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How do I deal with my overspending habit?

2 November 2015
2 minute read

deal with your overspending habit

Dear Andile

Please help! I am terrible with money. I always leave the house or the office intending to just pick up one thing – a cheap lunch, or a pair of black pants – and I always come back with ten times more than I meant to. It’s like I get on some sort of high, spending money. I don’t mean to buy anything but then I do anyway, and I feel a thrill in the moment, but I also feel guilty later about the fact that I have no self-control.

It doesn’t help that I still live at home, and after giving money to my parents and covering my phone bill and transport, the rest of my salary is mine to blow. I know that there are other things that I should be doing with my money – saving, most importantly – but I just can’t seem to make myself be more responsible.

What should I do?

Big spender

Dear Big

If I had a rand for every time I’ve heard a young person say they’re not saving enough… well, I’d have saved a fortune! You spend because you can, and you don’t save because why should you? At the same time, though, your impulse control isn’t great, which means that you spend far more than you should on things you don’t really want or need.

The first thing you should do is try to work out what it is that makes you overspend. You say that you feel “high” when you’re buying something, but you crash as soon as you’ve handed over your cash. Try to work out what the reason for that high is – do you, in that moment, feel that you are someone different, that other people will envy you, or that your life will be improved by the thing you’ve just bought? You are probably sensible enough to know that all of those things aren’t true – so try to remember that before the till goes ka-ching, rather than when you get home and the guilt sets in.

Of course, knowing why you overspend probably won’t be enough to make you stop. I could give you pages of advice about how to get your impulses under control, but honey, you probably already know it all: leave your credit card at home, only shop from a list or draw only the cash you are allowed to spend in each week. But all the advice in the world isn’t going to make an ounce of difference if you haven’t turned on your willpower. So have a long, hard conversation with yourself in the mirror about the kind of person you want to become, and get real about making it happen.

It’s also not a bad idea to “pay yourself first”, which means putting money into a savings or investment account and a retirement annuity at the beginning of every month. A financial advisor at your bank (costs you nothing!) will help you to work out how much you should be saving. Then, if you blow the rest of your salary, and as long as you’re not going into debt, you’re probably fine.

You have taken the first step towards getting your spending under control by admitting you have a problem. Don’t let “big spender” become how you define your whole life. Rather, focus on becoming a new, financially responsible you, and you’ll soon begin to see the results. Your future self will thank you.

Yours in financial freedom

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