Humans are smart. Sure, we might do some pretty stupid things, but there’s a lot of brainpower going on up in our heads. Sometimes we use all that brainpower in the wrong way. We often know what the right thing is but find ways to justify doing the wrong thing. I should go to the gym, but I had a hard day, so I deserve a Netflix and binge eat popcorn night. I should really finish that work assignment, but I haven’t gone out for drinks with the girls in FOREVER. I should really save for the future by OH MY GOD THOSE SHOES ARE ON SALE! Sound familiar? Yeah, me neither. I am definitely not all those people.

We are pretty amazing at justifying decisions that aren’t in our best interest. And we’re especially bad at this when it comes to money. I bet every single one of us has an arsenal of money tricks we tell ourselves to make spending sound like the best idea ever. Why do we do this?

Delayed Gratification Sucks

It’s simple. We want what we want and we want it now. If you have a choice between spending $100 today, saving it for a vacation in three months, or investing it for retirement, what do you do? If there’s an item you’ve had your eye on then you might go buy it, and if not, then you’ll probably set it aside for that vacation. Very few of us would gravitate to the retirement option. For most of us, it feels too far away.

I Have Lots of Time

While this may be true when we’re talking about retirement, it’s not an excuse for doing nothing. We know that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the better off you’ll be and the less you’ll have to save overall. Compounding can do incredible things to your money, but it needs time to work its magic. The best thing you can do is set up automatic deposits to go into your retirement account every time you get paid and then forget all about it. Start small so you don’t notice it and try to increase the contribution every year.

Still struggling? Make retirement feel more real. Write out a bucket list of all the places you want to visit when you retire. Establishing more specific goals is super motivating when it comes to saving. Studies have also shown that people who look at an aged picture of themselves end up saving more for retirement. So go ahead and fool around with those Snapchat filters.

Fake Sale Prices

Sure, many of us are bad at savings for the future, but we can also be just as bad when it comes to unnecessary spending. I love a bargain. Who doesn’t, right!? Getting a good deal isn’t a bad thing, but stores have figured out how to use this weakness against us.

Have you ever noticed that finding sale prices is too easy? Not for things you need (you never see 50% off sign on carrots or tampons) but for things you want. I recently noticed an example of this when I was shopping for a new bra. I don’t want to bash Aerie because I really like their underwear, but their ‘sale’ prices are a total scam. I’ve been on their site browsing multiple times in the past few months, and every single time their bras are on sale. The prices have fluctuated a few dollars, but have never been anywhere near the quoted ‘regular’ price. Like, come on! How is that the regular price when it’s practically impossible ever to pay that much.

Falsely inflating prices and advertising sales is such a common marketing technique, but I still fall for it way too often. Never trust the ‘regular’ price listed on any sale item. Instead, ask yourself if it’s a worthy addition to your life at the current price.

Detached Spending

Have you ever put yourself on a cash-only budget? If so you’ll likely have realized that handing over cash hurts. It feels real. Credit cards eliminate that hurt. You swipe, you get, you wait, you pay. Payment is no longer linked directly to the thing you are buying, and that tricks your brain into thinking it’s free. With access to online banking in the palm of our hands, the payment process doesn’t even have the same sting as handing over a stack of bills.

If you are struggling with spending too much money, then there is no better advice than to switch to cash. Set yourself a limit, take that money out of the ATM, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Seeing your stack shrink in your wallet will make you think hard about what you’re buying. Credit cards can be an excellent tool for earning rewards, but only if you use them properly. And that means paying off your balance every single month.

This detached spending can also happen when there is a lapse between when you’ve spent money and when you’re actually using the thing you bought. For me, this happens a lot with vacations. Most of the expensive parts of a vacation (flights, accommodation, etc.) are pre-paid. So by the time you’re basking in the sun you’re not thinking about those costs. Instead, you’re in vacation mode, and you’re eating and drinking and shopping. It’s pretty hard to stick to a vacation budget when you’re not considering prior expenses.

Brain First, Heart Second

Understanding why you spend can have a real impact on how much you spend. Being self-aware enough to know you’re making a not so great decision means you won’t make it as often. We all have our slip-ups, but you’ll have less if your heart and your brain are on the same page. When it comes to justifying a purchase, the best thing you can do is let your brain win.

It can be really easy to justify spending money. Find out a few common money tricks that get you to spend and how you can get the upper hand.

This post was proofread by Grammarly

Image Credit: Ivy Barn


  1. Totally agree. Another big factor is peer pressure – it’s not just for high school kids. Sometimes I think I’m really getting a handle on my finances and am doing really well and then I feel peer pressured into spending more than I would like. Going out for dinner at a fancy restaurant or paying to do something when in reality I would rather do something for free.

    After I’ve spent the money and have buyers remorse I often realize that it’s the company that I enjoy (and not always spending money). I find I’m most successful at avoiding this when I come up with activities and suggest them as opposed to just going along for the ride. There are tons of free things to do in the city – I just need to get better at being the one applying the peer pressure 😉.

    • Sarah Reply

      Being the organizer can for sure help when it comes to keeping activities affordable but I know it’s not always the option. The way I see it is that sometimes the relationship is more important than saving a few bucks so every so often is ok.

  2. Ugh, fake sale prices. You would think after working run the department that puts up the sale tags at a grocery store when I was in high school I would be immune to this but…nope. I fall for it. Not every time but enough for me to say a big ol’ what the eff.

    I am with you, though. Where are the discounts on like, rent? Or the internet bill? Ugh.

    • Sarah Reply

      Right?! It would be great to get discounts on the essentials instead of always on processed junk you don’t need.

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