My spending triggers are here. What are yours?

Free From Broke strongly recommends that you know what your spending triggers are.  Spending triggers are those situations, mindsets, or excuses that increase your tendency to make less-than-wise spending decisions.  The ones that are mentioned by name are:

  • “I deserve it.”
  • “Everyone else has one.”
  • “I have this, so I need that.”
  • “Hurry!  Sale ends soon!”

I can usually see through these kinds of tricks because I’m not driven by envy (most of the time) and don’t usually fall for sale-driven marketing.

But not all the time.  Sometimes it seems like my common sense flies out the window — along with my money.

When are you never supposed to go grocery shopping?

A couple of weekends ago I dropped nearly $400 at Costco.  Some (over half) of this was planned expenses, but I know at least $100 of this was impulse buying.  Shelled pistachios are yummy (and even good for me) but at $10/pound they were pricey.  And I didn’t really need a 3-pack of 16GB thumb drives, but there they were in the cart, at $40.  Plus a couple of other quasi-want items.

What happened?  I remember that I had only gotten a couple of hours of sleep the previous night — bad habit, I know — and that we hadn’t had a good breakfast and lunch.

I tend to overspend when I’m hungry and/or tired.  The first one is common: if you’re hungry, you’re already predisposed to thinking about food, which means that everything looks really good and you tend to buy more food.

But what predisposes one to buy more when tired?  The only true defense to avoiding the lure of in-store marketing is to avoid going into the store (or the website) but what if that’s not an option?  Beyond that, the main defense is a clear head, so that the end caps and brightly-colored packaging don’t persuade you by themselves.  When I’m tired, I don’t think as clearly, and I get persuaded by more of the (many) options that are put before my eyes.

So going to Costco hungry and tired was a really, really bad move on my part.  It would be much better all-around if I just had a good lunch and took a nap.

What are your spending triggers?  How do you avoid falling prey to them?

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

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  1. says

    I think Costco’s dangerous anytime but making sure you’re not hungry is insurance you won’t at least overspend on food items. I think it leads to justification because it’s all in bulk so you know it’s going to be more expensive than a regular grocery store trip. But, being thoughtful about each purchase is a must.

  2. says

    I avoid shopping in general. I do go to Costco when I get gas some times. I usually have a list which keeps me on task. On rare occasion, I will call my wife to see if she needs something not on the list.

  3. says

    Hunger is definitely a big one for me! And at Costco it can be certainly be expensive.

    A few things to pare back Costco expenses – (1) bring a list to stick to; (2) go when you only have limited time; (3) bring the Mrs along (she doesn’t like to spend too much time there so we get out quicker).

  4. says

    Tiredness is definitely a biggie. I have chronic fatigue, so I’m very susceptible to “brain fog.” It makes it hard to think clearly. And when I’m tired, going somewhere else to get it cheaper seems practically impossible.

    I try to avoid shopping when I’m hungry. If that can’t be avoided — like, I need food from the store — I try to figure out ahead of time what I want. And if I want snacks (and I pretty much always do) I make sure I know ahead of time what it is. Or, failing that, limit it to one item. Otherwise, I will come away with a zillion bags of sugary goodness.

    As for Costco… Luckily, I find it too overwhelming to do more than get-in, get-out. I rarely have the energy for a store crawl, but there are still times something jumps out at me. And I find myself with an extra item or two in the cart.

  5. says

    @Jerry: I guess Costco does usually end up being more expensive. Good point.
    @Krantcents: I actually do call my wife sometimes at the store.
    @Glen: My wife does rein me in when I get into those moods, but she was actually with me that day! Maybe we were both tired. :(
    @Abigail: OK, I think that’s three out of four so far who mention a list of some kind! Taking note … :)

  6. says

    My triggers are hunger and thirst. Once, I went grocery shopping when I was really thirsty, and I came home with every thirst quencher under the sun: soda, Powerade, water, juice, Kool-Aid. Some of this stuff we don’t even drink very often!

  7. says

    I agree with Christa that hunger and thirst can be big triggers for me. But I also just get into habits. Like when I go to a movie, I have to have popcorn and Coke. And when I go to Target, I almost always buy a popcorn and Coke. And when I go to Costco, I almost always have to buy a Coke. Part of it goes back to my childhood when my dad would buy a popcorn and Coke when we went to K-Mart and Sears. And I like having those traditions with our kids. But I suppose they’re not the most healthy. Or cheap. 😉

  8. says

    Hungry and tired are my triggers too, but not budgeting in “fun money” is a big trigger for me as well. If I go too long on a really tight budget, I will ultimately splurge on stuff I don’t need – I tend to make my budgets overly strict so I can maximize my savings, but then I just hurt myself down the line. There’s got to be give and take!

  9. says

    My spending triggers occur when I start to get depressed. I know when I feel it coming on that it will lead to unnecessary spending. My insurance for staying balanced is eating well and exercising and that helps to keep the depression away.

  10. Natalie F says

    My mom used to always tell me, don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry. You WILL end up buying everything your eyes land on.

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