers to spend. Being aware of these tricks before you go shopping might help limit their effect and help you avoid buying things you weren’t planning on purchasing.
For example, bright colors and animation can get the attention of shoppers and trigger greater activity in areas of the brain associated with impulsive thinking, Sanders said. Fragrance in a store — such as cinnamon during the Christmas season — can stimulate purchasing. And if a sales person demonstrates how an item works, it can create a feeling of friendship and an obligation to make a purchase, he said.
To discretely increase the number of items in your online shopping cart, stores will offer incentives such as free shipping if your purchase total hits a certain price point, said Mike Catania, founder of coupon and promotional code site PromotionCode.org. As a result, consumers buy more to get the freebie.
Retailers also use words such as “expires soon” to create a fear of missing out on a deal and spur buying. It exploits the resource-hoarding part of the brain and prompts consumers to ask,”If I miss this opportunity, will it present itself again?” Catania said.
In addition to being aware of these tactics, Catania also recommended giving yourself some cooling off time before buying things. “If you still want them just as bad the next day, then buy them,” he said. “But odds are you won’t.”
8. Special Events and Holidays
It’s common for people to spend more than they expected to for special occasions and holidays. For example, a GOBankingRates’ survey of bridesmaids and groomsmen said their spending for wedding-related duties exceeded their expectations by 32 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
Overspending on one event likely won’t lead to financial ruin. But if you’re exceeding your budget regularly on occasions and holidays, you could find yourself racking up debt or sacrificing savings to cover costs. A survey by SunTrust Banks found that 46 percent of Americans felt pressure to spend more than they could afford during the holidays in 2015.
To avoid overspending on holidays and hurting your finances, set a budget for each special event and start setting aside money each month in savings so you’ll have cash to cover costs. Don’t spend any more than the cash you’ve saved.
9. Shopping Addiction
At the extreme end of emotional and psychological triggers that lead to overspending is compulsive buying disorder. A small percentage of the population can’t bring themselves to stop making needless purchases and end up in deep financial trouble as a result, Sanders said.
Compulsive buying can be so serious that people can’t feed their families because they’re so far in debt, he said. This sort of problem requires mental health help.