As a follow up to my previous post suggesting you take the time to create a certain mindset to help you decide how much to spend on purchases, I thought it might also be helpful to take things a step further in order to actually reduce the amount of “spending situations” you schedule into your life. By understanding the basic psychology behind what we are really after when carrying out some of our habits we can redirect our plans and satisfy our real needs without spending as much money in the process.
As You Eat Your Food, Food Eats Your Paycheck
Just as before, I will use food (and drinks) as the primary example here. For many people, a common way to unwind from the stress of the work week is to have a drink with co-workers or to meet up with friends and family at a restaurant or bar on the weekends. These gatherings don’t come cheap either, as a longer stay and the requisite social atmosphere rule out a lot of less expensive venues. Of course, if you get a great deal of enjoyment out of the few times you can decompress with company of your choosing and the money spent isn’t an issue, then by all means continue to do so. But for those people who keep finding themselves a little short at the end of each month, it may be helpful to take a deeper look into what you are really seeking from these get-togethers.
Chances are the food and drinks aren’t what you are really after. More likely, you are feeding your need for social interaction and friendship as much as your appetite. Which, if true, is both natural and a great piece of information to recognize. Because if this is the case, then by switching the location of these gatherings to someone’s house or a park you will be able to save the money spent while still satisfying your real need. It is just as possible to catch up with friends and have a lot of great conversation during a TV/game night in or a pick-up basketball game with your friends as it is at a restaurant. And if everyone still needs to eat, splitting a pizza or two will likely still result in significant savings over a few hours at a neighborhood eatery.
Retail Therapy Makes Your Pockets Sick
Another common outlet for workplace stress is shopping. Whether you look online or to the mall to reward yourself for all your hard work, it is once again worthwhile to investigate the root of your urge to spend. It can be easy to justify buying things you don’t need but simply want by telling yourself that you earned the money so therefore you earned the right to spend it how you’d like. And I’d agree. But again, if you are coming up short or not meeting your savings goals every month, it might be worth examining if your shopping is just feeding into a cycle where you work to pay bills but then spend which creates new bills that require you to work more.
While I don’t claim to be a psychologist, it seems possible that what people who indulge in retail therapy are truly after is a level of control. I made the money so I should get to decide what it is spent on. And I (rather than my job) control my mood, just watch me smile as I buy this expensive bag. I could be off here, but if I’m at all right then perhaps it might be worth considering how you can gain better control of your life without creating more bills. If that is the case, the answer is straightforward, if a bit lackluster in the short term; pay off the debt. The truth is, aside from bragging rights or pride, the reason you need to generate a certain income is because you have unpaid bills. If your bills were magically eliminated, your income requirements would decrease dramatically. So go ahead and eliminate them as much as you possibly can. When what you owe is less than what you earn you have a much greater level of freedom. You can either start saving at a high rate or choose to dial back your work hours since you don’t need as much money to live. You might not have the fancy clothes you do now, but you also might discover that you don’t desire them since having control over how you spend your waking hours creates the same happiness that your shopping was trying to produce.
Generally speaking, what we spend above and beyond our basic needs speaks more to our desires than anything else. If money is tight or you find yourself coming up short of your savings goals it is worth investigating what your spending might suggest about your basic psychological needs as a human. If you can satisfy those needs without putting yourself in a situation where you’re spending the extra portion of your paycheck you can shift that extra money back to your wallet without sacrificing what makes you happiest.