Day 4: Step 3




Bad Spending Triggers

Now that you know what kind of bad and mixed purchases you tend to make, let’s look at what is causing you to make them.

In the chart below, we’ve laid out some factors that can lead us to make poor spending choices. Do you see yourself in any of the descriptions? As you roll over the glowing dots, you’ll find out more about these bad purchases and learn how to prevent them in the future.


Sale Buys

If you do this often, have a spending buddy with a more level head who you can call when you feel tempted to give in to a sales pitch. She can talk you through whether or not you really want the item and whether it is such a good deal. Most likely, there will always be another deal on that item around the corner.




Impulse Buys

Maybe you go to the grocery with a list but end up with a cart full of things you never intended to get. Or you go out to buy socks and end up seeing an irresistible jacket.

Studies show that you cherish items for which you save. The anticipation and the sense that you’ve really earned the splurge multiply the satisfaction it gives you. Buying something spur-of-the-moment brings a momentary boost, but usually not long-lasting pleasure.




Unconscious Spending

Become more conscious of your spending and plan ahead. Decide before you go to a store or go out for the night how much you can spend, and stick to it.




“Features” Shopping

When researching purchases, stay focused on what you want out of the item, not what you could have.



Social Spending

Do you have a friend that always picks a restaurant out of your price range or encourages you to “treat yourself?” Or do you go overboard with gifts, when you could express your love in a less expensive way?

When approaching a social situation, think about what you really want from the experience—a $100 dinner tab that stretches your budget or time with your best friend? For gifts, think of what will most directly express your affection. Sometimes it’s a one-of-a-kind homemade gift.




Buying For Your “Better Self”

Maybe you got yourself a gym membership because you think if you pay money for it, it will force you to exercise. But you might actually prefer taking walks or riding a bike.

Spend on things that reflect who you actually are, not who you want to be. Or, if you want to make a change in your life, make sure you create room for it in your schedule before you spend money on your “new” hobby.





If you err on the side of too little research, force yourself to do a little online research for every purchase greater than $20 for the next month. It will get you in the habit of seeking out good deals and coupons.




Emotional Spending

Do you shop when you’re angry, stressed or so happy that you literally feel like you are a million bucks?

If so, shopping will definitely make you feel worse—or kill your buzz—if you spend money you don’t have. Next time you want a little retail therapy, address the real problem instead or express your happiness in a less financially taxing way. Later, when you get your bank statement, you’ll feel an even better emotion: gratefulness.





Find Your Bad Spending Triggers

Go back to your list one last time. We’ll use the chart above and your own insight to see what is leading you to make less-than-optimal decisions.

  1. Review your list of bad and mixed purchases from Step 2 against the spending triggers in the chart above. Each time you see a transaction that was spurred by one of these spending triggers, mark it down. If you have any bad or mixed purchases that are left unmarked, go back through all of them and write down what you think prompted you to make a bad decision then.
  2. Now look at your sheet again, and count up your spending triggers to determine the top ones. Perhaps you tend toward impulse shopping and social spending, and you’re a sucker for sales. Keep this sheet and remember your top spending triggers. In a couple of days, we’ll develop a few guidelines you can use to prevent yourself from giving in to your shopping Achilles heels in the future.

Become Aware of Your Spending Patterns

Now that we’ve done an extensive analysis of your spending habits, we’d like to make you more aware of them going forward. For the rest of this bootcamp, track how you are feeling every time you make a money decision—whether it’s to buy or not to buy. Look out for any patterns that lead you to make less-than-optimal decisions.

Also, over the next few days, when you are about to hit “checkout” on your favorite shopping site, or you’re barreling towards the cashier with a bunch of items, ask yourself, “Is this a good, bad or mixed purchase?” If you’d classify it as bad or mixed, ask yourself, “Then why am I buying this item?” If you realize that you’re going to make a less-than-optimal purchase because of a spending trigger, put whatever you’re holding back on the shelf or close the browser window, knowing that your bank account is healthier for it.


As you saw today when you analyzed your spending and saving habits, our psychology plays a big role in how we manage our money. Learn more about how you can use your personality to your advantage when it comes to your finances with our psychology of money articles.

  • Anna

    I typed up the Good Purchase, Bad Purchase & Mixed Purchase guidelines and taped them front & back onto a business card. I stuck the business card in my wallet next to my debit card so I will remember to think about what type of purchase it is before handing over my card.  Hopefully it will work!

  • Anna

    I typed up the Good Purchase, Bad Purchase & Mixed Purchase guidelines and taped them front & back onto a business card. I stuck the business card in my wallet next to my debit card so I will remember to think about what type of purchase it is before handing over my card.  Hopefully it will work!

  • Anonymous

    Those “Sale Buys” are killing me this year. JC Penney sends out at least two sales pamphlets per week and my wife must get that 20% off or $10 dollar off a $25 dollar purchase.  The card is almost maxed out and I do not see an end of this spending habit in the near future.  I will try to get  her over here again to get an idea of what “Bad Spending Habits” look like.

  • MarilynV48

    the sale buys and the impulse buys are my biggest downfall.i always leave with something i didn’t intend to purchase

  • Thayes

    My pitfall is food. (I’m not overweight) I take my lunch to work so that I can save money, but then I see everyone else ordering food or bringing food back from a restaurant, and I realize that my frozen cardboard pasta isn’t as appetizing as their Jimmy John’s sub. Then I rationalize that it’s only $5, but then you have to add in the delivery fee, tax and tip, and by the time they get here with it, I’m kicking myself for spending $10 on a sandwich! 

    • Diamond_Richardson

      I am the same way with food! I love to eat out- it is the section of my spending I really need to reign under control. I have been working on it for a few months now and while I still am not perfect, I have found that planning makes a lot of difference. I plan out my meals for the week, and still allow myself once a week to eat out at a moderately priced place for lunch. That way I don’t feel too deprived. If a friend has a birthday dinner, I use that as my once a week out. 

    • Laura

      Food is also mine (I -am- overweight).  I don’t like bringing food into work (so much so that I forget when I pack a lunch until I get to work and the lunch is sitting in the fridge 30 minutes away), and my social pleasures have ALWAYS revolved around food and drink.  I’m taking baby steps to try to reign this under my control: I do pack lunches (even if I sometimes forget they’re ready at home for me), I do cook more dinners at home, and when I go out I force myself to stay away from the “bigger is better” American food mentality.  This past weekend, my better half and I went to a diner and spent $15 on beverages and a couple of sides to share instead of a big $40-50 dinner.  We really enjoyed ourselves, and I was happy knowing I was taking steps to a healthier financial future.

  • Puma820

    My unconscious spending made me consciousness cringe when I looked over my maxed out card.  I can’t even remember most of  these swipes!