Resisting the Urge to Splurge

Money Photo by Petr Kratochvil PublicDomainPictures.net

I received the following comment today from a reader about my earlier post Simple Solutions to Staying Out of Debt:

“All good advice – sadly, it is harder than it sounds. But then again, the more you make the more you can spend, so figuring out how to live within your means is a lesson we should all learn at an early age!”

Yes, it is harder than it sounds; almost everything is. But what it all boils down to is common sense, self-discipline and keeping your priorities in mind. It is true that it would be ideal to learn such lessons at an early age, but there is no reason why an adult can’t learn to control his spending and live within his means if he truly wants to.

Don’t get me wrong. I am human and I know how hard it can be to resist spending on things you want. For example, here is just a snippet of some of the things I have been coveting for a long time – some for years.

  • A laptop computer
  • My favorite TV shows on DVD (Friends, X-Files and many more)
  • Subscription to cable (which we haven’t had since 2001)
  • A cushy armchair for reading in my bedroom
  • The complete British and French editions of the Harry Potter books (I collect foreign editions of Harry Potter books)

These are just a few of the things that cross my mind at the moment, but I know there are more. Over the years, I have been tempted more than once to buy some or all of these things, but I know the danger of giving in to the urge to splurge, because spending or getting what you want is addictive. Oftentimes, when you get one thing, you want or need to get more things to go with it.

I know it’s annoying to hear these words because they’re so “self-help-ish” (I myself can’t stand self-helpers and trite inspirational “don’t underestimate the power of the mind” stuff), but -

The tools for fighting the urge to spend are:

  • Recognizing your priorities
  • Rational thinking (not rationalizing)
  • Self-discipline/self-control
  • Will power
  • Rewarding yourself

Recognizing Your Priorities

For most of us, our main goal is simply to “save money” or “save as much money as possible,” and that works well enough. But maybe for some of us, that goal simply isn’t enough. If you have a strong penchant for spending, you may need more clearcut reasons than “to save money” in order to curb your spending. So you will need to contemplate the following question.

Why do you want or need to save money?

Is it …

  • To save for a down payment on a house of your own?
  • To save for a replacement car?
  • To save for marriage and a family?
  • To save for a personal or family emergency?
  • To stay out of debt?
  • To get out of debt?
  • To achieve financial freedom?
  • To make sure your loved ones are provided for?
  • To make sure you have enough to live on should you lose your job?
  • To be able to retire when you want or need to?
  • To make sure you have enough to last through your retirement?

Knowing and reminding yourself of your priorities at all times will help make achieving your goals easier.

Rational Thinking

Rational thought is necessary in order to succeed at anything including spending and saving money. When tempted to spend on something you don’t need or can’t really afford -

Try to look at the item in question with objectivity (without emotion) and ask yourself the following questions (The “it” in the following questions can apply to any kind of expenditure. Buying a tangible item, a service, eating out, etc.):

  • Do you really need it?
  • If yes, why do you need it?
  • Are your reasons for needing it valid?
  • Can you really afford it?
  • What do you already have that can be used instead?
  • What will its value be 6 months down the road? 1 year? 5 years?
  • If it is a tangible item will you still be using it?
  • If it is an intangible or transient item, is it really worth spending money on it that you would otherwise never see again?

Also consider:

  • The potential value of the money saved from not spending it and saving or investing it. Use the savings calculator on Prune Your Spending and Watch the Savings Grow to see how much a little money saved over time can become.
  • If you really think you have enough money saved for your future or financial goals.

Self-Discipline/Self-Control

No one likes hearing about discipline. It implies strictness, lack of freedom, and unpleasant tasks. But without self-discipline, one can never achieve success or financial freedom. So when confronted with a tempting expenditure:

  • Plan A: Walk Away
    The best way to exercise your self-discipline when confronted with temptation is to simply walk away – or close the browser window (and clear your browsing history and cache to make it harder to accidentally happen on it again.)
  • Plan B: If you can’t walk away, then wait.
    If you have a hard time walking away from the temptation, then at least wait. Convince yourself that you are not flat-out denying yourself what you want, but rather waiting for a sale or a price reduction. You will often find that by the time the price has decreased, so has your desire for the item.

    If it turns out you do still want the item, at least you will be spending less on it. Also, by delaying your expenditure, you can earn a little more interest on the money to be spent.

Will Power

You will find that as you practice self-discipline, your will power will grow. There will come a time when you can see something you really like and simply be able to admire it and move on without a struggle.

Rewarding Yourself

Living a life devoid of treats and denying yourself everything you want is not living. So it is alright to reward yourself on occasion. Only you can decide how often and how much you should treat yourself to, but here are a few suggestions for how to figure out what works for you.

