Why Do We Buy Things We Don’t Need?

No More Ice Cream!


This is part of a guest-post “swap” with Julia from Bargain Babe.  After you are done reading, be sure to head on over to her site to see the post I wrote for her!

The Bargain Babe, aka Julia Scott, writes about saving money on everyday expenses at BargainBabe.com.   In the two years she has been blogging about personal finance, she has become a real cheapskate.  Here is her post about unnecessary spending.

I just finished a whole carton of Neapolitan ice cream on my own.  It took me a few days, but that’s beside the point:  I am powerless when it comes to saying no to ice cream.

I am not alone. But for many people, the problem is not ice cream, but spending.  Some 44 percent of Americans carry revolving credit card debt, according to a recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  A spokeswoman at the Foundation named Gail Cunningham helped me understand why can’t we say no to spending.

  • We focus on instant gratification. I know the ice cream is going to slow me down on my next run, but I’m so fixated on the pleasure I derive during the four minutes it takes me to scarf down a bowl that I tell myself I’ll do 100 crunches later to make it up.  I’m still waiting for later.
  • Spending is a lot more fun than saving, Gail pointed out.
  • We think the buyer’s high will last. Unfortunately, a few hours or days after bringing home a new pair of shoes or electronic toy, reality sinks in.  A bill is coming.
  • Spending is a habit. Ever try to break one?  It’s haaaard.
  • We treat shopping as a recreational activity and put little thought into spending, Gail said.
  • Culturally we’re taught we need more and more stuff, the latest product, this season’s “in” pair of shoes.

When I was chatting with Gail I didn’t tell her about my ice cream problem.  But savvy lady that Gail is, she picked right up on it.

“When you go on a diet, let’s call it a debt diet, don’t go to the mall,” Gail said. “Put temptation behind you.”  If you must shop:

  • Leave your credit cards at home.
  • Freeze your cards in a block of ice. If really need that item, let the ice melt naturally.  Using the microwave is cheating!
  • If not through ice, create time to catch your breathe and evaluate your purchases.
  • Enforce a 30-day waiting period for big ticket items.
  • Track your spending. Not very fun, but very savvy.  Put your spending in writing and let it stare you in the eyes.
  • Take charge of your money. Instead of letting your spending habit take over, spend and save with purpose.  Chose concrete items, like a summer vacation or your daughter’s prom dress, that you are putting your money toward.
  • Use cash, Gail said.  Many people spend less if they use cash instead of credit cards.

How do you control your spending?  Have any of these ideas worked for you?  Join in on the discussion by leaving a comment!

Julia Scott is a cheapskate by nature and a journalist by training.  If you enjoyed this article please consider subscribing to her updates!  In addition, don’t forget to visit my guest-post, Cash Vs. Credit:  Which Side Are You On?, on her blog!

19 thoughts on “Why Do We Buy Things We Don’t Need?”

  1. Pingback: Bargain Babe » Why do we buy things we don’t need?

  2. One thing that I’ve done is to try and shift my spending towards experiences rather than stuff. Experiences usually provide happiness over a longer period of time than purchasing a new material good. The reason you’re spending in the first place is to be happy right?

    The other thing I do is track my spending. It’s kind of dull but when I sit down with my budget spreadsheet I’m forced to ask just how much value purchase XYZ brought (or will bring into my life). If it isn’t bringing in that much value or if a low cost alternative could bring in just as much value, then I try not to buy it.

    P.S. I too cannot resist ice cream.

    P.P.S: If you’ve frozen your credit cards, don’t microwave them. You might wind up ruining the magnetic strip.

    SaveBuyLive’s last blog post..51% of Americans are now committed to either spending less or saving more

    1. We have done the same thing in shifting our focus towards experiences. They are just so much more amazing than a pile of things, in our book. Of course, (like you pointed out) tracking every penny we spend has been absolutely crucial in helping us curb impulse buys! Great comments…

    1. 44% scares me too. I could even see that number being higher! Book had a huge grip on me, until I start reading more and more blogs. I can get most of my fix online and then can buy the rest used like you.

