6 Times We Blow More Money Than We Mean to (and Ingenious Ways to Stop)
We all know the feeling after booking a flight to the beach or downing second glass of post-raise celebratory champagne—we’re ready to spend.
Opportunities like this are around every corner. But tempting situations, whether a friend brandishing a weekend getaway or a store window showcasing the tablet of your dreams, don’t have to be a bad thing for your money. Instead, we can choose to see them as opportunities to make good spending decisions instead.
How? A few psychological tricks that will help you best your brain and form new, more helpful habits.
For advice on recrafting tempting situations into opportunities to exercise self-control, we spoke to Julia Galef, president and cofounder of the Center for Applied Rationality, and Syble Solomon, executive coach and creator of Money Habitudes, a game-like set of cards which helps start conversations about money.
They shared their best tricks to help us choose not to spend, even in some of the most tempting circumstances. Use their insight to help when you are …
1. At the Tail End of a Terrible Day
Maybe your boss yelled at you, your deal fell through, or your basement flooded—no matter what happened, you could use some serious cheering up. All too often, we look to buy that cheer … which is decidedly less comforting when we see our checking account the next morning.
How to Combat Temptation: Solomon has an acronym for situations—all too common at the end of the day—that make us extra vulnerable: HALT, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. “If you’re feeling any of those, recognize that you’re prone to poor decision-making,” she says.
The trick is heading off temptation at the pass. “Before you head out the door, ask yourself how you’re feeling and consciously rate your vulnerability on a scale of 1 to 10,” Solomon suggests. “When you know you’re vulnerable, you can use that opportunity to take more control.”
Galef adds that stress can subject us to what psychologists call “cognitive distortions,” or exaggerated and irrational thoughts. (For example, if one bad thing happens to you, you might extrapolate and assume that the pattern is destined to repeat itself—turning a lousy afternoon into a downward spiral.)
“One of the most useful things you can do for your decision-making is to be able to recognize the emotional cues that you’re in a state of elevated stress—and to know how to destress,” she says. And, once you take a few minutes to calm yourself, you’ll be more likely to convince yourself to tuck that cash (or card) back in your wallet.
2. On Your Third Drink Out With Friends
Does “next round is on me!” sound familiar? Chances are, you’ve made that announcement a few hours into a big night out. Notice how your generosity increases along with your blood alcohol level? That’s because alcohol decreases our impulse control … and control is paramount when it comes to making the responsible choice, financial or otherwise.
How to Combat Temptation: Four drinks deep isn’t the time to suddenly start worrying about your budget. That worrying should be done earlier, before you imbibe. In this situation, a key part of deciding not to spend is minimizing your other options, so you can’t make the wrong decision even if you try. Solomon recommends setting yourself up for success well before hitting the bar: “Only take enough cash for what you planned to spend and leave the credit card at home,” she suggests, or have your designated driver hold onto your credit card for the night.
3. Celebrating a Raise or Bonus
Good news merits celebration! Certainly, you’ve earned a treat—but there’s a big difference between a bouquet of flowers and squandering your entire windfall. Overdoing it risks souring your celebration with next-day regrets.
How to Combat Temptation: Making the right decision when you’re high on life is all about reframing your mindset. “Our decisions often have more to do with our identity (‘I’m the kind of person who…’) than our goals,” Galef explains. “But you can use this to your advantage.
In other words, you’re the kind of person who is skilled enough to get a raise or promotion? Great—then you must also be the kind of person who is savvy enough not to spend it all right away!” Of course, you needn’t sock away every single penny: When you get a windfall like a bonus, a good rule of thumb is to mix work and play by putting 90% toward your financial priorities … and 10% toward something fun.