5 Excuses We Need to Stop Making About Overspending


Being able to rationalize something that we know we shouldn't do is one of the things that humans are best at. Specifically, we do a fantastic job of coming up with reasons to explain away or excuse our overspending. (See also: 5 Types of Overspenders — Which One Are You?)

But no matter how clever you are in coming up with a great reason for maxing out your credit card, emptying your savings account, or otherwise living large on money you don't have, your overspending will catch up with you. That's why it's time to stop relying on these excuses for spending more than you can afford. (See also: The 10 Biggest Lies We Tell Ourselves About Money)

1. "I deserve it"

After a long day at the office, you decide to swing by your favorite store, telling yourself you deserve a retail pick-me-up after all your hard work — even though you can't afford it. Or after finishing a major project, you go on a lavish vacation, courtesy of your credit card, because you deserve some time to unwind. Or when your old clunker finally gives out on you, you decide to lease a much more expensive car that will turn heads as you zoom past, because you deserve to have a ride that matches how fabulous you are.

Buying something you can't afford may provide a temporary thrill that feels like a reward in the moment. But the debt associated with your splurge will soon begin to feel like a burden. Where's the reward in that?

End the excuse

If you think that you deserve things that you can't afford to buy, you've got it all backward. What you deserve is feeling less stress and more happiness. There are plenty of ways to reward yourself for hard work that don't involve spending money. Take time out from your routine to go for a walk with a friend, indulge in a favorite TV show, or simply count your blessings.

Anytime you are struggling with the sense that you deserve something you don't have, take a moment to write a list of things you are grateful that you do have. This can help put the "I deserve it" excuse in context.

2. "It's on sale"

The fact that an item is cheaper than it could be is often an excellent excuse for buying it — at least according to our irrational brains. Unfortunately, retailers are onto this quirk of our thinking, and so they play any number of shenanigans with prices to make products seem like a good deal. This includes everything from artificially jacking up prices in order to be able to offer the items "on sale," to offering unbeatable discounts that are delivered directly to your email inbox. (See also: 5 Times Coupons Trick You Into Spending More Money)

End the excuse

There are two ways to deal with this excuse. The first is to simply avoid sales situations that will tempt you to overspend because of the low prices. According to a 2013 study in the Journal of Personality, the key to saying no to temptations is to avoid them. Maia Szalavitz reported on this study for TIME, writing "[the highly self-disciplined] tended to avoid creating situations in which their goals would conflict, and reported fewer instances of having to choose between short-term pleasure and long-term pain."

For those individuals who still struggle to avoid sales, there is another way to let go of this excuse for overspending. Ask yourself the following three questions about any sale item that tempts you to spend:

  1. Do I need this item?

  2. Would I buy this item if it weren't on sale?

  3. Can I afford to buy this item?

Unless the answer to all three questions is an unqualified yes, put the item down and walk away.

3. "I was going to buy it anyway"

What if you do answer that you need an item on sale, even though you simply don't have the money for it right now? At that point, you can often rationalize purchasing the item because you're going to have to buy it anyway, so you might as well do so now.

Unfortunately, we are very good at lying to ourselves about whether or not we truly did plan to buy something at some point in the future. I can recall a pair of adorable rain boots that I bought on a bright sunny day because I convinced myself that I was going to need them at some point soon anyway. But I had no immediate need for the boots, and I could have gone quite some time without them. I told myself I needed the boots simply because I wanted to buy them. (See also: 5 Mental Biases That Are Keeping You Poor)

End the excuse

This excuse is a way of pretending that something you want is something you need. To help you navigate the difference between wants and needs, institute a waiting period for any unplanned purchases. When you see something that you are convinced you will buy anyway, commit to waiting at least 24 hours before you make the purchase. This will help you to separate the "Wow, I want this now" chaff from the "OK, I'll need to come back for this later" wheat.

4. "I was good last month, so I can afford to splurge now"

You've been depriving yourself by taking the bus instead of Ubering, choking down the office coffee instead of getting your morning latte, and even saying no to a pub crawl with friends — so now it's time to enjoy the fruits of your labors. You reason that you're allowed to go a little nuts, since you've already been so good for so long.

The problem is that this mentality is similar to the excuses that dieters and exercisers use when they fall off the wagon. This excuse makes it clear that you see your underspending month (or month of dieting or jogging) as a kind of deprivation. If you think of underspending as good behavior that you can perform in order to get back to your usual program of overspending, you'll never be able to get ahead financially. (See also: 6 Ways to Resist a Splurge)

End the excuse

It's important for everyone to find a budget or spending plan that they can live with for the long term — one that does not feel like deprivation, but does allow you to live within your means. You can completely foil this excuse for overspending if you create a budget that still allows you to spend money on the things you care about most, while cutting the items that don't matter as much to you.

When you have a financial life that you feel good about committing to long term, you will be able to end the thought process that encourages you to overspend after doing a great job of living within your means.

5. "It's the holidays"

It feels great to spend money to celebrate the holidays and give gifts to family and friends. And our brains can keep that great feeling going by convincing us that spending money on these things is a selfless act. After all, we just want to provide our loved ones with a memorable and happy holiday, which means we can put it all on a credit card and worry about the bill later. We're spreading holiday cheer, for heaven's sake!

But there are real consequences to overspending for the holidays. Your loved ones would hate to see you feel overwhelmed by credit card debt or unable to save for the future because of the money you spent on showering them with gifts. (See also: Dealing With Post-Holiday Credit Card Debt)

End the excuse

The best way to end this excuse is to recognize just what you are getting out of spending money on gifts, decorations, food, or other traditions. While you do want to create a lovely holiday memory for your family, you probably also love being known as the Christmas hostess with the extravagant brunch menu or the uncle who always has the best presents.

Once you admit that you get something out of overspending on gifts or the holiday, you can start coming up with ways to get that same feeling without overspending. When you recognize that your spending isn't entirely selfless, it's much easier to come up with creative ways to evoke the magic of the season without giving your credit card a daily workout.

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