money, budgeting, spending, personal finance

The best way to curb the urge to splurge

We’re out and about somewhere and we see this amazing dress or a really fancy car, and we get an irresistible urge to splurge. We may be at a friends place and their newly renovated kitchen or porch makes us want to run out and hire a contractor. We’ve all been there.

There is nothing wrong with buying the things we like. The purchasing of items and services is, after all, the whole purpose of money. If we couldn’t exchange money for useful things it would be just worthless pieces of paper, or maybe just a meaningless number in a computer somewhere. However, we often get ourselves in trouble when we don’t fully visualize what it will cost to purchase this item we’re currently coveting.

The trouble is the cost in dollar terms is easily lost on us because we are not very good at visualizing numbers. Therefore, the best way to control the urge to splurge is to visualize the cost in terms of something else we really covet. 

This “something” else could be anything that we value very highly in our lives. In the case of my wife and I, we often use travelling as a point of reference. My wife will often joke about getting an expensive designer purse, but she immediately puts it in travel terms, and it makes the urge go away.  “It’s only enough money to backpack Asia for 3 months” is the best antidote to a bad impulse purchase. “That kitchen reno would be great! it’s just about enough money to finance a full year travelling around the world for the entire family.” Ehh, maybe we’ll skip it.

The same goes for putting money away for retirement or for time away from work. We try to fully visualize what that extra $3,000 spent on furniture means in terms of buying our time back. Would I rather buy new furniture for my basement, or take 2 months off work to spend with my newborn child, as I am doing this summer. To me, the choice is pretty obvious once it’s stated in this way.

This can also work for recurring purchases such as cable bills and gym memberships. What we usually do is multiply this monthly bill by 12 and put it in terms of vacations or plane flights. $1,500 a year for cable can buy two plane tickets to somewhere in the Caribbean, Central America or even South America.

The use of travel and time off as a comparison works for us because we value these things very highly. However, you may have entirely different priorities. Perhaps your priority is improving your home, or being able to go out to your own cottage every week, or to buy a boat. Whatever the priority is, the key is recognizing it, and then making the little daily decisions to get you there. Framing any impulse purchases in terms of delaying or preventing you from reaching those true priorities will help you control the urge to splurge. It will also help you achieve those goals much sooner.


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