Spring is here, and you know what that means. It’s time to enjoy the beautiful weather — and hold on to your wallet. Because as the Earth renews itself and new life springs forward, we tend to seek out some form of renewal in our own lives, too — whether it’s new curtains or a new car. Other times, all it takes is a sale on sandals or warm-weather gear to incite a spring spending spree that wreaks havoc on our finances.
Spring money mishaps are all too common, says Leanne Jacobs, holistic wealth expert and author of “Beautiful Money” – and for myriad reasons.
“For some of us who live through long and cold winters, the first signs of spring can lead to spending more than we earn,” says Jacobs. “When spring hits, we can momentarily lose our money management mind and our focus on good spending habits.”
Just as the holiday season offers ample and easy ways to spend more money than you should, spring has spending traps, too. If you want to avoid dropping extra “green” this spring season, here are some common pitfalls to avoid:
Spring Spending Trap No. 1: New Outdoor Furniture and Decor… Just Because
Have you ever walked into your favorite home store at the end of winter and noticed all the beautiful outdoor furniture, grills, and décor on display? After a cold and ugly winter, it can be extremely tempting to upgrade your outdoor cooking station, buy some new patio loungers, and upgrade your ugly old shade umbrella. And that’s especially true if you’ve already seen your neighbors doing it!
To avoid this trap, only visit Lowe’s or Home Depot if you have to, says financial counselor Lacey Langford — and only with a list in hand! Having a list of things you actually need is a smart way to prevent unplanned purchases any time of the year, but that’s especially true in springtime. When you want to deviate from that list, ask yourself : “Do I really need this?”
And if you already have outdoor furniture and décor from last year, try sprucing it up before you consider buying new. “Think about if you can touch up the old furniture by cleaning it or painting it to bring it back to life,” says Langford. With outdoor furniture, a can of metallic spray paint or even just a good scrubbing can work wonders.
No matter what, you should always try to renew and refresh the stuff you have before splurging on something new. Not only will you avoid spending that extra money, but you’ll create less waste as well.
Spring Spending Trap No. 2: A New Spring Wardrobe
With warmer weather approaching, all of your favorite stores are in the midst of rolling out new tanks and tees in all of the hottest colors. Jean Chatzky, financial editor of NBC’s Today Show and host of the “Her Money” podcast premiering April 11, says the spring weather can be like a siren song for shoppers looking to spruce up their wardrobes.
To avoid going overboard – or buying things you don’t need – Chatzky recommends going through last spring’s wardrobe to take stock of the clothing you already own.
“Rotating your closet — putting the warm weather clothes out of sight in cold weather and vice versa — really helps here,” she says. “When you change your closet, you see many things you forgot you had. They look new. And that can help quell the urge to shop.”
Spring Spending Trap No. 3: Organization Overload
Kim Anderson of Thrifty Little Mom says even spring cleaning can be costly in her neck of the woods. When most people prepare for a good spring clean, she says, they head out and buy tons of cute baskets, bins, and containers to organize all their stuff. (The Container Store, anyone?)
Anderson says this is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Instead of buying more stuff to organize all the crap we have, we should first go through all of our stuff and decide what to keep, donate, or purge.
“Once you have purged your house, consider selling the items you can sell and donating the rest,” says Anderson. By that point, you’ll probably have some extra baskets and storage containers that you can use to organize the remaining stuff you actually want to keep.
The bottom line: Don’t spend time or money organizing stuff you don’t really want in the first place.
Spring Spending Trap No. 4: Going Overboard with Spring Gift-Giving
For some people, spring can be an exercise in gift-giving, says Mike Catania, CEO of discount code site Promotion Code. With Mother’s Day, Easter, and high school and college graduations all falling within a span of two months, it’s easy to go overboard if you’re not keeping track.
That’s why it pays to put some thought into your gifts before spring hits – and that’s true for all of your planned spring gifts. “Delivered flowers, while gorgeous, can put a significant dent in your budget,” says Catania. “Retailers know that you want the best flowers for your mother and they’re going to make you pay for it. A dozen roses for your mother and mother-in-law can easily set you back $100.” Graduation gifts can be costly as well depending on the type of gift – and how many – you buy.
The best way to avoid overspending on spring gifts is to plan ahead. Start shopping early and plan to purchase modest but thoughtful gifts that will last a lifetime or fulfill some purpose. With retailers marking up last-minute gifts with vigor, it always pays to plan ahead.
Spring Spending Trap No. 5: Wasting Your Tax Refund
Of all the spring spending traps out there, treating your tax refund as “free money” is the worst, says Howard Dvorkin of Debt.com.
“It’s not free – it’s yours,” says Dvorkin. “If someone robbed you at gunpoint of $500, then handed it back to you the next day, would you consider that “free money?”
If you’re in debt, Dvorkin begs you to see your tax refund as a ticket to freedom instead of a windfall. “You should spend a tax return on reducing debt, which actually is like free money – because you save on those high interest payments,” he says.
If you do feel the urge to splurge, Chatzky recommends wasting no more than 10% of your tax refund. That way, you can treat yourself while putting the remainder of your refund towards savings or debt.
“Then, change your withholding and your automatic contribution to your retirement plan simultaneously so the amount in your paycheck stays the same going forward but the amount you’re kicking in for your future is supercharged,” says Chatzky. Instead of loaning that money to Uncle Sam, you’ll be investing it in your own future — and you won’t even feel the difference in your paycheck.
Spring Spending Trap No. 6: Gym Memberships You Don’t Use
After spending the winter under thick sweaters, long-sleeve shirts, and leggings, you might find you’re still lugging around that winter muffin top. And with swimsuit season just around the corner, many people see spring as their last chance to get their butt in gear and get to the gym.
But that can be a costly mistake, says Jean Chatzky. “As soon as the thermometer tops 50 degrees on a regular basis, you can comfortably put your gym membership on hold and get outside,” she says. “Whether you’re running, walking, or biking or whatever, it generally costs much less.”
If you don’t have a gym membership already, try exercising outside before you make that investment. And if you’re able to pause your current gym membership temporarily or even cancel it, there are huge savings to be had while the weather is warm and inviting.
Spring Spending Trap No. 7: Buying a New Car
As the warm weather hits, car dealerships are in a fury – and for good reason. Painfully aware of the fact that you’re dying for a sweet new ride (and maybe even a convertible), they’re already scheming up ways to pull you in.
Drive down any town’s main commercial strip and you’ll see red carpets rolled out at the local dealerships. They’ve got balloons on the cars, giant banners promoting their latest deals, even bounce houses for the kids. Some dealerships are even rolling out 0% APR promotions — and, of course, the absolute worst idea in auto financing: 84-month car loans.
While these deals on wheels can be tempting, remember that dealerships will do almost anything to part you with your money. If you already have a car that reliably gets you where you’re going, just look the other way.
The best thing you can do is just avoid dealerships altogether. They can’t lure you in if you never give them the opportunity.
Spring is all about new beginnings. It’s a time of renewal, and the perfect chance to ditch bad habits and create new ones. If you want to stay on track this spring, it’s wise to get on a budget and stay on a budget. Don’t let the warm weather lure you into spending more than you planned, and don’t try to keep up with the Joneses and their new cars, lawn furniture, or wardrobe.
The temptation will always be there, but you’re the one in control. Use the warm weather to rejuvenate your dedication to financial wellness, and you’ll thank yourself later.
What spring spending traps are you trying to avoid this year?