Nine Surprisingly Destructive Spending Habits

When it comes to our personal habits and recurring patterns, it’s hard to be objective. How we behave is just how we behave, and without someone there to show us that our behavior is in any way aberrant, it’s easy to assume what we’re doing is more or less normal.

This can be pretty glaring when it comes to money – especially how we spend money. Most of us develop spending habits as a response to important events or relationships throughout our lives (both positive and negative), but very rarely are we aware of these habits. As such, many of us develop destructive spending habits that don’t seem all that destructive (because hey, that’s just what we’ve always done).

They may not be that obvious, or especially insidious, but over time these nine spending habits can do major damage. Do any of these sound like you or someone you know?

Buying too fast

Online shopping is designed to be quick and easy – almost a little too quick and easy. The trouble with sites offering to save your payment info and process orders with a single click and is that it eliminates that crucial period between deciding to make a purchase and actually making the purchase. For some shoppers, this can be a major problem.

If you see something that you think you want or need and then move immediately into purchasing, that may be a sign of potentially destructive spending habit. If you find yourself making purchases too hastily, delete your payment info from sites like Amazon and try to force yourself to wait at least 24 hours before finalizing any online purchases.

Overvaluing bulk

Bulk spending is usually not a bad idea, but there is an element of risk to buying massive quantities of any one item. For example, buying a large box of the coffee you’ve enjoyed every morning for the past decade is probably pretty prudent. Buying ten pairs of the same pants because then you’ll never have to buy pants again is s slightly riskier proposition. Styles change. Weight can fluctuate. There are more than a few reasons why you may not feel the same about those pants by about the sixth pair.

If bulk is your default buying option, that’s a potentially very destructive (and wasteful) habit. Try to weigh the risks before buying the largest possible quantity of something.

Making assumptions

Have you ever skipped buying something because it was “too cheap”? Stores rely on us making assumptions about products based on things as important as price and as seemingly unimportant as placement on a shelf.

There may be a perfectly good reason to turn your nose up at the cheapest possible option, but if all you know is the price and your biases are filling in the blanks, that’s a potentially damaging spending habit. Try to evaluate products fairly, and if the cheapest one meets your needs, go for it.

Spending to feel better

It’s very common for consumers to run into money problems because they use shopping as a mood enhancer. You feel down. You buy something. You feel better (but only for a little while).

Spending money to counteract feelings of sadness or depression can very easily lead to deep debt and eventual financial ruin, especially when you fall into a cycle of spending, mild relief, anxiety over the spending, and then more spending.

If you shop to overcome sadness, seek help to deal with the root cause by speaking with a qualified mental health expert in your area.

Consolation buying

You have your heart set on Item A, but Item A is sold out. So you buy Item B instead. That’s fine if you really needed Item A, but often times we get ourselves ramped up to make a purchase and then, upon discovering that we can’t make that specific purchase, go ahead and make a different purchase just to scratch the itch, so to speak.

Buying to fill out an order

Throwing extra items into your virtual shopping cart in order to receive free shipping…all online shoppers have probably been guilty of this one time or another . I’m personally more likely to make this mistake when there is no free shipping. Knowing that I’ll have to pay a flat shipping fee, I sometimes add items to the order to help justify the shipping cost. “It’s not that bad, because I got five things, instead of two.”

Celebration spending

Something good happened? Time to throw away the budget!

It’s nice to celebrate our achievements, but when we start looking at positive moments as opportunities to undo our own hard work, we can do a lot of damage. Celebrate – but within your budget.

Wishful spending

“You never know” is a terrible rationale for buying something, but that is the driving thought process behind an alarming number of purchases. If you buy a bow and arrow because you think you might consider taking up archery someday, that’s a sign you’re buying for a future that will likely never come.

Another bad internal equation - the "if I buy this, then I'll do that" logical fallacy. That form of wishful spending has almost single-handedly propped up the home fitness industry for years.   

Never spending

Finally, not spending money can also be quite destructive, especially if you’re so afraid of using your money that you avoid important things like visiting the doctor or fixing your car. Very often, if we’ve survived a difficult financial time, we may begin to clamp down on spending a little too hard. When fear of spending puts your health and wellbeing at risk, that’s a major problem.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

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  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

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  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.