7 Spending Triggers that KILL (Your Budget)

Spending Triggers That Kill Your Budget - picture of laptop on shopping site and hands holding out credit card

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It’s Halloween, so cue the creepy music, y’all!

No, seriously. Crank up the volume, hit play before reading, and let’s set this mood up proper, yo! Go ahead, we’ll wait…

OK, good. Here we go…

What’s that hiding in the financial shadows? You might not see them, but there they are. Lurking. Masked by the euphoria of shopper’s high and the smell of discount perfume, they are SPENDING TRIGGERS… and they’re waiting to KILL your budget.


Alright, alright. You can cut the music.

Sure, we’re having a little fun today, but let’s face the facts: Overspending is not a joke. Spending triggers are real, and they can do serious damage to your monthly budget.

So, how do you avoid spending triggers from creeping in and sending your budget into a tailspin? First, you need to know what your triggers are. Then, you can avoid and fix them.

We’ve compiled the absolute best (that’s debatable), entirely (not) comprehensive, most superb (well, they’re better than average) list of common spending triggers to ever grace the virtual pages of the internet! BEHOLD! We give you 7 Spending Triggers that Can KILL (Your Budget)!!!

7 Spending Triggers to Avoid

1) Addiction

I hate shopping. But about once a year, I hit the stores and it is game freakin’ on! I’m trying on clothes. I’m looking at tools. I’m testing out new pairs of sneakers. Everything I want is getting tossed the cart… and it feels sooooo good!

That, my friend, is shopper’s high… and it’s real. I can only imagine it’s devilish draw to people who actually enjoy shopping. Seriously, if shopping is your drug, spending is your high. Unfortunately, like all highs, the euphoria is short lived. When you realize what you’ve done, it’s depression time – which only makes you want to get high some more. It’s a dangerous cycle that can be tough to avoid.

The Fix: Shopping addiction is real, and it can have serious consequences. Busted budgets, maxed out credit cards, and piles of debt are no laughing matter. This stuff can ruin your life. Look for healthier alternatives, like sports and exercise, to get that same rush of excitement.

2) Stress

Did you have a bad day at work? Are you under a lot of stress at home? If so, you may be turning to shopping as a way to relieve stress.

Like with shopping addictions, stress shopping might make you feel better over the short term. But once the high wears off, you’re left holding the shopping bag… and the bill. That leads to more stress and more spending.

The Fix: Like other unhealthy habits, stress spending actually increases the emotion you’re hoping to avoid. Instead of hitting the mall, find ways to deal with undesirable emotions. Talking with a friend, writing it down, or dancing your socks off can be great ways to blow off steam without destroying your checkbook. Eating healthy and regular exercise can also do wonders for stress.

3) Celebration

Instead of dealing with problems, maybe something great happened. Perhaps you made a huge sale or got a big promotion at work. Maybe you got an “A” on a test or hit a new weight loss goal. Whatever it is, going on a shopping binge might be your “reward.”

Look, rewarding yourself for big wins is important… as long as you keep it in check. Giving yourself a reward can be a great motivator, plus it helps to stave off feelings of deprivation. But, rewards should be reasonable and correspond with the goal you’ve reached.

The Fix: Instead of a spending binge, try taking yourself to a matinée or grab an ice cream cone. Small rewards can feel just as great as big ones. As with all purchases, take a little time to think them through before throwing down the dough.

4) Boredom

We all do silly things when we’re bored. Some flip channels. Some of us fidget. Me, I graze through my cupboards looking for junk to eat. And then, there are bored spenders.

I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of this before. Even me, the guy who hates to shop, has been bored enough to hit the store. Instead of finding something constructive to do, I’ve spent plenty of time wandering through aisles of sporting goods and trendy clothing. Heck, sometimes Holly and I even consider this a date night!

The Fix: This is an easy spending trigger to fix. First, recognize the symptoms of “bored spending.” Are you wandering around the house, looking for something to do? Are you out shopping just because you have free time? If so, you may be spending out of boredom. Find other things to keep you busy like working in the yard, watching a movie, or cleaning the house. Idle hands are a spending trigger’s playground!

5) Competition

We all love to win. And the more we win, the better we feel about ourselves. It’s a gift that just keeps on giving.

Sometimes shopping can seem like a competitive sport too. We love to beat others to the punch, show off the new crap we bought, and spike the ball in the proverbial end zone. Whether we’re vanquishing our rivals on ball field or trying to whip the Joneses down the street, our competitive juices can get the best of us… and our wallets.

The Fix: Whether you’re literally paying for competition (like youth sports) or you consider shopping itself to be the game, your pocketbook generally ends up the loser. Grabbing the latest $700 iPhone isn’t a great deal if you’ve already got one that works. Prepping your child for an athletic scholarship could easily cost more than if you’d just saved the money for college. Sometimes you need to take a step back and question what’s driving your spending. Are you spending because it’s in your best interest or because you want to win?

6) Fear

One of the best ways to drive sales is to stimulate fear. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll never see that deal again. Perhaps you’re scared they’ll run out if you don’t act. Or, maybe you’re literally afraid for your life. Fear sells.

Honestly, fear is a great marketing tactic, and it gets used all the time. We spend huge amounts of money to assuage our fears. From things that make our homes “safer” to high pressure sales tactics, our fears constantly get played. And when we are afraid, we don’t always make rational decisions.

The Fix: Again, take a step back and assess the situation. Give yourself time to consider your options, especially if your purchase is being driven by fear. Step back, assess whether you really need what’s being sold, and determine if it is worth it. If you’re feeling pressure from a salesman, it’s almost always best to walk away from the table and give yourself time to think. A deal that’s good on Saturday will be there next Wednesday too.

