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.
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.
2. It's fun
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.
Shopping: when spending more isn't always better
Shopping: when spending more isn't always better
The wine world is notoriously snobby, and the experts will tell you that there’s no way to buy a good bottle without spending at least £25. However, a study in 2011 at the Edinburgh International Science Fair demonstrated that people could only tell the difference between a cheap and expensive wine 53% of the time - which is roughly the result you'd get from flipping a coin.
Instead of focusing on price, it’s worth looking for wine awards. In December last year, for example, the International Wine Challenge awarded silver medals to Tesco Finest Fiano (selling for £5.49) and the Tesco Finest Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (priced at £5.99).
The price you’ll pay for your hotel room depends partly on type of room you choose, but also on a host of things that have nothing at all to do with the room itself. If you shop carefully, therefore, you can get more for less.
One of the most effective approaches is to use a ‘secret hotels’ service, which gives you details of the location and facilities, but doesn't tell you the name of the hotel you are booking until you have paid.
This enables hotels to slash their prices by as much as 50% without damaging their brand. If you book this way you can easily get a junior suite for less than the advertised double room rate at the same hotel.
Logically, the longer the interest-free period on your credit card, the more you’ll save. However, it doesn't always work out that way.
If you need to borrow for exactly the length of the interest-free period, then it’s a great option, but if you need to borrow for a longer or shorter time, it's a waste of money.
You have roughly a 40% chance of being tempted by the longer interest-free period into failing to pay off the debt in time - and being hit with high interest charges. In this instance, you may be better off with a long-term low rate.
Meanwhile, if you are one of the third of people who tend to pay off their card early, then you'd be better off paying a smaller balance transfer fee for a card with a shorter interest-free period.
If you need to buy new clothes, then choosing a product that has done minimal damage to the environment is clearly a kinder option than buying from a manufacturer that doesn't care about its impact on the world.
However, you will usually pay more for an environmentally-friendly brand, and there’s a far cheaper option that’s even kinder to the environment: buying second-hand clothes.
Your local charity shops will have items in perfect condition that would otherwise be going to landfill, so by buying them you meet three great criteria: you're saving the planet, saving money and helping a good cause.
You can pay anything up to 1,000 times more for water in a bottle than from the tap, so it stands to reason that it must be better.
However, instead of necessarily paying for superior water, we're paying for bottles, transportation and marketing, which might not be the kind of thing you value
On average we drink 33 litres of bottled water every year, and at an average cost of 48p per bottle, that's almost £16. You have to ask yourself if it's worth it.
Your expensive fashion headphones may look cool, but if you look around among the professionals, they won’t be wearing them.
The very best of the professional headphones cost the earth, so they're not a money-saving option. However, if you set a budget and check out the gadget magazines for their recommendations in your price range, not one of them recommends the fashion brands.
Instead of paying for branding, it's worth doing your research and paying for better sound.
We're loyal to brands for two reasons when it comes to medicines. The first is that they advertise, and they don’t mention the name of the active ingredient, so if we have a specific problem, all we know to ask for is the brand.
The second is a matter of trust, because we know the brand, and we can see it costs many times more than the generic versions of the same thing, so we trust that it is better.
In reality, the active ingredients are exactly the same, and if you don't know the generic drug that you can substitute for your expensive brand, you can simply ask your pharmacist - and look forward to spending a fraction of the amount your usual brand name medicines will set you back.
Pedigree pets are incredibly expensive. Even common breeds like springer spaniels will cost you several hundred pounds, while rarer breeds can set you back thousands.
It’s easy to assume you are paying for a well-bred pet, which will be free from medical problems. However, the breeding process means that pedigree pets tend to be prone to far more medical issues - which end up costing a fortune.
A mongrel dog or a moggy will often rack up far fewer vets bills, and there are usually an enormous number looking for new homes at the local rescue centre.
There’s an enormous advertising industry, pouring huge resources into convincing us that the more expensive beauty products are the best. In some cases this may be true, but it’s also worth keeping your eyes open for the cut-price beauty products recommended by the experts and winning awards.
A couple of examples stand out from recent coverage, including Boots Protect & Perfect for £23.95, which was so hotly tipped that it had a waiting list before its release in May last year. An even more affordable option is the £1.69 Bottle O’Butter moisturiser, which flew off the shelves thanks to an endorsement from the beauty press a while back.
Often in the mobile market, the more you pay, the more you get. So if you want a flash phone, all you can eat data, oodles of airtime and endless texts, you'll pay through the nose. The question you really need to ask yourself is whether you need all of this.
It’s worth checking your statements each month, and going back to look at them for the duration of your contract. Check your average use, then look at any extra you would have paid for the months when you went over this. In most cases, those who are paying for the very biggest mobile packages could save substantially by downshifting.