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Easy To Spend, Makes It Hard To Save

Easy to SpendIt is so easy to spend money. Not only are there great things out there to spend your money on, but merchants have perfected the art of making it easy to spend as well.

And if you’re focused on financial independence, you know one big step in that direction is to save as much as you can. It’s especially important to avoid incurring debt to fund your spending as it’s hard to save when you’re paying interest expense. But unfortunately, while many of you may realize this, it’s obvious that most people do not.

There’s an article in today’s Wall Street Journal that discusses how credit card debt is poised to break the $1 trillion mark this year. This is the highest level since the record-setting levels of 2007, according to the article.

Add more than $8.3 trillion in home mortgage debt, $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and an additional $1 trillion in auto-loan debt, and you get a total of $11.5 trillion in personal debt.

At the same time, another article also in today’s edition, describes how US corporate debt levels grew to $6.6 trillion last year.

And, with the US federal debt currently greater than $19.4 trillion, that brings us to a grand total of $37.5 trillion in debt. With a US population of around 322.8 million, that equates to more than $116,000 in debt per person.

Apparently, whether you’re an individual, a company, or the federal government, using debt to fund spending has become the American way.


People Want to Buy More and More

On the one hand, it’s unbelievable that the US and it’s population has incurred so much debt, but when you realize how our country has made it so easy to spend and borrow to fund that spending, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

There was a time in the US when you had to use cash to pay for everything – including homes and cars. Credit cards didn’t exist. Back then, it was difficult to live beyond your means. But now, it’s no longer the case.

It’s rather simple actually. Merchants figured out that people have an insatiable desire to acquire things, especially when encouraged to do so with high quality promotional efforts. The challenge isn’t getting people to buy, it’s finding creative ways to get them to pay.

If you have ever visited Las Vegas, you know how they make it easy to spend your money. Whether in the casino, a show, or another attraction, there is never a shortage of merchants ready, willing, and very eager to take your money. And they make it simple and easy to spend.

Others have figured this out as well.


Be Aware of Traps that Make it Easy to Spend

While trying to save your money, you may be lured by merchants into spending more than you intend. Over the years, merchants have created “traps” to make it easy to spend. You think you’re getting a good deal, but in reality, you’re buying something you don’t need or don’t want.

Here are a few of those traps to be on the lookout for:

Multiple payment methods.  No longer do you need cash, check, or credit to pay for things. Now you can use your phone, PayPal, temporary charge cards, and more. Merchants know that the easier they make it for you to spend your money, the more likely you are to spend it.

Easy return policies.  It used to be, in order to return an item, you needed the receipt. The item had to be unopened. Essentially, the seller didn’t want you to return an item and they made it difficult to do so. Now, many places have a no questions asked return policy. You bring it back, they will refund your money. Places like Costco even accept large screen televisions used for one day to watch the Super Bowl, even though they know that’s what happened. The less risky you deem a purchase, the more comfortable you are making it.

Buy one, get one half off.  This trap has been around for a long time. It sounds like a good deal. Feels like you’re paying half (or maybe 75%) of the regular price. But that only makes sense if you really need two of the item. Otherwise, you’re paying a 50% premium.

Different model numbers at different stores.  Have you ever noticed that often when comparison shopping, you can’t find the exact same model at different stores. That’s intentional and it makes comparing two similar items difficult. You’ll also see different items bundled together in different stores.

One-day only sales.  Nothing irritates me more than high-pressure sales. If you don’t buy something today, it will cost you more tomorrow. I would rather wait a few days to think about whether I really need or want something even if I pay more for it.

Special shopping days.  Black Friday, Cyber Monday, the day after Christmas. These days are so heavily promoted, they make you feel like an idiot if you aren’t out shopping. And you may find discounted items, but not everything. And even so, do you really need all those heavily-discounted products, or are you buying them just because they look good?

Volume discounts.  My father likes to tell the story about how his grandfather came home one day having bought 144 pairs of shoe soles. He got them a great discount because he bought so many. Now you have to admire a guy who resoles his own shoes, but are you realistically going to ever use 144 soles? My great-grandfather had stumbled upon the future Costco business model. Buy in bulk and get everything much cheaper.

Subscription services.  The other day I had work done on my air conditioner. Rather than paying for the service call, the company offers a membership subscription service. Pay a monthly fee and service calls are free, parts are discounted, and you get preferential service times. What I found interesting was that they charge more if you pay for a year upfront rather than monthly. Their reasoning is that if people are forced to pay a larger once per year fee, when renewing, they may think twice about it. If the fee is an automatic recurring monthly charge, it goes on indefinitely and they start to not even notice.

Online shopping.  This is probably the biggest convenience factor of them all. Instead of heading to the store, all you need is your phone, tablet, PC, or just your voice (check out the Amazon Echo). Add in free shipping, free returns and what’s not to love.