      1. Not yet, but I really should 🙂 I hit the $1 section of the used book store pretty hard, as well as Half.com. I quickly learned that if I wait 4-6 weeks, brand new hardcover books (including guys like Grisham) will drop to just a few bucks (plus shipping). I’ve learned to be a bit more patient and hold off on buying them retail.

        kosmo @ The Casual Observer’s last blog post..A mind laid bare

  3. I think it’s more to allow for some indulgences (especially relatively affordable ones like ice cream, lol). But what often helps me prevent an impulse purchase is keeping my “big” financial goal in mind. Right now, it’s to pay off the mortgage, and I keep putting off a hair cut because I’d rather put the $60 towards the debt!

    Cathy @ Chief Family Officer’s last blog post..Works for Me: Office chair mat as a high chair mat

  4. Great post on needless spending. Most of the bullet points about why we spend have to do with pleasure. We enjoy spending. It’s a recreational activity, a national sport. But it’s unsatisfying. The more we spend, the less we truly enjoy. There is so much real pleasure in the simple lifestyle.

    Join us for No Spend Wednesdays to learn where your own cash drains are. Tweet #NoSpendWed with your challenges and victories.

    1. I have to agree with you. We as a culture just enjoy spending. Although I have start to grow very fond of a simple lifestyle, as well. It’s an acquired taste.

  5. For the most part I rely on budgeting and only going in stores with the intent to buy something. I still sometimes feel an itch to just go buy something though. My favorite way of dealing with that is to buy something I was planning on getting anyway. Most of the time, these are things on my “Someday I need to get X,” list. Things like the missing book to a series or socks and underwear, a new pair of jeans, makeup I’m running out of, etc. All things I would eventually end up getting anyway, but just haven’t gotten to yet.

    Slinky’s last blog post..I am the master of my fate

  6. <>

    Hmmm…Seems like many of these tips would work on a food diet…ever thought of that?
    I consider myself a fair saver but a poor dieter. Some foods (like pastries and ice cream) seem to ‘call’ me when I stroll past them….but my chocolate cravings are tamed with a square of an 85% Lindt bar…

  7. We’ve just bought our first house and to pay off the mortgage faster, I’ve had to curb my spending on junk food. A few dollars on takeout or snacks here and there can really add up! To get rid of the temptation, I only shop for non-perishable items once a month, and then with a shopping list. We buy staples (canned fish and vegetables, grains and flours) instead of pre-packaged, processed food. I go to a greengrocer for fresh produce once a week. If we run out of something, I just have to be creative until the next shopping date.

    My monthly shop means I only need to be self-controlled for a short, infrequent burst. I’m not spending any more time per shopping trip, either. The same approach is working with errands that take me to malls (I go once or twice a week with a list, for a determined time). Paying off our loan is worth the discipline!

  8. I cancelled my cable. No TV…just occasional movies or Netflix stream. The resulting free time…it is A LOT..is used to work on constructive projects and income producing ventures like Ebaying all my excessive “stuff”. I am minimalizing my household, little by little. As a result I am much happier with less. My time is not only productive but much more enjoyable.
    I feel as though I have reclaimed my life by rejecting major time wasters such as commercial low quality TV viewing. Reading, Sewing, Cooking meals and making due with what I have feel really rewarding. Thank you for this site as it has been a major catalyst in positive changes in my life. In the past two months I have given up Cable TV, Caffeine, and Sugar…for time and health issues. It is hard at first making those changes to the habits we get used to…but once you get past the “hump” of the first week..GREAT things begin to happen.. I feel in control of my life again!

  9. I came across your post because I was just bored, browsing Amazon. I knew I didn’t need anything, but I just WANTED something. Luckily I’m not in the habit of buying stuff, so looking and adding to my wish list is often good enough, but still – Amazon is a killer for my budget sometimes. It’s just so easy to buy!

    They should allow you to see how much you spend on Amazon each year right on the site. I’m sure I would be shocked.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Scroll to Top