Have you ever determined which emails to open based on the subject of the message? Today these were just a few of the subject line invitations in my email box:
“We’ve Missed You!”
“A Special offer, just for you – 20% off your order”
“Exclusive! 50% Off at [store name]”
“From $19.99: new brand-name [product]”
“Final hours: 25% off + free shipping”
“You’ve Got To See This Sale”
“Take advantage of our Seasonal Sale!”
“Get a Free [product] with your online purchase!”
“Semi-Annual Sale: Deals for All Under!”
“Deals, Up To 75% Off”
“Today only: save $75 when you spend $250 on [product]”
“Sweet savings up to 60% off [products] & more!”
I remember when parents used to worry about the commercials their children were watching because cries for new and exciting products were constantly being pushed. But internet advertising makes a 30-second commercial seem almost invisible. These days we are constantly accosted by retailers and wholesalers who know our shopping and spending habits, know our product preferences and know a whole lot more about us than we would like to recognize or admit.
So, how often would you guess you open those emails? More importantly, how often is that act of opening emails costing you money you would not have otherwise spent? If you had no intention of buying, and you had a strict budget that you set for yourself, would you still be as easily persuaded to spend that money?
My client, Camilla, decided she had to get a hold of her spending on clothing. While she does earn a very good salary, when she actually took the challenge of saving all of her receipts for the month of July and adding them up, she realized she spent a lot more on these items than she had thought. When we began to frame out a monthly budget earlier in the year, looking at her household expenses and debt, Camilla did not want to budget any money allocated to a clothing budget. She said she had a closet full of clothing and enough shoes.
That sounded a bit unrealistic to me, and after discussing that she was required to wear professional attire for work, and that clothing would become soiled and shoe heels would break, Camilla was inclined to actually budget a set amount for her clothing allowance. Together we decided 5 percent ($220/month) seemed like a good number, and if she was not going to shop in a given month, she would save the money in a separate account to allow it to accumulate so that when she did need that new outfit, or pair of shoes, there would be a clothing fund and she would not have to go into debt to purchase those items, nor would she have to “feel bad” about spending that money when the time came.
Yet, when I met with Camilla again at the beginning of August, she was disappointed, and uncomfortable disclosing that in fact in the months since we had met she had not kept her budget and had actually spent $350 on clothing in June, largely in part because of an email message similar to the ones above, when there was a big sale at her favorite store. Camilla said her fear of missing out took over her otherwise budget-conscientious mind. Nevertheless, in July Camilla spent an additional $390 when she realized that she did not have an appropriate bathing suit, cover up and sandals, along with a new dress, to attend a pool-side cocktail party where she wanted to impress.
The impact of this overspending meant that instead of paying down the debts that she was depressed about, Camilla now added to her debt, and interest was growing, not shrinking. What happened to your resolution? What happened to the closet full of clothes that would last a full year?
What happened was the world of advertising, the world of temptation, the world of appearances and the need for approval, acceptance, and to fit in. When reflecting on her June spending spree, Camilla justified going over budget as she negotiated with herself that she was spending her June money and $130 of her July money (in advance). Of course, the idea of a budget is not to spend next month’s money before you earn it. It is to only spend the money you have, and if you haven’t earned it yet, you can’t spend it.
When July came around, based on her own “negotiations,” Camilla should have had $90 available in her clothing allowance budget. But, she recounted, feeling like she was entitled to the new stuff and “oh well” she already “blew it” the month before, Camilla hastily purchased the pool-party attire before she could stop herself. She rationalized the purchase as a necessity – who could be seen in the ratty old bathing suit from last summer – and then chastised herself the following Monday, after the festivities ended, but before the bill arrived.
Although Camilla went slightly off-course with her summer clothing purchases, this exercise was a great eye opener for Camilla. Before looking at her income and her expenses, she had no idea how much her clothing preferences and purchases were actually costing her. She was also a bit deluded in thinking that she could go an entire year without making any purchases in this category. Reflecting on her assumptions about how she was spending her money, compared with the reality of how she actually spent her money, sometimes recklessly, was mind-altering for Camilla. She set a new rule for herself: a 24-hour wait period before she would hit “confirm your order” on any online purchases.
How do you determine how much you spend on your wardrobe? Do you have a budget? Or do the vendors decide when you will shop and how much you will spend? I am all in favor of a sale, and I love 50 percent off, but I will not open an email making me any offers unless I had already planned to make a purchase from that vendor beforehand.
Know how you are spending your money and do not turn over the controls.
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I’m a debt settlement and bankruptcy attorney who negotiates resolutions between clients and their creditors. I am also a real estate attorney involved in both sides of purchasing and selling distressed real property. I am passionate about teaching people about money and helping individuals of all ages achieve financial independence and success in a "no…
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