Ask anyone who has tried keeping a budget and they likely will confirm it is difficult. Budgeting isn’t rocket science, but just because budgeting is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Why is it so hard? Many of the obstacles to sticking with a budget fall into three categories: mental mistakes, social pressure and emotional spending.
Mental mistakes are ways we justify purchases we don’t need, or ways we let clever marketing techniques influence us to spend money. For example, while discount sales can be a great way to save money, they can also influence us to purchase things we don’t really need.
You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s all relative,” right? Discount sales use this idea of relativity. When we see a $100 shirt at 60% off, we assume we are getting a great deal, and that the shirt is better or more valuable than a $40 shirt. This is not always the case. Many successful businesses list higher prices on their products, but constantly run a sale so people feel they are getting quality at a great value.
Another way sales influence shoppers to spend money is by creating a false sense of urgency. Sales almost always display “for a limited time only.” This can make us feel like we will miss out if we do not take advantage of the sale before it ends.
Another common obstacle to sticking with a budget is social pressure. Consider the following scenario. You have chosen to limit your dining out budget so you can pay off your credit card bills. A group of your friends want to try out a new expensive restaurant and invite you to come along. You ignore your budget and accompany them. Why? Social pressures are difficult to navigate. You don’t want to disclose your credit card woes, plus you may fear they won’t invite you to a future activity if you don’t participate now. Nor do you want to feel like an outsider in your group or be judged for skipping out.
Emotional spending is when we make purchases to help us feel a certain way, perhaps to celebrate a special occasion, deal with boredom, soothe ourselves after a difficult day or manage stress. It’s not necessarily bad or wrong to spend money in this way, but it’s important to identify why we are spending money if our goal is to get our finances under control.
How do we deal with these obstacles?
To overcome unplanned mental mistake purchases, we should ask ourselves, “Do I really need this or am I buying it because the deal is too good to pass up?”
Both brick-and-mortar and online stores want us to spend money now, so stepping away gives us time to reconsider the purchase. Many savvy shoppers use the 24-hour rule. They put the item in their online shopping cart, but wait 24 hours before clicking “buy.” Often, the purchase doesn’t seem nearly as important the next day.
For social spending, we can volunteer to plan activities with friends so we can choose an inexpensive alternative while still getting quality time with the people who are important to us. While we may not want to share details of our financial situation, it’s important to be honest with friends about our financial goals. True friends will understand and help identify ways to spend time together within our budget.
Finally, to deal with emotional spending we can seek other healthy and low-cost ways to reward ourselves or cope with negative emotions. Working on a hobby, going on a walk, watching a movie at home or simply spending time with a friend can accomplish the same thing without breaking the budget.
For each of the obstacles listed above, the financially-smart answer is to simply not spend the money, but humans are not one-dimensional robots. Many factors affect the way we think about and spend money, including our friends and our emotions. Knowing these money pitfalls will not automatically make them easier to navigate, but can help us recognize our spending triggers and give us the insight to begin improving our financial decisions. For cost saving tips, visit moneymoments.com/money-management.