How to Stop a Spending Frenzy

by Tracy · 12 comments

Last weekend, we had 3-6 inches of snow predicted for Sunday night. Now the area where I live only gets one or two snowfalls a year and so we get a little crazy when it’s time to prepare.

As a personal finance blogger, I wish I could tell you I was immune, but sure enough Saturday afternoon saw me standing in a line snaking well past the salad and hot food bars all the way to the kombucha waiting to pay for:

  • A pint of blueberries
  • 16 ounces of Dr. Bonners peppermint soap
  • A pound of chickpeas
  • One pack of naan bread
  • And a pomegranate

I had no immediate need for any of these items, yet I felt compelled to drive 20 minutes to Whole Foods and wait in line another half hour to get them. Why? Because I couldn’t turn off the part of my brain that was going “What if?”

  • What if I really wanted to try that recipe for goat cheese, spring mix and pomegranate salad that I saw three weeks ago?
  • What if I wanted to make pita bread and then had no chickpeas with which to make hummus?
  • What if my kids get tired of the apples, clementines, oranges, bananas and grapefruits that we had at home? How would they get their fruit? What kind of mother doesn’t provide adequate fruit?

You might not be inclined towards these irrational spending frenzies, I know a lot of people aren’t and to them this could look like the most ridiculous thing in the world. And to be honest, it is pretty silly, but we all have our follies and this is mine and millions of other people’s.

While it probably seems that I’m absolutely the wrong person to give this advice, I have been much more in control of my spending for the past few years, and this minor slip-up highlighted how important the following actions were in keeping a good balance in my spending.

Organization is Everything
I’ve written before how being organized can have a positive effect on your personal finances. At present, my kitchen, pantry and fridge are all still cluttered and disorganized because of me being sick and the holidays.

All that clutter made it hard for me to clearly visualize what we had and what we would need and probably also added to my overall anxiety. The simple fix? Make 2 or 3 hours this weekend to pull everything out and get things spic, span and in their rightful homes.

It’s Going to be a Disastrophe!
My oldest son used to say that he was scared to do something when he was small and I’m realizing more and more that he learned it from me. While I’m generally pretty rational and level headed, when I’m tired and stressed, I put the blinders on and focus on small details that aren’t important in the grand scheme of thing, like my children being deprived of the anti-oxidant rich goodness of fresh blueberries.

When I get this way, it’s a sure sign that I need to take a breather, get some rest and find my perspective again and start making more rational choices. Being overtired and stressed out is a recipe for poor decision making. While you might not react in the same way that I do, perhaps you notice that you become paralyzed and can’t make any decision at all when you need a break. Or become overly anxious when spending any money at all, to the point where you feel miserable but can’t stop.

I firmly believe that good financial health goes hand in hand with taking care of the whole picture and that includes making sure you get enough sleep and plenty of downtime.

Everyone Else is Doing It!
We all like to think we’re immune to peer pressure and most of us are, in some areas in our lives, while in others we gleefully follow the crowd. Seeing a packed store is the social proof that spurs many of us into buying things we don’t need. While we might have been undecided before we saw or heard of the crowd, once that news reaches our brains, we have to go.

Most of us like to fit in, and most of us feel antsy when we think other people are going to take more than their fair share. Most of us know that it would be better if we just waited, but if we do, there is a good chance somebody else will take our place and then where will we be?

I don’t think that this inclination to go with the crowd can be completely overcome, and in some cases, it’s good that we’re so closely attuned to others that we can get some sense of when the tide is turning. My solution is to find ways to shield myself from the influence of others when it comes to making spending decisions.

For example, I noticed when I was Christmas shopping, I shopped smarter and made far fewer impulse decisions than I did when I went to Target on Christmas Eve to get a few stocking stuffers. The more I saw other people toss in their baskets, the more I found myself tossing M&M dispensers and HotWheels cars into mine.

There is Always Tomorrow
While that unneeded Whole Foods trip cost a little north of $30, it didn’t put that big of a dent in my budget and more importantly is no reason to declare the entire month a bust and decide to start saving more in February. Slip ups happen to all of us, but there is no reason to add to the mistake. This week, I’ll skip the Caramel Apple Spices and try to stretch the groceries we have into an extra meal before we go shopping and things will be back on track.

Are you prone to shopping frenzies? How do you deal with them?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Thrifty Gal says:

    I can’t resist looking at all the things in the one-dollar bins at Target, Jo-Ann’s and Michael’s. Sometimes I buy, sometimes not, but a dollar isn’t a lot of money. This is smart marketing on their part.

