3 Little White Lies We Tell Ourselves When Spending Money

You might be perfectly rational when it comes to spending money. But juuuust in case you're not, let me share a little story about my coffee habit, then tell you how it relates to the little white lies we tell ourselves when spending money. A little backstory on my love for coffee and how I talk to myself like a crazy person

The other day I'm driving to work, rocking out in my mom's white minivan (which is on long-term loan because I'm too cheap to buy a new car). I'm in a good mood. I approach Starbucks, which much to my chagrin AND my delight is directly en route to my office. My internal debate begins: "Should I go?" "No! Make a latte at work" "But I want Starbucks!" "You work at Google, land of the espresso machine! Don't you DARE pull over."

I veer off at the last minute. I DESERVE an iced latte. I've worked hard and it's hot outside. I get to the register. I also buy a breakfast sandwich. My total comes to $6.40. "No biggie, I mean, I would have spent at least $15 on brunch with friends anyway." "But it's Tuesday!" "Fine - then I'll make up for it over the weekend." Do you think I made up for it that weekend? Definitely not. In fact, I rubbed it in my conscientious frugal-self's face by visiting Starbucks three times in one day! As you can see in the diagram below (courtesy of Mint.com), I visited Starbucks 113 times in the last year. Ouch.

Jennys Coffee Shop Spending

So back to my point. I get that I'm talking about Starbucks here. A small purchase, given that I could be impulse-buying flat-screen TVs. But I don't think it matters - I think the white lies we tell ourselves are similar on purchases big and small. I'm sure everyone has different white lies, and I would absolutely love to hear yours in the comments. Below are three big ones of mine, along with some strategies for counter-balancing them.

3 Little White Lies We Tell Ourselves When Spending Money

White Lie #1: The Coupon Mentality - It's okay that I spent $X, because I could have spent $Y.

  • Examples: It's okay that I spent $8 at Starbucks this morning, because I could have spent $30 at brunch. It's okay that I bought a $500 TV I didn't need. It was on SALE.
  • Why We Tell the Lie: It makes us feel better. We spend money we probably shouldn't, then reassure ourselves by focusing on how much more we COULD have spent in some hypothetical scenario.
  • How to Counter-Balance: When you notice yourself engaging in the "coupon mentality" - offer up a counter argument. On the Starbucks example, I've learned to remind myself "but you could have also made french press coffee at home for FREE."

White Lie #2: I've Earned It! Over, and over, and over again.

  • Examples: I can buy this new pair of shoes - I've EARNED it. I've also earned an amazing meal, $50 worth in drinks with friends, and a new haircut. And my 3x per day Starbucks habit.
  • Why We Tell the Lie: Because we want to reward ourselves for working so hard! Totally justifiable. But how many times have you "earned" what you are spending money on? I am all for spending money on things that make you happy, and for celebrating your hard work. After all, we work so that we can enjoy our lives. Just be careful about how often you use this excuse. Have you really earned the 100th thing on your credit card statement or are you just getting carried away?
  • How to Counter-Balance: If you are working and saving money, that definitely earns you some splurge/reward purchases. Plan them in advance. Make sure that your "I've earned it" purchases aren't impulse buys - that they are items or experiences you really want. Another tried-and-true trick that your parents might have used: count the value of the item you are considering in work hours. These shoes cost two hours; this TV costs one week. Is it still worth it? If so, and you have the money, go for it.

White Lie #3: It's Fine that I Overspent - I will TOTALLY make up for it later.

  • Ahhh, the classic delayed payment approach. Hello, mortgage crisis! But alas, I digress...
  • Examples: I'll order this $50 item online (during the week) and go out to one less dinner this weekend. Or I'll go on a week-long vacation, then stay home for two weekends (without going out) to make up for it.
  • Why We Tell the Lie: It is the true procrastinator in all of us - why pay now or hold ourselves back today when we can just make up for it later? The catch here is that by the time "later" rolls around, we've either accidentally or purposefully forgotten about the IOU we made with ourselves. Convenient at the time, it inevitably catches up to you (and your credit card bill) later.
  • How to Counter-Balance: Work in the other direction - save your money first, then spend it once you've earned it. Don't make promises to yourself that you know you won't keep. When you find yourself saying "I'll make up for it later" pause for a second and ask yourself again, "will I really?" If you are genuinely committed to making a trade-off in future spending for a purchase now, that's great - just find a way to hold yourself accountable. Maybe even stick an IOU to your bathroom mirror as a reminder of how much less you should be spending over the weekend or on next month's purchases.

Alright, your turn to fess up. What are some of the little white lies you tell yourself when spending money?