Why We Overspend and How to Stop Spending So Much

We see a slew of advertisements and sales all the time—on TV, in magazines, on radio and online, just to name a few. Stores use their best tricks to attract you, the shopper, and to persuade you to spend more freely with surprise sales, “rush” or “limited time” deals, and other enticing offers. They’re really good at what they do and I know because I was one of those guys doing it for decades when I worked for some giant retailers and helped accomplish those goals!

Woman on bench with shopping bags representing overspending and how to stop spending

So how is the average shopper ever supposed to push back and save their budget during all of the bargains they push at you?

To identify what’s going on in stores and online when we buy, here’s a list of some key ways shoppers overspend. Use this information to learn the tactics stores use to keep you shopping and learn how to stop spending so much on impulse shopping.

Why We Overspend and How to Stop Spending So Much

Free – Free – Free

One of the major ways people end up overspending is by indulging in freebies. This sounds counterintuitive, but retailers offer free gifts and services as a way to entice shoppers who wouldn’t otherwise be spending.

When you rationally think about it, a free gift with a purchase isn’t really free because you have to make the purchase first.

The same is true with free shipping and returns. Yes, it can save you money, but only if you actually need the things you are buying.

To fight a wild case of the freebies, keep your shopping list down to things you really do need to buy and always adhere to it. When you fight off the impulses that free triggers, free can actually be free for you.

Sample Mania

For consumer goods like make-up and snack foods, retailers often offer samples as a way to entice buyers. These samples are usually placed next to full displays and can even be stacked with an appealing sale promotion. But keep in mind, stores wouldn’t spend the time and money to run sample tables unless they really worked and made you spend when you weren’t even considering it.

Still, just because that snack was delicious doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Try to think of it as a tasty reward for sticking to your budget instead.

The “Big” Event

It’s no coincidence that companies want to sign you up for promotional emails. These straightforward messages almost always include a catch to get you to shop, like a really big event that is very special, a huge coupon, or a splashy display of new merchandise offerings. When you sign up, retailers can see how often you open their messages. This can prompt retailers to send personalized offers to get you to open the email and offer you another even more attractive “deal”.

A great way to fight that urge is unsubscribing from any mails that are hounding you and making you buy when you don’t need to, just because the deal is so good. There is always an option that should be visibly accessible at the bottom of these messages you can sign off on.

If it’s important to you to get the emails because they sometimes contain money-saving offers on things you need, consider subscribing an alternate email address, one you use just for such subscriptions. Don’t check this email address except when you’re looking for a specific offer on something you plan to purchase.

Other Tricks and Techniques

Have you ever shopped online for an item, and the website warns you the product would only stay in the cart for 15 minutes? Or there’s a countdown clock on the sale price? This is a well-known manipulation technique to make you more anxious to purchase. Coupled with other techniques like “one-click buying”, shopping online can rush by in a blur of unplanned spending.

Mindfulness helps to offer a solution to counter what stores are trying to do. Remind yourself that this won’t be the last red sweater available in the world and that there will be more deals available when you actually need them.

Stores like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Big Lots use marketing tactics to imply they have bargains for products across all different areas of their store. Stores can also send direct mail with exciting coupons designed to grab your attention. Think about those 40% off coupons or BOGO deals advertised by stores like CVS, Old Navy, and Bed Bath & Beyond. The best way to avoid unnecessary spending on these deals is to think carefully about whether you can use these deals for the things you really do want or need. Most of the time the answer will be “not today”.

The Big Store and the Big Packages

Here is one of my favorites to bash. The wholesale retailers like Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s, etc. that overwhelm you with giant warehouse scenarios and huge multi-packs you can only find there. Of course, they are all the things you regularly need, including toilet paper, canned goods, and the rest, but do you really need a bag of 4 heads of lettuce? If you have a large family, maybe you do, but most of us don’t.

Paying a membership fee and then overspending and even sometimes having to discard wasted perishables you just don’t use makes no sense for most people, yet these retailers are highly successful.

In the research I have done, I have found that your local smaller retailers, when they have a “sale price”, always beat the big box stores regular super-duper large packs of just about everything. Avoid getting caught in this retail trap and save your money for the day you need to spend it.

Final Thoughts

Don’t let money burn a hole in your pocket. You work too hard for it. And even though prices have gone way up, so has spending and that drives the price up even further when the demand soars. Don’t be a part of the game.

Good shoppers are aware of sales, discounts, loyalty cards, and all the rest, but they also know when they need something and where the best deals are…even when no freebies are staring right at them. Try to remember how to stop spending so much and use these tips when you are feeling vulnerable to impulse spending. Use good judgement and you will always save money.

Do you feel tempted when you see the deals, specials, and bargains that stores and online retailers flood you with? Can you resist them or do you fold under the temptations? Do your family members fail to use good judgement? What can you do to stop overspending now?

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