7) Faux Value

Do you ever wonder why everything at Kohl’s is on sale? I mean seriously, is ANYTHING ever full-price there? How the heck do they make any money? we just keep coming back, over and over again, throwing down cash on those giant deals, and it’s like they never seem to… oh.

When we think we’re getting a good deal, we’re far more likely to spend. Advertisers and retailers know this, so they put out nifty looking signs with big bold numbers screaming 50% OFF. To make it even more attractive, they add slashes through the “original” price, just to drive the “deal” home. It’s a sneaky little Jedi mind trick, and it’s geared to persuade you to buy.

The Fix: PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD AND WALK AWAY FROM THE CLEARANCE AISLE! Just because you’re getting a good deal on something – correction – just because you THINK you’re getting a deal, does not mean you have to buy it. Put down the Coach purse and back away slowly. Ask yourself, “Am I buying this because I need it or because it’s on sale?” If you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll have your answer.

The Bottom Line

Spending triggers can appear in any number of different situations. But, when you’re spending your hard-earned dollars on a purchase, it pays to understand what’s tempting you to buy. Buying things you need isn’t a problem in itself. Spending money without purpose can be.

If you think you’re spending too much, try tracking your expenses. That way, you’ll be able to see the exact amount of money you’re spending each month. Better yet, you’ll know what you’re spending on. You can use a sheet of paper or use free tools like this one. It doesn’t matter what you use. The important thing is that you know where your money is going.

Take some time, think about your purchase, and avoid spending triggers whenever possible. By thinking through the purchase, you’ll start saving on the things that don’t matter so you can spend on the things that do.

What are some of your spending triggers? Fire away in the comments below!

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  1. Great post Greg! I am never bored – so I can’t relate to that one at all! I do know people who struggle with “rewarding” themselves though. Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you have to go buy a bunch of stuff? And once you teach your kids that they should be rewarded (with stuff) for working hard – you can set them up for serious money problems. I love this line – Small rewards can feel just as great as big ones. So true!

    1. Thanks Vicki! Glad you enjoyed the piece. I don’t see anything wrong with giving yourself a break or “rewarding” yourself for a win. I think it helps keep you motivated and holds off feelings of deprivation. With that said, there’s a HUGE difference between buying a candy bar and a dropping $800 at the mall.

  2. As someone who spent much of her free time in the mall (and then I worked retail FOREVER), I have done all of these things. Stressed out? Buy shoes. Something went well? Buy shoes. Big event coming up? Better buy a handbag to go with new shoes. Store is having a sale? Rinse and repeat. It’s really dangerous. And the fact that it is so easy to dismiss is the most troubling part of all of it. Consumer culture is really blatant, but it also runs really deep. The best example I can think of recently is when I saw on Instagram that The Minimalists were teaming up with companies to sell curated items that fit within minimalism.

    1. It’s easy to do. So much of what we talk about and do revolves around spending money. Just look at a popular show like the Kardashians. There’s really not a plot. It’s just one product placement after another. It’s no wonder we have so much debt in this country.

  3. I think I was guilty of all of these back when I was in debt. It really didn’t matter the situation or emotion, as I’d just spend on whatever I wanted. Boredom is really the only thing that gets me now, but thankfully I’m so busy that I really don’t have an opportunity to act on boredom, lol.

    1. Ha! I hear you on being busy man. I think the busier I become, the stingier I get 😉

  4. The one that got me the most (and still does sometimes) is the fear of missing out on a good deal. If I see something I need (most likely think I need, but just want) at a low price…I think I should buy it because I may never find it at that low price again. This doesn’t happen very often because, like you, I hate shopping. But I do like to save money! 🙂

  5. I think the good bargains that I don’t need are my worst issue. I love to hunt for good finds at a cheap price, but usually I put it back before actually heading to the checkout. Usually. What’s even worse is that I spent decades in retail management so I know all the tricks they use to make something sound like a deal, and yet I still get tempted.

    1. Yeah, it can definitely be hard to lay off a “bargain” when you see one. Even a spending Scrooge like me has trouble with it sometimes 🙂

  6. I used to be a couponer and would spend my Sundays pouring over the ads and looking for coupons to go with those ads. It eventually proved to be to much for me to keep up with, but I did get some great deals! To this day coupons are kinda a trigger for me, and I want to go buy whatever the item is that had the coupon. However, I’ve realized that the items that have coupons are mostly for junk and food that I normally wouldn’t buy. But when I do find a good coupon for something I use often..I’m all over it. 🙂

    1. We used to do the same thing! We’d spend hours finding the best coupons and then strategizing how we were going to spend them according to the sales each store was running. At the time, it did help us save tons of money – mostly on household goods. We had a gigantic stockpile of stuff that never went old. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that our time was more valuable than what we were saving on stuff that we (mostly) didn’t need or use.

  7. I have been triggered by some of these in the past, but now that I am aware, it will be easier to stick to my plan. Thanks!

    1. Hey Joey, Thanks for stopping by! Like they used to say on G.I. Joe – Knowing is half the battle.

  8. love this– especially what you said about tracking your expenses. That was a big game changer for us. We are paying off $600k of debt and we thought we were doing a fairly good job of not overspending, until we started tracking and realized just how bad things were! We were overspending a TON, especially on groceries. Tracking expenses helped us get with a budget and start sticking to it.

    1. Tracking expenses was a huge key for us too. Like you, we spent way too much on food. Once we finally saw exactly what we were spending our money on, it was a wake-up call to change our bad habits.

  9. I totally relate to spending out of boredom! I had this habit bad when I had an hour to kill every work day during lunch. Going to Starbucks became my boredom fix. I actually wrote about why I changed my lunch time at work to only 30 minutes and how that has helped my productivity and my budget! I haven’t been to Starbucks once since the change!!

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