Start by setting a goal for yourself. It is important to make it a reasonable goal. Goals can be measured in time, amount of money, achievement or any other way that suits your lifestyle. When you achieve your goal, reward yourself with a little treat within reason.

Setting a goal

  • Time
    Set a timeframe in which you decide you will not make unnecessary expenditures. If you have a regular habit of spending money everyday or every few days, you might want to start with a shorter goal and work your way up to the ideal timeframe.
  • Amount of money saved
    Instead of putting all your money in your checking account, open a savings account (if you don’t already have one.) Put all your non-regular-expense money (anything not for necessities such as rent, bills, groceries, gas, etc.) into this savings account. When you have saved up to a certain pre-determined amount – $500, $1,000, etc. – then you can allow yourself a little treat.
  • Achievement
    This could be for achievement in any area of your life – career, personal, weight-loss, etc.

As time passes and you achieve your goals you might find the success of achieving your goals to be more rewarding than spending money. In an ideal world, that would probably be enough. But for most of us human beings, it probably isn’t.

So remember, it is important to treat yourself once in a while. It doesn’t have to be a big treat. It could be as little as an ice cream cone, a reasonable item of clothing, a new CD, etc. But if you find yourself treating yourself every other day, something is wrong. I can’t tell you exactly how long and how much your goals should be. It is different for everyone and something you need to figure out for yourself. That’s why it’s called personal finance.

In closing, I will share

How I rational thought my way out of the items on my wish list (mentioned above)

  • A laptop computer
    Reason I don’t need it: I already have a desktop computer.
  • My favorite TV shows on DVD
    Reason I don’t need it: For now, I can watch what DVDs I have and TV shows online. I know I’ll eventually get them, but what’s the hurry?
  • Subscription to cable
    Reason I don’t need it: An occasional DVD purchase is cheaper than subscribing to cable and I’ll end up with an asset instead of just putting money down the drain.
  • A cushy armchair for reading in my room
    Reason I don’t need it: I can read on my bed. Someday I will get an armchair when the time is right and when I can afford a nice one.
  • The complete British and French editions of the Harry Potter books
    Reason I don’t need it: The fun of book collecting is acquiring each edition book by book over time. If I got all the books at one time, I’d need to find a new hobby.

Treating Myself

On the other hand, I did treat myself to a rather expensive gift last fall. I have been a musician since I was 5 years old, and have wanted to learn to play the violin since I was a teenager. Last fall, I purchased myself a Suzuki Student Violin for $170. Being more expensive than most of our regular purchases, I considered it a late birthday/early Christmas/early next birthday present for myself. My violin is and will be one of my most favored possessions for a long time to come.

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8 thoughts on “Resisting the Urge to Splurge”

  1. Great artcile – applies to everything worth having in life, not just personal finance. It is also okay to splurge or revard your self once in a while. My vice is my daily cup of coffee….not giving that up soon!

  2. Great advice. I especially like the one about rational thinking. I believe that irrational thinking is usually what causes me to splurge. In most cases, the item that I obtain at the latest splurge is left sitting at the cupboard gathering dust. Not a very rational decision at all as I did not ask myself if I “really” need it.

  3. I agree. It’s hard to do, but it’s also something that gets easier with time.

    I struggle with this for two reasons. The first is Tim’s ADD. It makes him want more stuff, and I hate always having to say no. But it’s gotten better. He has gotten good about asking himself if he needs it first. A lot still makes it to the point that he asks me about it. But at least I know he’s trying. And that he’s more receptive to “no.”

    The second is that I was recently diagnosed bipolar II. The manic swings are a lot lower key. But it explains why I have, over most of my life, had periods where I just couldn’t walk away like I normally do.

    It’s a lot easier now that I understand it. Now when I start to feel keyed up and susceptible to wanting to buy stuff, I try to avoid temptation as much. But, recently, when I found myself at a mall, zeroing in on a shirt, I recognized it, realized it was brain chemistry and walked away. I knew if I tried it on, I’d buy it. I don’t think I’ll always be this successful in my efforts, but every little step forward helps.

    And I think most (ie, non-bipolar) people can take similar steps to decrease buying/materialism. You mentioned asking why you want something. That’s a big one, no matter what the situation.

    I also think it helps to look at how you can get it cheaper/free. Rewards programs are going to get my husband a much-needed iTouch that he plans to use as a PDA. (A smartphone would require a data plan and a contract.)

    When it comes to technology, it’s always helpful to look around and ask what else has similar functions. So many new gadgets just include several other gadgets’ functions combined into one. But they’re all so small, it’s not a huge deal to keep three around instead of paying over $100 for an all-in-one.

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