Updated on 01.15.07

Ten Ways To Avoid Financially Irresponsible Buying

Trent Hamm

In this modern era, we are surrounded by an almost infinite opportunities to spend money – and an almost infinite number of enticements to take up those opportunities. Advertisements trick us into thinking our lives will be better if we just buy this one item. Our neighbors look happy enjoying their latest luxury. Our friends talk about their desires for the latest gadget. Our family hints at a desire for yet another expensive item.

In other words, the compulsions of everyday life convince us to spend money, not save money. Even though we know that we should be spending less than we make, we’re human – we have moments of weakness and we often fall into those moments of weakness and make frivolous purchases. It’s not a matter of deriving joy from not spending money; it’s a matter of staying vigilant in your cause because you want to protect your dreams.

I’ll give you a recent example from my own life. While traveling, I was feeling very lonely: I missed my wife and my son a lot. Still, I had to get ready for a meeting in a few hours, and as I was dressing and looking at myself in the mirror, I just didn’t feel that self-confidence that I usually rely on when I’m in social situations. In other words, I was in a mindset where advertisements are particularly effective.

Wouldn’t you know it, I wound up less than an hour later walking through a shopping mall with a colleague, looking for a place to dine. On the way, I saw a children’s clothing shop where there was an image of a child, almost the same age of my own, wearing an incredibly cute outfit with a sailboat on the front. It took all my willpower not to walk in there. Shortly thereafter, we passed by an upscale chocolatier – and the smell of fresh chocolate made me think of my wife, and again, I had to tell myself not to go in there and buy a box of chocolate to take home to her.

I actually did fall prey to another advertisement. I generally feel more confident when I’m wearing a cologne of some sort – just a dab under my ears. Well, one of the reasons for my lack of confidence is that I could not find my cologne and I left my room without it. I simply felt less confident – and thus when we walked by a shop and I spied a bottle of a cologne I had considered in the past in the window, I wound up purchasing it. I put a bit on in the restroom and although I felt more confident at that moment, I felt guilty later – especially when I discovered that the maid in my hotel room had simply moved my bottle of Acqua di Gio to an odd place and I could have just worn that.

If I can fall prey to such weaknesses, anyone can. Here are ten techniques for keeping up a day-to-day financial vigilance. These techniques won’t always keep you from spending, but they will eliminate a lot of unnecessary purchases from your budget.

1. Keep reminders of your dreams next to your cash and credit cards.
For me, I keep two pictures in my wallet. One is of my son and the other is of my dream home. Whenever I go to make a purchase, I see at least one of these images and it makes me remember that I have very powerful reasons not to spend.

2. Use the ten second rule.
Whenever you are considering a purchase, stop for ten seconds and think about the purchase. Just count to ten and then consider whether or not you should make that purchase. Think about your bigger goals in life and ask yourself if the purchase really fits into that.

3. Keep clean and confident.
The value of personal hygiene is quite high. Keep yourself clean, brush your teeth, bathe regularly, and dress in clean clothes and you’ll feel better about yourself – and less susceptible to the influence of advertising.

4. Don’t take your credit cards or cash with you – or just take enough to buy what you’re going for.
If you have cash in hand or a credit card in your wallet, it’s a lot easier to buy that trinket than if you didn’t have the cash or the credit card with you. If you’re going out to a place where you might potentially spend money that you know you shouldn’t spend, take only the minimal amount of financial resources you need with you.

5. Avoid situations where it’s easy to spend.
If someone suggests going to the mall, suggest going somewhere else instead – invite them over to your home, or go out to a park or a public entertainment like an art museum. Environments centered around spending money are very, very effective at taking money out of your pocket and putting it in someone else’s pocket.

6. Spend more time with people who share similar financial goals.
My best friend (besides my wife, of course) is one of the most financially stable and frugal people I’ve ever met. Doing stuff with him makes it very easy for me to not spend money – a typical afternoon hanging out involves playing board games or watching some random sci-fi television show. If you have a lot of friends, see which ones put you in situations to spend money and which ones are more likely to go along with activities that don’t cost a lot.

