Why buy when we shouldn’t

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Your budget says no, but your desires say yes. In the midst of this murky push and pull of emotions, impulses, logic, and wants a decision is made.  What governs the outcome of that tug of war?

Most people’s credit card balances and contents of their closets indicate that they are losing this battle.

Why do people fail to resist these impulses?  Some really smart people have studied this subject.  Let’s listen and learn from them. The research indicates there are 3 primary points of failure.

1 Standards

If the consumer knows exactly what they want, they are much less likely to purchase on a whim.  I love corn chips – just look in our cabinets. I know what brand I like, It’s the lowest price product with a taste that satisfies. The likelihood of me purchasing another bag of chips on a whim is low. I have a standard. I’d be wise to develop  a standard on how many bags of these chips, I should buy each week.  I don’t have that standard yet so I’m still free to make some unwise choices and I do – just look in my cabinets.  These standards become even more important on big ticket items, since more dollars are involved.

When people are distressed they will want to make themselves feel better. For some people, buying stuff makes them feel better. However, if they have strong standards they will not make poor product choices. Even when they are distressed. Buying a bad product choice won’t make them feel better. Hence, having standards will help but they aren’t enough.

2 Monitoring

If we track what we are buying, we are much less likely to make purchases on the spur of the moment. Dieters who simply track every food item they consume will tend to lose weight.  The same occurs with tracking our purchases.  Monitoring makes you accountable to your spending decisions.  If we add a budget to this monitoring process, it becomes a very powerful force in controlling our spending. We track and limit spending by category.

3 Exercising Self-Control

The ability to muster whatever it is that enables one to resist an urge. This ingredient is essential. You can have standards and lists, but without restraint, we will continue to make unnecessary purchases.  There are three theories on how self-control works.

  1. Will Power: The strength or energy exercised by the will is greater than the impulse to buy.
  2. Cognitive Process: The individual brings to mind knowledge and uses logic to overrule the desire to purchase.
  3. A Skill: The person has practiced their ability to say no to their inclination to acquire.

Research indicates the will power theory has the most going for it. When an individual is bombarded with repetitive urges to buy, their will weakens or tires out.  An individual’s ego is depleted and is more likely to succumb to the temptation to buy.

I find this research interesting from a Christian perspective. Our American culture is sick with materialism.  Some may not think it sinful – all this over-purchasing we do, However If it isn’t sin it sure borders pretty close to it. Regardless, it is fool hardy to purchase when our checkbook screams NO.

The Bible tells us, in order to resist temptation we should flee. I think this corroborates the findings of the researchers.  As believers we can call on the Spirit to give us strength.  Click on the previous set of passages and consider how these verses can relate to our battle with excessive consumerism. I suspect our over consumption has a deeper spiritual aspect to it than what most of us may think.

Let’s list what we’ve learned in our quest for wiser purchasing.

  1. Have standard in the products you purchase. Know what you want. This helps arbitrary – impulse decisions.
  2. Have a budget and track your purchases. Be accountable for what you’ve bought.
  3. When being tempted with an unnecessary purchase walk away. Call on the Lord for Strength.

Hope that helps!

In my book Modern Parables for Financial Freedom there is a story called My Car-Baby that illustrates how we can get wore down when being confronted by an aggressive salesman. Read it and enjoy.


Click here to read the original publication: Self-Control Failure, Impulsive Purchasing, and Consumer Behavior


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