If you were a fan of Sex and the City back in the early 2000s, you know that the main character Carrie Bradshaw wasn’t exactly financially savvy. There’s one episode in particular when Carrie realizes this herself: she’s trying to figure out if she has enough money to buy her apartment and is shocked when her friend Miranda points out that the amount she has spent on shoes over the years would have been enough for a down payment (roughly 100 pairs at $400/pair, or $40,000)!
We all have our little “spending addictions.” Carrie happens to have a weakness for ridiculously expensive shoes; mine happens to be books. Now, spending money on books may seem more “acceptable” or even admirable. But when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter whether you’re addicted to Jimmy Choo’s or Jane Austen – it’s still an addiction.
The question becomes what constitutes an “addiction” versus good ol’ fashion spending? Money is, in fact, supposed to flow out as well as flow in, and you don’t want to go to the other extreme either and cling to our money with the mindset of fear or scarcity.
So, how can you know the difference? When does your spending start to become an “addiction”?
According to Merriam-Webster, an addiction is a strong and harmful need to regularly have or do something. When it comes to a spending “addiction”, it’s usually an item that you habitually purchase, often without thought or consideration. Another telling sign is that it’s something you buy that always seems to have an amplified “I have to have it!” urgency.
What’s deceptive about some of these addictions is that their “harmfulness” may be subtle. I mean, what’s the harm in buying a nice pair of shoes, or a good book that’s been on the New York Times Best-seller List for months?
In Carrie’s case, she may have rationalized that she could “afford” her first pair of shoes because she had the money to pay for them. The “harmful” part, however, developed over time when it became a re-occurring purchase that ended up taking away from another, more important future goal of hers (i.e., buying her own apartment).
For me, the amount of money I spend on books won’t ever make or break my budget, so it’s easy to rationalize my purchases because there’s not really any obvious “harm” done. Like Carrie, I’m still able to pay my basic needs and, unlike Carrie, can easily fund my long-term goals despite my “addiction.”
But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to purge my shelves to get rid of books that I didn’t love and that just ended up cluttering up my house. Sometimes I don’t even open the pages of some of them, because I have piles of others I’m still trying to finish. In my case, the “harm” is not that it’s excessive spending per se, but that it results in waste – books that wind up in the trash, never read, or being donated (which on the surface may seem like a good thing, but I’m pretty certain the charities would prefer I skip the book transaction altogether and just give them the cash!).
With the holiday season right around the corner, now’s the perfect time to examine your own little “spending addictions.”
Maybe for you it’s the leather boots that are a slightly different shade of brown that you MUST. HAVE. NOW. Or perhaps it’s the pumpkin spice latte every morning before work or black Lululemon yoga pants in every style and cut.
Remember, even if you can afford something, doesn’t mean you should buy it. By taking a minute to examine your own behavior around habitual spending, you’ll start to recognize the difference.
Your inner-Carrie Bradshaw would be so proud!
Homework: take the two month challenge.
Clear excess clutter out of your finances so you have more funds available to do what REALLY matters. Take this two-month “spending addictions” challenge!
Look through your own spending history and identify ONE re-occurring purchase that may constitute a “spending addiction.”
Add up how much you would likely spend on that item(s) over the next two months. For example, if it’s a pair of Jimmy Choo’s every season, that’s $600 (yes, prices have gone up since Sex and the City aired). If it’s a latte every weekday morning, that’s $120. If you’re like me and that’s books, it may be $60.
Now, commit to NOT making that purchase for two months.
Take that money and instead do something else that you think would be more worthwhile – like donating it directly to charity, putting it in your “Savor Fund” account, or even putting it towards a “Holiday Fund” so you’re less indebted to your credit cards or other bills after major holiday events roll around.