When you’ve had a stressful day, what do you do to unwind? Reach for the chocolate? Put in a movie? Overspend on shopping? Many people’s “self-care” regimen involves the time-tested act of “retail therapy.” But in order to thrive, we need to take care of the whole self; that includes the “you” of the past, present, and the future. If you don’t learn how to stop overspending, the “you” of the future can be paying for it for a long time.
When we overspend on shopping, we may be making ourselves feel better today. But we are setting our future selves up for a load of stress, and only placing a band-aid on the real problem.
Why Do We Overspend?
Spending money feels good…for a moment. A shot of dopamine rushes to our brain and tells us what we want to hear:
“Everything is going to be alright.”
“This new dress, or gadget or sale I just found is the thing that will make my life better.”
We all know it isn’t true.
But if we are sad, tired, or stressed we might believe it. Instead of building the habits that will help us thrive, we accept a “pain-killer” to overcome those uncomfortable feelings.
It’s an especially nefarious habit, because it can seem benign.
“At least I’m not at the bar.”
“The twins needed a new set of clothes anyway.”
“I have a house to upkeep.”
These statements are all believable, and maybe even true.
However, these statements mask the real reason we are shopping and sets us up for a world of pain in the future.
But how do you know if you’re making a valid purchase or overspending as an escape?
The next time you’re tempted to “splurge,” ask yourself these three questions to stop overspending.
1. Is This Missing from My Life?
Most of the time when we shop we think in terms of adding something to our life.
- I would like a new blouse.
- I need a new car.
- I really could go for a nice dinner out.
A better question to ask is: Is this missing?
When we ask “Is this missing?” it forces us to be more honest. We have to acknowledge that the absence of this thing isn’t the problem. So why are we buying it?
If you are purchasing something that isn’t missing from your life, there’s a good chance you’re overspending.
2. What Do I Want This Purchase to “Do” for Me?
This may seem like a silly question. You may say, I want:
- a car to take me places;
- a blouse to look nice;
- and a dinner to fill my stomach.
But generally there’s something a little deeper at work. Often we want these things to make us feel more confident, more secure, or simply distract us. Being honest about what we want the purchase to do can direct our minds to actual solutions to these desires, instead of temporary band-aids.
There’s nothing wrong with these purchases in and of themselves, but when you have the self-awareness to know your true motives you can put your finger on what may be the real issue.
When you realize this purchase isn’t going to solve it, maybe it’s not worth it after all.
3. Is There a Less Expensive Way to Do the Same Thing?
If you’ve determined that you aren’t addressing any underlying pain with your purchase, asking this question can keep you from buying more than you need.
I find that many people overspend not because they don’t spend “responsibly” but because they simply don’t think critically or strategically about how they spend. For instance you could:
- Buy a car from a private seller instead of a dealer, or buy a later model.
- Perhaps you could shop at a thrift store, or even talk to a friend of a similar size and see about swapping some clothes.
- Are there coupons or a less expensive dining option that would provide the same fun, sense of celebration, or time away with your friends or family?
These small decisions can add up to big savings if they are made into a habit.
Overspending can feel good. It can be hard to determine if you’re spending reasonably or not. But using shopping as a replacement for healthy habits that help you thrive is a dangerous trade. Overspending can cause excessive debt, a sense of dissatisfaction with life, or even emotional break down.
Asking these three questions can help you train yourself how to stop overspending.
About the Author
Jeffrey Lucas Jr. is an author, pastor and homeschool dad who writes about aligning money with life’s calling. He quit his career in order to pursue life’s passions and be more involved homeschooling his kids. You can follow him at jeffreylucasjr.com.
You can download your Mission Minded Money Worksheet for free here.
If you want to learn more about aligning your money with your mission in life, visit Jeff’s website to sign up for his newsletter and learn more.