  • Debra says:

    Great article. We were ice bound in Georgia but I didn’t make a mad dash to the store because I thought the forecast was an exaggeration. I had to raid my camping stash. One of the things I did while we were housebound was make a “The snow is coming run for your liiiiives” kit. In addition to emergency lights, radio, water, camping foods that are easy to prepare, I put in the things I ran out of toilet paper, cat food, and just in case things that would be fun to have if I’m snowed in again. When I did get to the store my splurge was paper back mysteries. Yesterday I went to Goodwill and bought a stack and added them to the kit.

  • UK Finance Blog says:

    Great article and I agree with you that organization is key, being organized is incredibly important when dealing with your finances.

  • CreditShout says:

    Ahh it’s so funny when the weather channel says there’s a slight inch of snow and then everyone rushes out to buy everything in the store. It’s even more funny when no bad weather occurs and then families are stuck with five gallons of milk to drink…

  • indio says:

    Omigosh… I totally stock up before a storm, but only if I’m running low on fresh veggies or fruit and I know what the weather forecast for the next five days indicates. I was visiting a friend in IN, two years ago, when we had 5 kids and 3 adults stuck inside for 3 back to back storms. By time we could risk venturing out after Nor’easters and blizzards, the store shelves were empty. The restocking trucks hadn’t been able to get into town for 10 days. After that experience, any time the pantry or freezer is running low I stock up. I don’t do this because of herd mentality, I just do this when we are low on the healthy food that needs to be eaten fresh.

  • Jenna says:

    Definitely not something I have to worry about. Sometimes I do buy foods that are out of season and thus cost more. I’m working on learning what foods are in season when to combat this “frenzy”.

  • KM says:

    No problem with this at all. Sometimes I would drive home with a plan to pick up a few things at the store, but even if it’s on the way, I usually don’t feel like turning off, parking, getting out of my car, etc, just for those few things, so I put it off until the time I need something right away (or if a coupon is expiring for something I am going to buy anyway, so I might as well buy it with a discount). My mom is bad at this though – she goes to the store with a list of 10 things and comes home with a car full of groceries and $200 poorer.

  • LoveBeingRetired says:

    You know, I can be pretty good throughout my store wanderings as far as sticking to “the list” of what I need. Two weaknesses for me: (1) specials down the middle of the store isle – CVS (used to be Longs Drug Store) is notorious for this. Little items that we all need just not at this very moment, all priced attractively. Keep me away from those. (2) Impulse buys as you wait in the checkout line. Do I really need one more pack of gum or that latest trash magazine? Not likely. The battle rages on. 🙂

  • Lorraine says:

    I live in Northeast PA and we get snow all the time. On the day and hours preceding a storm you will see shoppers stripping the shelves at the supermarket and the TV news does a story on it each and every time. The local joke is that they are all buying milk and bread.
    Remember when we were told to buy plastic and duct tape to seal our houses in the event of a biologial or chemical attack? I had 3 bins in the basement full of supplies including peanut butter, canned foods, candles, blankets, batteries, a radio, you name it. I was ready. Eventually all the food expired. I decided not to replace it.
    Then with the avian flu and the SARS thing, I frantically bought face masks before they would run out and/or prices went up. I have since sold the unused packs on Ebay. Ever check the FEMA website and see the list of things they suggest you keep on hand? Er…no peppermint soap or pomegranates, but just about everything else you can think of. 🙂
    How do you suggest we prepare for emergencies without overdoing it?

    • Tracy O'Connor says:

      Hi Kimberly.

      My main advice for those wanting to plan for emergencies is to:

      To it ahead of time, taking pains to be methodical. We all have different needs depending on the area we live in and the kinds of disasters we can expect, our family and pet situation, our own age and abilities.

      Be organized. I can’t emphasize that enough. Make sure you have important documents in a fire box, so that if you have to evacuate, you can just pull the files and go. Keep your emergency foods organized and rotated – I buy canned goods on sale through the year, then when the boy scouts come or my kids have a canned food drive at school, I donate the oldest products and start building my supplies again.

      Make sure you have flashlights, batteries, radio and so on in one easy to get to place.

      Keep a mindset of being grateful and keep disasters in perspective. Not that being snowed in with only beenie weenies to eat is a picnic, but it’s a far cry from watching you children die of cholera after an earthquake or flood in a third world country.

      I’d love to hear other readers tips on emergency preparedness.

      • Sue says:

        Remember Y2K? Well, I was ready. I bought a food dehydrator and put up lots of vegies, bought a 25 pound bag of oatmeal, fire wood for the fireplace, a bow saw and extra blades and a file for sharpening them. Also got a water purifier. Imagine my disappointment. 😉

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