We live in a consumer culture where we’re constantly bombarded with advertising and marketing messages that have been carefully crafted to get us to spend money. Those sending out the marketing don’t care if you have the money or not. They just want you to buy, even if it means going on a payment plan.
We’re told that we need to buy the newest and the best, and that if we don’t we’re getting left behind. We’re told that the we can buy experiences or things that will make our lives better, and make us happier people.
The problem is that for the most part it’s just not true. Too many of us get caught in a debt spiral of spending, trying to fill holes in our lives, and we become very good at rationalizing why we’re spending.
Reasons Why We Overspend
Why do we overspend? There are a million different reasons. Here are some that I’ve come up with off the top of my head.
- Easy access to credit cards: Even after our nation’s debt crisis,we still have relatively easy access to credit, allowing us to buy just about whatever we want, and worry about paying it another day.
- Monthly payments make it more accessible: It used to be that if you wanted something, you had to save up and pay cash. Nowadays you can just get on a monthly payment plan for anything from a car to a couch to a vacuum cleaner.
- Peer pressure or keeping up with the Joneses: We’ve all either been that person, or known someone who just always has to have the best of the best in order to keep up with the folks in their neighborhood, school or workplace. They buy things to be seen as successful or important.
- Spending addiction or spending to feel good: Some people actually have an addiction to spending money and buying things, it gives them a high of sorts. The problem, just like with drugs, the high wears off and they need to move on to the next purchase.
- Wanting to live “in the moment”: I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how they want to live high on the hog now, while they’re still young and healthy. The result? They end up in a world of debt that they’ll be paying until their old and gray.
- Wanting the best for your kids: As parents we want the best for our kids. The problem is that sometimes we can get carried away, buying all the best for our kids when it isn’t even necessarily what they want or need. We buy them things to fill our own ideas of what’s best for them -or to fill a void from our own childhood.
- Wanting things NOW: Sometimes it’s just hard to have the discipline to save up for something, especially when you just want, nay, NEED, to have it now!
- Wanting to have the newest and the latest: So many of us are big into new technology like to rationalize buying the newest or the best technology. Others rationalize that they need to have the latest in fashion or decor. In reality we could probably get by with something less the newest and best.
- Not focused on long term goals: We overspend because we’re distracted from or we have never focused on our long term savings and retirement goals.
So as you can see there are a plethora of reasons why we overspend. We’re good at rationalizing and coming up with reasons why we should be spending on things we want. It’s the discipline part that gets hard.
If you have other reasons that you’ve used for spending- good or bad, let us know what they are in the comments.
Addressing The Root Causes Of Our Overspending
So we know there are a million reasons why we overspend. The important thing to do in my opinion is to realize that you are overspending, and to then sit down and think about why it might be that you’re overspending. Are you trying to compensate for hurts experienced as a child? Are you trying to appear more successful to others because of feelings of inadequacy? Do you just enjoy spending and the feeling it gives? Realizing that you have a spending problem, and trying to figure out why you overspend is a big part of starting to find a solution.
So what are we supposed to do about our overspending once we’ve thought about the root causes?
- Analyze your spending: The first thing I would suggest is giving yourself a wake-up call by actually tracking your spending. At our house when we started tracking using a software called You Need A Budget, we were shocked to find out how much we spent on several non-essential categories. Knowing where we were overspending was half the battle.
- Set up a budget, especially in problem categories: The next step is to actually set up a budget for your household. What we’ve found was especially important was to set spending limits on problem categories. If, for example, you struggle with spending in your dining out category, set a limit of how much you can spend on that every month, and don’t go over. Try using a cash envelope system for problem categories. Get out enough cash at the beginning of the month to cover the category, and don’t go over that amount.
- Start living below your means: While it may sound like a simple concept to live below your means, it can sometimes be easier said than done. But if you do want to get ahead, you’ll have to start living on less than you make, otherwise you’ll just be treading water, or going under.
- Save & Invest: Once you’re living below your means and all debt is paid off, you can start saving and investing and start living!
So why do we overspend? It varies from person to person, and you need to think about why it may be happening for you. Once you’ve figured that out however, getting back on track is probably going to involve some pretty similar steps for everyone.
What tips do you have for addressing overspending? What have you done to cut back on unnecessary expenses?
Last Edited: 29th July 2011