Impulse Spending

Over the years I’ve heard my students and workshop participants complain that spending plans (i.e., budgets) were too restrictive, that they took all the “fun” out of spending, especially spontaneous (aka impulsive or unplanned) spending.

While there surely are times when impulsive spending can provide some happy moments, those fun times do not eliminate the fundamental principles of resources: (1) resources are limited, and (2) the use of resources always involves a tradeoff. That is, if we use a resource for one purpose, we must give up using the same resource for other purposes. The problem with impulse spending is that we usually are not considering these principles at the time of the impulse; we usually don’t consider the overall effects of the impulse purchase.

For example, treating your significant other to that very expensive gold-leaf chocolate cake on your Valentine’s Day dinner date may seem fun at the time. But the impulse purchase will take away from the total resources you have, and the money you spent on the cake is now unavailable to spend on other things like the house payment or utilities. The unplanned spending “robs” you of the opportunity to make a choice of, perhaps, a “better” use for that money.

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