If you are trying to save money, it’s easy to get lured into each of these traps and spend more than you intended. Just remember, if it’s easy to spend money, you will spend more money.


What are some other traps that make it easy to spend money?


Permanent link to this article: http://financialslacker.com/easy-to-spend-money/


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  1. Pamela

    Those are some crazy debt statistics but I am not suprised. The financial health of our country is just a reflection of the financial health of most households. The average American does not even have $1,000 saved for emergencies. Why would they? Where would they get this example from? Our government, corporations, school system? No.no.no. Saving money has become weird to many people. Its needs to be doing something or else it burns a whole in ones pocket. I love to save money. Probably because securiy is very important to me. Good post.

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    1. Financial Slacker

      Thank you, Pamela.

      I’m the same way. I feel physically ill when I spend money.

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  2. ambertreeleaves

    The outstanding debt is just beyond my imagination… It is actually funny to read in a Belgian newspaper that the average american start to save now… The analysts wondered what the impact would be on the global economy as there will be less consumption by the US. would that mean less profits for the companies and lower stock prices?

    This weekend, I fell in the volume discount trap and bought 20 light bulbs… The reason I did this is simple… The regular stores that I usually go to get this bulb no longer carry it. When I found it only, I bought enough to last a life time (I actually do not know if light bulbs go bad)

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    1. Financial Slacker

      I don’t think light bulbs go bad. It’s probably a good idea to buy those in bulk. Even the ones that are supposed to last for years and years, always seem to burn out.

      I do think the US drives a fair amount of consumerism around the world. But I’m not sure enough Americans are saving enough to impact the producers.

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  3. Stefan - The Millennial Budget

    The American economy is controlled by debt and people floating their debt. It is a dangerous game to play. Personal finance has gotten so much harder over the years as the financial systems grow ever more complex. Marketers have researched human psychology and know how to tempt us into purchases. Swiping plastic is so easy to do and watching a report on a computer screen can be a meaningless activity for people.

    I heard that outlet malls are a great trap. They make you believe you are getting a bang for your buck but in reality you are spending money on items nobody wanted. At least that is what I read. I am a sucker for Black Friday shopping. They do have great deals so I am happy to splurge money on holiday weekends rather than regular price days.

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    1. Financial Slacker

      The outlet mall is a great example.

      And I agree. You can find deals on Black Friday. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re buying what you need and not getting influenced by the marketers.

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  4. KeepYourMoolah

    Great article! Many companies have perfected the art of drawing more moolah from your wallet at checkout with the traps that you have listed. It is so important for consumers to draw up a budget and monitor their finances or else they risk spending beyond their means. Tools like personal capital, as you had mentioned, are a great start 🙂

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    1. Financial Slacker

      I guess you can’t really blame companies. That’s what they’re in business to do – sell. It’s up to the individual to take responsibility for their own spending. But you’re right, companies have perfected their marketing efforts, making it hard for even the most frugal to resist.

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  5. Mrs. PIE

    nice article! You’ve captured the big drivers of debt here. It continues to be disturbing how easy credit is to obtain. Funny thing is, I just posted slightly different a slant on this, great minds think alike! 😉

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    1. Financial Slacker

      Thank you.

      I remember in college how aggressively the credit card companies went after students. I assume that’s still the case.

      But pretty much everywhere, you can get credit without much effort. There was a little more restraint after the 2008 crisis, but that seems to have completely disappeared.

      I guess we’re destined to repeat.

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  6. Francesca - From Pennies to Pounds

    Wow, that is a lot of debt. It’s a bit scary isn’t it! I agree with all of your debt traps.

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  7. Financial Slacker

    At some point, we’ll need to repay that debt. Not sure how we will manage.

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  8. Dividendsdownunder

    We have a budget which we try to stick to as much as possible. We also only have certain categories that we even allow ourselves to spend money in. Supermarkets, rent, household bills etc are all fine. Alcohol, ‘going out money’, travel, holidays etc do not exist for us. When we earn a LOT more in the future, perhaps a little bit. But whilst our earnings aren’t high, we won’t spend much. We have no debt (no credit cards etc), we plan to keep it that way.

    The debt total is staggering and scary. An asset can decrease in price, but the debt remains. You’d think with all this debt & consumption that wages/earnings would be rising quicker than they are. People spending is fine, it is doing so with debt that is causing and will cause huge problems.


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    1. Financial Slacker

      That’s the best approach. Using debt to fund consumer spending may temporarily drive up the economy, but it’s disasterous for the consumer.
      No matter what your income, you need to keep your spending lower. Even if that means going without. Once people start spending too much and using debt to fund it, they have a difficult time getting out.
      I’ve seen more than a few that wind up eventually declaring bankruptcy as their only option.

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