We can all relate. We find a bag of Doritos (or Tim Tams, Lindt balls, potato chips — take your pick) and think, ‘I’ll just have a couple’.
But after we’ve had two, we have five. Then we start to recognise that we’ve lost control and decide, ‘I’m just going to eat them all. I can’t do any more damage once they’re gone!’
Of course, we could easily resist the Doritos entirely if we never opened the bag in the first place.
As a finance coach to millennials, I see that people don’t just play out this behaviour with snacks, but with their daily spending.
A cash splurge every now and again might not break the bank in the short run. But when overspending goes unchecked, it can cause major issues when it comes to reaching important financial and life goals.
When we think ‘just f**k’ it’
Overspending usually starts small, then it snowballs, and eventually the words ‘f**k it’ get used. People say: ‘Alright, this day, this week, this month, this year, is a write off, so who cares anymore?’
Social scenarios are a major danger for this.
You go out for dinner expecting it to cost $30 or $40 dollars. Then everyone says, ‘let’s get entrees’, and you think, ‘why not?’
Then there’s a second bottle of wine, and on comes dessert. Then someone suggests a final drink at the bar next door and you say, ‘Great idea! My shout!’
After staying out later than expected, you ditch the train and treat yourself to an Uber home. The next morning, you wake up, check your empty account balance, and on comes a financial hangover.
Overspending traps are everywhere
Spending snowballs like this happen in so many other situations, such as birthday parties, weekends away, or bucks and hens events, to name a few.
Gift giving is another common cash splash trap. You might plan to spend $250 on a wedding present. But you look at the gift registry and think, ‘I can’t find anything I really like at that price, so I’ll push to a $400 gift’.
You try to justify it. ‘These are my friends and I love them! So what’s the difference between $250 and $400?’
Actually, a f**cking lot of money, right?!
Another big one is travel. When people are away they think, ‘I’m never going to come back to this place so I’m not going to stick to a budget, I’ll live it up.’
Overlay that holiday attitude with your social spending habits — dining out, shouting drinks, hailing a cab — and you’ve got a double spending whammy.
Spending can feel good
Psychologists could tell us what’s going on with this pattern, but a common confession I hear, and I know from my own experience, is that people get a buzz from cutting loose. They like letting their hair down, they want to have a good time, and they feel good being generous and free.
But left unchecked, this type of ‘who cares’ spending can spiral into a major issue.
An extreme example I saw was when someone ordered a credit card, and it didn’t come fast enough, so they applied for a second one, and they both arrived at once.
The person and their partner then went and racked up $30,000 in debt — on crap.
They called me for help, explaining: ‘Bec, we just needed to max them out so it was over and done with’.
Sounds just like eating the whole bag of Doritos right?
I hung up the phone, and genuinely sat and cried in frustration. It was going to take them years to recover.
Constantly giving yourself ‘permission to fail’ in this way can mean you have cash flow issues, and get stuck in the emotional highs and lows of overspending — like the night of fun followed by the financial hangover.
Every time you do it, you’re taking away resources destined for goals that could have added much more value to your life. This can have a negative long-term impact on your wellbeing, as you can feel like you’re not achieving.
It’s just like yoyo dieting at its best.
Put the Doritos out of reach
If you're recognising this pattern, the first step to moving on from it is calling bullshit. Have an awareness of what you’re doing, and take ownership of it.
The next step is super important — move the bag of Doritos out of your grasp. Put them back in the cupboard, throw them in the bin.
In money talk, that means you need to make it hard to f**k things up. Remove yourself from circumstances where you fall off the rails. For example, don’t have a credit card if you can't be trusted with credit.
For myself, I don’t allow myself access to large amounts of cash, and I advise my members to make sure any extra funds are 24 hours away from their reach.
Consider that a lot of spending has no marginal profit against the cost. That extra drink, the 10 minutes faster you got home in the Uber, the fancier gift you stretched your budget for, often don't make any difference to the overall quality of an experience.
Tell the troops
To take control, one of the best things to do is to share what you’re doing with those around you.
Just like dieting, if you say to your friends, ‘I’m cutting out sugar’, they’re probably not going to say ‘let’s go to Zumbo for afternoon tea’. They’re more likely to suggest a walk and a coffee.
You can use exactly the same approach for your financial well being. Say, ‘I’m on a budget tonight’, or ‘I have this much available to spend’, so you can pick a place that suits.
My experience shows that two or three of your friends might be in exactly the same position as you, and they’re thinking, ‘thank God somebody said something because this dinner went from $50 to $200 and everyone got carried away!’
Draw a line under mess ups
If you do mess up, be kind to yourself, but push the stop button quickly. Like dieting, say, ‘That was breakfast, now it’s lunch time, and I can quickly get back on track.’ Draw a line under things where you’ve gone astray, without giving yourself permission to write off that entire day, week, month or even year.
The good news is, the flip side of having some discipline is that it’s really fun when you reach your bigger life goals!
It’s all about our goals
And yes, here I come again to the importance of goals, like I explored in Are you really making the right progress? We can’t have instant gratification every day if we have meaningful accomplishments to work towards.
The good news is that when your goals are clear, it will help you have a compelling reason why you’re not spending on something.
It might be that you want to experience a 10 course degustation dinner at a famous restaurant. With that goal, it’ll be easier to say ‘no’ to overspending for a month so you can afford it.
You might feel the short term pain— but you’ll appreciate how awesome the meal is, have no money guilt associated with it, and be really proud you reached your goal!
Getting your power back
Saying no to the ‘Doritos’ is easier when you’ve got a goal to reach. By bringing some discipline into your everyday spending, you’ll reach your bigger goals a hell of lot of faster. In fact, it could be the difference between reaching them or not.
The benefits don’t stop there. You’ll stop waking up with financial hangovers, you'll have a much stronger feeling of control over your future, you’ll see faster progression, and have a feeling of pride when you achieve what you want!
Think about it like building a financial ‘six pack’. Stay clear of the Doritos enough, and you’ll get one!