Impulsive shoppers in the US were challenged to live off $50 in a week. The participants were in their 20s, and had spending issues ranging from the man with an eBay habit, to the woman who spent a fortune on fashion and beauty, and the man who said eating out was his weakness. The results of the challenge were fairly shocking.
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All the participants struggled to stick to their budget, with only one managing a significant underspend. The experiment revealed five key problems at the heart of impulse spending.
1. It's easy
One of the shoppers revealed that eating out was his weakness. When deprived of the opportunity to buy what he wanted for lunch, he was reduced to scouring the takeaways and restaurants, before opting for a doughnut. At no stage did it occur to him that a packed lunch might be a cheaper and more nutritious solution. It's easy to fall into the habit of buying lunch when we're out and about, but making something at home from scratch can save around £4 a day - and is well worth the effort.
Despite the fact she had no money to spend, one of the participants spent time during the experiment looking at clothes online and clothes shopping with a friend. The problem for her was that spending money had become a hobby - and an end in itself. A fun afternoon at the shops will leave you significantly poorer, so if this is your primary hobby, it's time for a rethink.
3. It eases boredom
One man admitted that before he goes to sleep he tends to browse eBay and bid on things he doesn't need. Shopping is an easy way to break up the boredom, but it's an incredibly expensive one. If you find you tend to spend money when you're bored, it's worth thinking of other ways to break the monotony - perhaps by developing a podcast habit, or considering books or audio books.
4. It can be hard to see the price you are paying
If you usually spend everything you earn (and possibly a bit on plastic), then it can be hard to see the damage your impulse shopping is doing. Only when your credit card bill becomes unmanageable; you have a major outlay you haven't saved for; or you want to do something like buy a house or retire, will you realise where your money should have gone instead.
5. Some people don't want to change
One man who made it to the end of the trial admitted that at the start of the next week he was exactly where he had been at the start of the previous one - and had learned nothing. Change is difficult, and saving is far less exciting than spending, so we shouldn't be surprised that some people aren't ready for it. The only hope is that they gradually come to the decision to change - rather than having it forced upon them in a crisis. If this man's experience is anything to go by, however, it could take a financial crisis to wake some people up to the joys of living a bit more carefully, and saving a bit more.