Impulse buying. Paying bills late. Emotional spending. It’s clear why these financial habits are bad. But other practices are more sneakily harmful – like “spaving.”
“Spaving is the act of spending money to save money,” Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance and budgeting expert, told HuffPost.
“But just because something is on sale doesn’t mean it’s a good deal if you don’t need it. That $10 sweater is still $10 coming out of your bank account or being added to a credit card that can accumulate interest.”
Spavers can’t resist a sale, as it fosters the idea that you are saving money in the long term by spending money now that you wouldn’t have spent otherwise.
“The problem with spaving is that it can trick you into spending more in order to receive a certain savings benefit in return,” said Jacqueline Howard, the head of money wellness at Ally Bank.
She noted that a common spaving trap is when stores offer free shipping to customers who spend a certain amount of money.
“Because of the incentive, it’s easy to feel better about adding a few more items to your cart, even if you weren’t planning on making those additional purchases,” Howard explained. “While you might save on shipping, the final cost will often exceed your intended budget.”
You might end up buying things that you don’t really need just to get a good deal. Woroch noted that sales create a sense of urgency with buzzy terms like “one day only,” “limited time, “daily deal” and “flash sale” ― making customers feel like they’ll waste a rare opportunity if they don’t pounce.
“The reality is, retailers are constantly rolling out new sales, so just because you miss out on a sale today doesn’t mean you can’t get the same item on sale later,” she explained.
Many people also feel a sort of high when they score a good deal on an item, regardless of how much they wanted or needed it in the first place. But that high is temporary.
“Even if you get something at a really good sale price, you’re still spending money that could be going towards something more important, like building your savings, paying down debt, investing, etc.,” Woroch said. “A few bucks here and there adds up and can put a huge dent in your overall budget.”
Then there’s the fact that sale items often come with limited or nonexistent return policies.
“Once the momentary high of scoring the deal passes and you decide it was a bad purchase, you may be stuck with something you don’t need and don’t like,” Woroch said.
For some people, spaving leads to credit card debt, which can mean paying interest that far exceeds whatever was saved in the sales deal.
Below, Howard and Woroch share their advice for those who want to avoid falling into the trap of spaving, especially around the holidays.
Avoid sale alerts
Remove the temptation to spave by avoiding sale alerts however possible.
“Unsubscribe from retail newsletters that send you the latest sales and deals from your favorite brands,” Woroch advised. “Turn off push [notifications] ... in store or deal apps ― or delete them altogether.”
Stick to your shopping list
“Create a list before you go shopping and stick to it,” Howard suggested. “If you come across a sale either online or in-store, ask yourself if the item is on your shopping list.”
If you prefer to buy things at a discount, you can apply this advice to your everyday life, even if you aren’t on a shopping outing. Keep a full list of products that you intend to buy at some point and reference it when you come across a sale.
Institute a waiting period
“Always sleep on a potential purchase to give yourself time to think it over,” Woroch said. “This also allows that excitement of the deal to subside, and you can think about whether you truly need the item or not. Plus, you can look around your home or closet to see if you already have something like it — because if you do, even another $10 is unnecessary to spend.”
She recommended implementing a 24-hour waiting period to confirm that you don’t have the item or something similar, as well as to shop around, compare prices or even look for a refurbished option. Howard often goes a step further with a 48-hour rule before buying something, even if it’s on sale.
“This small window of time allows you to calm your emotions from the urgency of the sale and helps you decide if you really want or need the item,” she said. “Reflect on the purchase before you buy. Ask yourself, how will you feel about this purchase in three, six or nine months from now?”
Stay away from tempting stores
“Stay out of stores that have too many deal temptations,” Woroch said. “If you notice you do a good amount of spaving at a certain store like Target or HomeGoods, stop going to that store. If there’s something you absolutely need from the retailer, order online and choose curbside to avoid any in-store sale temptations.”
Pay attention to the stores where you tend to make impulse purchases. And be on alert whenever you have to shop in person.
“Get off your phone when shopping because it can distract you from the task and cause you to make bad buying decisions,” Woroch added.
Use browser tools
“Rather than shopping when a deal comes to you, look for deals when you need them,” Woroch said. “Use browser tools that do the deal hunting for you so you don’t get tempted by another sale when looking for a relevant coupon.”
She recommended PriceBlink, which runs an instant price comparison when you’re looking at a product online and presents other sites that are selling the same item for less, as well as Sidekick from CouponCabin. The latter alerts you when there’s a coupon or cash back available for the site where you’re shopping and automatically applies the deal with the biggest discount to your cart.
“Therefore, there’s no need to leave the site and try to find a coupon code,” Woroch explained.
Delete stored payment info
Avoiding the temptation to spave requires making it more difficult or inconvenient to do.
“Delete payment info stored in retail accounts and do not save credit card details in social media,” Woroch said. “The time it takes you to fetch your credit card, the urge to buy should pass, helping you avoid an unnecessary purchase.”
Do a spending audit
“Assess your spending habits to create awareness and come up with a plan to cut back little by little,” Woroch said. “It’s also a good idea to take a look at just how much you’ve spent over the year so far on excess purchases, which can be eye-opening and give you a little fuel to make changes.”
She also recommended thinking about the emotions driving your impulse spaving purchases.
“If you’re buying something to make yourself feel better after a bad day or as a reward for a job well done, the fleeting feelings will pass and you will be stuck with stuff you don’t need and a shrinking bank account,” Woroch explained. “So find other ways to cope with sadness or to celebrate wins.”
Keep your goals visible
After taking stock of your spending habits and related emotions, examine your goals and personal principles when it comes to future budgeting.
“Understand your values before you go shopping,” Howard said. “Ask yourself, ‘Does this purchase align with my overall well-being?’”
To inspire this kind of consideration, try to keep your savings goals visible.
“Put sticky notes of various savings goals on your laptop or wrap it around your credit card,” Woroch said. “Every time you’re tempted to spave, just think about how that money can go towards helping you reach your goal faster.”
Stop comparing yourself with others
“Avoid comparing yourself to others,” Howard said. “When we compare our experiences to that of others, we often lose sight of our values and overspend.”
You’ve likely heard the expression “keeping up with the Joneses,” which speaks to the social pressure that many people feel to buy things. If this phenomenon resonates with you, give yourself the space to make helpful changes to your social life or work.
“This could be setting intentional time aside for a game night with friends, an evening walk with your loved ones, or even calling up a mentor to brainstorm a career or business idea,” Howard said.
“I often combine my social and career well-being via a text chat I have with three girlfriends who have very successful careers. We encourage each other daily with gratitude updates and thought-provoking questions about our lives and careers. This relationship grounds me and reminds me of my unique and special gifts.”