5 Reasons You Buy Stuff You Don’t Need (And How To Stop)

We live in a buy, buy, buy, culture.

And there is a lot of privilege that comes with that.

It’s pretty amazing that we can get whatever we need, whenever we need it, with the click of the finger.

But the culture of “buying” can also have unwanted consequences.

Your closet becomes jammed full. Your bank account becomes depleted. Your stress levels increase.

It begs the question: What is enough? And what is simply too much?

One way I like to explore the idea of ‘enough’ is to look at the motivations behind WHY you are spending money.

As you examine the motivations behind why you spend your money remember that how you view each purchase will be unique to you. Ultimately, each purchase you make should add value to your life. And if you are buying things with the wrong motivation then you are wasting your money.

This list of motivations is not a complete one, feel free to add other motivators to the list that you might find in yourself. The more you can identify your motivations the more intentional (and healthy) your money habits will become.


#1: You buy to feel good

Bad day at work? Go for drinks and dinner out. Rough morning? Shop on your lunch break! Not feeling cute? Book a spa day!

All too often, we are spending our way to happy. Spending our way out of stress. But the catch is that often the spending is causing more stress, which causes us to keep spending. And repeat. Once you can recognize this motivation for your spending, you can start to find other, cheaper substitutes that achieve the same result. For all of the examples listed here, getting together with friends or getting out in nature has the same mood cure as spending money on various outings or activities.

Personal Note: Those examples of going out for drinks and shopping on your lunch break? Yea, those are from personal experiences. Once I started tracking my money years back and realized how much money I was spending in these categories it was enough to help me cut back. I realized that I was spending money to blow off steam from the job that I hated, which was only shackling me to the job longer to pay for those activities. An evil cycle. Over time, I was able to replace that reckless spending behavior with other ways to boost my mood after a stressful day. I still might want a glass of wine at the end of the day, but now I get just as much joy having happy hour at home. And I can now feel as much satisfaction watching my savings account grow as I used to watch my closet grow.


#2: You buy because you are bored

Do you ever watch TV and mess with your phone at the same time? Watching your favorite show while scrolling, browsing, adding to cart. (I would love to see what percentage of Amazon’s sales came after 7pm at night!)

Or are you a Mom who takes your kids to Target just to browse and kill time? These are examples of shopping out of boredom. Don’t get me wrong, it happens to the best of us. But purchases made from boredom are often things you didn’t really need or even want. As you identify what purchases might have happened out of boredom, see if you can replace those habits with other activities.

Personal Note: I’ve taken multiple shopping apps off my phone to avoid falling into this trap. I try to keep items I want to purchase in my cart for 24 hours so I can reevaluate if it’s a purchase I really want to make. I keep a list of free or cheap activities I can do with my son so I don’t have to come up with something on the spot on those hard days I need to fill time. I never take him to just browse in a store. It’s not good for my wallet, and let’s be honest it’s a toss-up if we would get out of there tantrum free anyway.

But you might think, I’m just scrolling social media at night, not shopping sites. Right. That brings me to my next reason….


#3: You buy to project a certain image

Being exposed to so many curated images and social media feeds is a relatively new phenomenon. And our brains aren’t programmed to understand that those images do not project an accurate reflection of real life. You have no idea if that person with the perfect Fall decorations is in debt, makes a ton of money, or fights with her husband about the boxes of stuff they have in every nook and cranny in their house.

It’s ok to want to look put together. It’s ok to want to have a decorated house. But those things are never as important as the health of your finances. The peace of mind you get when you are out of debt with money in the bank will far exceed the thrill you get by buying the latest trend and keeping your home, kids and life Instagram worthy. Get really clear on what matters to you, focus your spending there. And let the rest go.

Personal Note: Despite being a wanna-be minimalist, I want all the clothes. Am I trying to project a certain image or just love clothes? Maybe a little of both. I’ve let go of a lot of other areas that I used to spend a lot of money, but I give myself permission to spend on clothes when our spending plan allows it. Other things that I could easily spend money to fit an image but try to keep to a minimum because it doesn’t really matter to me is decorations for specific holidays (we have plenty), beauty products or excessive things for my son.


#4: You buy because you don’t know what you already have

Spices at the grocery store for a certain recipe. The nice, black t-shirt on sale. A new bottle of sunscreen. It’s impossible to keep an accurate tally of what we have at home, and what we don’t. So when you see it in the store, you think, “I better get it just in case” But a lot of times, you have it. You didn’t need it. And you will end up wasting products and money if you don’t check for what you have before purchasing.

Personal Note: Once I realized how much I was doing this, I was able to stop over time. I make a list of what we need at the store before we go and keep it on my phone. It’s a hard habit to start, but an easy one to keep once you realize how much it helps you stay focused on what you need. Another tip for this category is de-cluttering your home so it is easy to see what you have. Ladies how many half used or unused products are under your bathroom sink? That’s money down the drain. Get organized, get clear, save money.


#5: You buy because the ads… all the ads

The ads are literally everywhere. This article from Forbes estimates we are exposed to at least 4,000 ads PER DAY.

And advertisers, they are good at their job. The jingles, the product placement, the FB ad from your earlier google search. They get us. And they get us often. Become more aware of the ads that show up in your day, and when you feel most susceptible to them. The more you can bring awareness to this, the more you will recognize when the advertiser has hooked you and decide for yourself if you want to stay hooked or walk away.

Personal Note: Some ads are good, and alert me to products and services I might have not known about. But other ads are just noise. We invest in a DVR at our house, so we can record shows in advance and fast forward through the commercials. I use the unroll.me service in my email to keep advertisement emails to a minimum. If I don’t see it, I won’t be tempted. And I especially try to limit my son’s exposure to ads.

The goal of examining the motivations of your purchases is to become aware. You aren’t going to become a perfect spender. That isn’t even the goal. The goal is to develop the skills to evaluate your own behaviors so you can reach your financial goals while spending on things that matter to you. The goal is to cut the waste. And find the point of ‘enough’.


If you are ready to learn more great tips about savings, grab my free guide: Start Saving Today.