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Overspending is Easier Than I Thought

Kristin McGrath

June 14, 2013

Mint is mad at me.

I have my account set up to yell at me (send me email alerts) when I exceed the budgets I have set for certain spending categories, and it’s pinged me a few times this week.

Truth be told, I don’t exactly monitor my Mint budgets that carefully. When I first signed up for Mint about a year ago, I set the budgets for its various spending categories based on my average spending.

When I started an expensive hobby a couple months ago, I decided to tighten things up by decreasing the budgets for “Restaurants,” “Alcohol and Bars” and “Clothing.” I had never exceeded my budget in any of those categories in the past and figured making a vague effort to “spend less” would enable me to do the same, despite the lower spending thresholds.

Then, this week, I got my first email alert from Mint, warning me that I’d exceeded my “Alcohol and Bars” budget. In the next couple days, alerts about “Clothing” and “Restaurants” followed.

So what went wrong? After looking at my transactions, I was able to narrow it down.

1. Vacation has ruined my motivation to cook.

What went wrong: I’ve been pretty good the past few months about buying groceries for the week and making them into meals. As a result, I was able to limit myself to one meal at a restaurant per week and one fast-food lunch.

Then I went on vacation — and got used to eating delicious, exciting food every day. Suddenly, the five chicken marinades and three pasta recipes I know how to prepare seem much less appetizing. The Texas heat makes turning on the oven a lot less appealing, too.

It’s only halfway through June, and I’ve already killed my restaurant budget.

What I’m going to do about it: I’ve got a gift card to a restaurant, and that’s going to be my only dining-out splurge the rest of the month. I’m going to learn a couple new recipes to keep home cooking exciting. Plus, I’m going to take a suggestion from Money Ning and “assemble” rather than cook. Instead of preparing meals that require an oven, I’m going to stockpile things that involve no cooking (fruits, veggies, cheeses and cold cuts) in my fridge so that going to a restaurant is no longer the quickest option.

2. I threw a party without consulting my budget

I never thought I could run through my “Alcohol and Bars” budget so quickly. It had been some time since my boyfriend and I had hosted a party at our apartment, and we were itching to throw one. So we invited some friends over, and I hit the liquor store. I got a little too excited about matching wines with our menu choices and selecting fancy microbrews.

I haven’t attended a single happy hour this month, and I’ve already spent more than twice my monthly booze allotment because of this party alone. On Monday, I got a reminder from Mint.  Our fridge is still full of beer that wasn’t finished.

What I’m going to do about it: Had I pulled out my phone to look at my budget for alcohol, I would have bought cheaper beer — and less of it. Sure, there are many who appreciate good beer and wine. But I’m certain that our friends would have had just as much fun without the fancy stuff. In the future, I need to plan impromptu splurges (like parties) within the context of my budget — and remember that party guests tend to bring beer with them.

3. I fell into the cheap-clothing trap

There is a fantastic thrift store near my apartment. I needed a new purse (my favorite one got waterlogged on vacation), so I made a trip there earlier this week.  I found a purse. Then I found a few shirts. And a summer dress. And a skirt. And a belt. Alone, none of these things cost more than $10. My total at the register, however, was nearly $70. My monthly clothing budget is $50.

What I’m going to do about it: Overspending on inexpensive clothing is a common phenomenon, Manisha Thakor, founder of MoneyZen Wealth Management, points out in an article for The Huffington Post. The high that comes from getting a deal makes you buy more than you need.

The next time I go clothes shopping, I’m going to do what’s always worked for me at the grocery store: Hit the store with a list of things you need, and don’t look at or touch anything else.

Have you found yourself spending too much money lately? The personal finance blogosphere is full of tips for preventing — and putting a stop — to overspending.

Modest Money warns that buying a big-ticket item can make other things seem dangerously less expensive in comparison.

Johnny Moneyseed breaks down some of the motivations behind overspending.

Yakezie points out that the best cure for overspending may be uncertainty — fear of the future makes people close their wallets.

The Digerati Life lists the symptoms — and cures — for binge buying.

Money Crashers explains what to do if it’s your spouse who’s overspending.