Deep Dive

Why we buy things we don’t need and how to prevent accumulating debt because of it 

January 16, 2024

While there’s nothing wrong with buying things we don’t need - a successful budget needs to have room for fun - sometimes our purchasing decisions aren’t guided by our best intentions and it can end up in buyer’s remorse, at times, accumulating debt because of it. Here are three examples of why we gravitate towards buying things we don’t need, and what we can do about them.

We want to appear as though we have it all

While the term ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ originally referred to comparing our social class and status with our neighbours, it can also be applied to our friends, family, colleagues and people we only know through a social media lens. We might see a friend’s new car and decide to fork out on a new one even though there’s nothing wrong with our current car. Or we buy more clothes we don’t need because a colleague has been wearing lots of different outfits lately. Whatever the item, it’s often a way of saying, “I can afford all of those things too!” But are they items that you really want? 

Here’s what to do: There are so many reasons why we feel compelled to spend money keeping up with those around us. Certain people or situations might bring this feeling out more than others so being aware of them is key. Ask yourself why it’s important to you to keep up, and whether it matters if you don’t. Truthfully, we don’t usually know the minutiae of someone else’s finances. We don’t know if they bought their car on finance, whether they received inheritance, or whether they’re living paycheck to paycheck trying to keep up with their very own Joneses too. And perhaps if we did know, we might be less compelled to spend money trying to keep up. The grass isn’t always greener. 

We spend money trying to live up to our dreams of being someone we aspire to be

Have you ever spent money trying to be someone you’re not? Maybe you want to be someone who does yoga every day so you spend a small fortune on all the designer gear. Or maybe you want to be someone who remembers to drink 8 litres of water a day and you think you need a Stanley cup to do that. And while I’m all for a bit of self-development and trying to improve yourself, dropping hundreds of pounds won’t automatically transform you into the person you want to be. 

Here’s what to do: Buy for the lifestyle you lead, not the one you aspire to have. As someone who used to do a lot of aspirational spending, I say this often because being aware of it can save us all a lot of money and cut down on those purchases that end up gathering dust in the back of a cupboard. Then invest your money in key areas that help you level up while recognising where your money can be saved. Maybe you do need that designer yoga gear or Stanley cup after all, but build the habit before investing lots of money. 

We give into emotional spending

Emotional spending isn’t a new one, but it can be a tricky one to navigate sometimes. We find ourselves bored so head to the shops for something to do, only to come back four hours later with bags of items we didn’t need and a lighter wallet. After a bad day at work we buy a takeaway to cheer ourselves up. After a good day at work we buy a takeaway to celebrate. But emotional spending is a short-term fix instead of a real solution to the problem.

Here’s what to do: Give yourself what you need. I get it, sometimes, we just really need the takeaway. But does it fix the problem of why we’re always on the brink of tears when we’re in a meeting with our micromanaging boss? Probably not. Yes, go for the takeaway, but also look at ways to give yourself what you truly need in those moments. In this situation, it might be investing in a course to upskill or setting aside time to apply for new jobs in order to get away from the toxic workplace. 

I’m almost certain that nearly everyone has been susceptible to at least one of these examples once in their lifetime. Sometimes we do it without thinking, but being aware of the different ways we might buy things we don’t need can help us to nip it in the bud. And if you have accumulated debt for some of these reasons, there’s no shame in it. Incredible is a debt management app that helps you gain a better understanding of your debt and ultimately help you improve your relationship with it. It’s now available to download on the App Store.