The Happiness Project

Nine Tips To Avoid Overspending

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Nine tips to avoid overspending.

One source of unhappiness for people is feeling out of control of their spending—and this is a problem that’s far more widespread now than it was a year ago. Feeling regret about having bought something is a very unpleasant sort of unhappiness. Being an underbuyer , as opposed to an overbuyer , I don’t generally have much trouble avoiding overspending. I have more trouble prodding myself to buy things I actually need.

Nevertheless, even with my underbuying ways, I sometimes come home with something I didn’t really need. Stores use extremely clever strategies to hoodwink customers into making purchases. Here are some strategies to make sure you don’t make purchases you regret:

1. Be wary of the checkout areas . There are lots of enticing little items here; ask yourself if you really need something before you add it to your pile. How many times have I picked up a jar of Balmex?

2. Get in and get out. The more time you spend in a store, the more you’re likely to buy. Even better: Don’t even go in the store. Then you definitely won’t buy.

3. Question the need for an upgrade . You might want that device with a slick new function or an improved version of what you have now, but do you really need it?

4. Be polite to salespeople but don’t feel like they’re your new best friends . Don’t buy something because you worry about hurting their feelings or feel guilty that you made them do a lot of work helping you or explaining products to you. (At the same time, be respectful of clerks’ efforts. The other day, I was in Gap Kids, and I saw someone rifle through a pile of beautifully stacked shirts in a way that would require them to be refolded. Was he malicious or just oblivious? I couldn’t tell.)

5. Don’t shop when you’re in a hurry or when you’re hungry .

6. Stick to a list . I’ve found that after I’ve decided to buy one thing, I’m far more likely to throw in other impulse items because I know that I’ve committed to going through the hassle of paying.

7. Beware of sale items , which make you feel like you can’t afford not to buy, or limited-time offers, which make you feel like you have to take advantage of a special deal. If you don’t need or want something, it’s not a good deal, not matter how cheap it is. A friend of mine told her husband, “I got this 50 percent off!,” and he answered, “That means it was 50 percent ON.” Along the same lines …

8. Don’t buy anything that you don’t know you need . This is especially important with clothes. If you’re not careful, you can buy a pair of pants marked down 75 percent, then realize that you can’t really wear them unless you buy the right shoes to go with them.

9. Pay with cash or credit card, whichever is least comfortable . Some people find it far harder to spend physical cash; other people find that paying with cash makes a purchase seem trivial, even when the dollar amount is high. Know whether you’re more inclined to overspend with cash or credit cards—and leave that payment method at home.

Have you found any great strategies to prevent overspending?

* I discovered a terrific new site for working mothers, The Mama Bee . Great material, helpful information, and beautifully written.

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just e-mail me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.