7. Explore less financially demanding interests.
I used to have a number of very expensive hobbies. My primary hobbies now are reading (I’m burning through my local library like a madman) and blogging (which eats time but is covering its own expenses and a bit more for the time being). Suddenly, it’s as if I have a ton of money for investing and saving that I simply didn’t have before.

8. Total up your expenditures regularly.
Once a week (or month, whatever works for you), take a look at everything you’ve spent, count everything that wasn’t essential, and total it. You might just gasp at this. Keep that number in mind every time you go to spend money and imagine what that number could be doing if it were invested instead. For me, it’s the difference between a nice house and a very, very nice house.

9. Ask yourself why exactly you want a particular item.
Thinking of buying a flat screen TV? Why? Is there something particularly wrong with your current television? Do you actually need to spend thousands just so your television can be thin? Whenever you evaluate splurges in this light, the compulsion to buy shrinks – and perhaps disappears.

10. Establish a “waiting period” before any nonessential purchase.
If you’re still ready to buy after all of this, wait a period of time before buying. Give yourself twenty four hours before making the purchase. Walk out of the store, go home, and sleep on it. If you still think the purchase is worthwhile the next day, then go forward with the purchase.

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  1. Chris says:

    Something along the same lines is that I budget myself $100 per week in misc items. So I’ve been putting off items with the thought of “I’ll get it next week” or “I’ll save two weeks for that”, but since the item is really non-essential, other more essential things come up, and I forget all about that random item I wanted. I still feel free to go out, and waste some money, but I have a relief valve to keep me from spending WAY too much.

  2. Isabeau says:

    Paperbackswap.com! It’s saved me hundreds of dollars, and it’s desperately in need of people to shift the balance away from romance novels.

  3. MidnightUT says:

    My wife and I do the same thing as Chris kind of. We each get a small monthly allowance. It allows us to each enjoy some guilty pleasures that we can’t really justify, and allows us a sense of financial freedom without really harming the budget. We can save up for more expensive items if its something we really want, and often times you realize its not worth it. I also highly recommend it for couples, as it takes away a lot of animosity over seemingly frivolous purchases.

  4. I’d be worried about following #4. You never know when a true emergency or great opportunity could appear. Perhaps your car breaks down. Perhaps that cologne is on sale 70% off and you were getting low on it anyway. The best answer is just use the self control. Maybe the 10 second rule needs to expand to 20 seconds :-).

  5. Stargirl says:

    There are some great tips in here, and just wanted to let you know that I’ve added a link to you on my own blog :) Thanks for the motivation!

  6. edith says:

    i have been a compulsive buyer since i had my first job but because i heard too many nasty things about credit card nightmares, i have not used credit card for any frivolous purchase. i only use it for convenient transfers like fees, and when i need cash, i know i can cover that quickly, because i have cash elsewhere. i am learning to be a smart buyer everyday, and i don’t feel hanging and lost when i need to get anything. i know what i need and watch many people run around buying everything as i used to do. i am happier now that i choose to be cautious and levelheaded.

  7. Bob says:

    Although you may want a certain goal, it is very hard to pass up something cool that you really want. For example, i have a problem, Everytime i see a Cell phone thats new and cool I have to buy it. I have bought over 3 cellphones in the last two months that have cost me over 300$$$ each.

  8. steve says:


    Actually, what you wrote isn’t quite right– every time you see a cell phone that’s new and cool you don’t HAVE to buy it, you actively CHOOSE to buy it.

    If you think about it, you’ll see it’s true. And once you realize that you made a choice, you’ll realize you have choice and might decide to make a different kind of choice the next time.

    Well, it’s been about 10 months since your post, but maybe that’s a useful comment to someone who’s reading!

  9. santhosh says:

    it is a nice aricle who are living with debts and still spending than saving.

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