From the moment your alarm goes off in the morning, the world is working against you — and your wallet.
Think about it: How many times a day do you find yourself innocently handing over a few bucks without even thinking twice? At any given time of day, there's a temptation ready to snag you, making you say, "I really didn't need to spend money on that!"
But once the cash has changed hands or your credit card is charged, it's too late to take it back.
And it's not just extraneous spending that can impact your finances. There are also ways in which you're wasting money on a day-to-day basis that fly under your radar, chipping away at your budget — whether you realize it or not.
"People often perceive themselves as overspending at the end of the month, but you've actually been overspending the whole month," says Matt Wallaert, a behavioral psychologist who specializes in judgment and decision-making. "We're highly illogical when it comes to purchasing behavior, and the first step [to fixing that] is recognizing we're irrational."
To help you nip some of these irrational (and often pervasive) bad money decisions in the bud, we've mapped out the most common overspending traps that tend to trip up people throughout the course of the day — and then offered tips for subverting them.
So what are you waiting for? The clock is ticking!
Morning money traps
The spending trap: Your alarm goes off and you're ready to get to your morning spin class… that is, until you hit the snooze button. Suddenly, the three-times-a-week commitment you made to yourself ends up being more like 4.3 times per month — which is how many times someone who pays a flat monthly gym membership actually goes to the gym, according to one survey.
If you pay $70 a month, that means you're forking over about $17 per class — not quite the bargain you expected when you got that all-access gym pass.
How to subvert it: Even if your body still wants to slumber, turns out your mind may be most focused — and happiest! — in the morning. So if you're not going to hit the stationary bike, do a money-related chore that requires you to be alert instead, like paying bills or balancing your checkbook.
And while you're at it, look into a gym membership that better reflects your reality. For instance, if you buy a bunch of classes at $10 a pop, you'd save about $600 a year.
The spending trap: On the walk to work, you stop by the corner coffee shop just a few blocks from your office and grab the dark roast you need to jump-start your day.
If you're like the average American, you're spending more than $20 a week on that caffeine fix — which comes out to more than $1,000 per year.
How to subvert it: Instead of buying from the barista every day, invest in a bag of a higher-quality blend and vow to brew at home (plus, you'll get to use that travel mug you got for Christmas last year). Now you're going from about $4 a day to just 14 cents a serving!
The spending trap: As you're scrolling through your Instagram feed during your morning break, you get a text from your cell phone company alerting you that you're about to go over your data allotment for the month — and you're going to be charged $15 to stock up automatically. This happens almost every month, even though you always promise yourself that you're going to use your phone less.
How to subvert it: Since deleting your Instagram isn't an option, when you're back at your desk, take a few minutes to log into your mobile account and explore what other options exist for data. If you can get another gigabyte for $5 extra, you'll actually be saving yourself $10 a month, or $120 a year.
And while you're at it, jot down other monthly costs that you could shave down, so you can research alternatives for them over the weekend.
"I like to encourage people to take some time every Saturday to correct one structural thing in their life, whether it's moving cell phone plans, or calling up the cable company to say, 'Hey, I'm looking for something cheaper,'" Wallaert says. "Carving out the time to actually do those macro things is really important."
Afternoon money traps
The spending trap: That FLASH SALE! e-mail hits your inbox — which seems fortuitous, considering you were just thinking you needed a new power suit. Unfortunately, your lunch break also gives you ample time to peruse the designer deals, and before you know it, you're out $200.
How to subvert it: Take the amount that you would have spent on that suit and transfer it to a savings account for a big goal you've been eyeing instead. "You can reward yourself for not doing some things," Wallaert says. "So have impulse saves instead of impulse spends."
The spending trap: Since you spent most of your lunch hour perusing flash sales, it's now time to get food. You head to the local sandwich place, get your usual turkey on rye and bottled water, and run back to the office. If you're one of those folks who simply can't be bothered to brown-bag it, you're spending upwards of $2,500 a year just on lunch.
How to subvert it: First of all, why are you buying bottled water when you can drink water for free at work? That aside, the next time you sit down to eat your pricey lunch salad, take a moment to check out this brown-bag savings calculator, which tells you how much you could save — and what that amount can build up to with interest — by reducing the number of times per week you eat lunch out.
If you can commit to reducing your store-bought lunches to two a week, you could bring that $2,500 figure down to about $936, which is more in line with the average worker's lunch spending — a savings of more than $1,500 a year.
The spending trap: In a staff meeting your coworker flashes his new iPhone 6. You didn't care about upgrading before, but now that you've held it, you really want one.
Turns out that reaction is actually science-driven: According to one study, once consumers handled a product, they were willing to pay more for it.
As soon as the meeting wraps, you log into your mobile account and check to see if you're eligible for a phone upgrade, but you still have a few months to go. Even so, you really loved how that phone felt in your hands…
How to subvert it: Pop out of the office for 15 minutes to clear your head and calm what Jennifer Faherty, a CFP® and money coach, calls "the wanting mind."
"It's the [Buddhist-coined] sense of wanting something external, and as soon as you get it, it's replaced by another desire," she explains. So Faherty's recommendation is to meditate in order to pacify that instant-gratification impulse.
Another good tact to try: "gratitude practice," which is the act of writing down three simple things you're grateful for in your life. By the time you get back inside, you'll be thinking more about sharing a home-cooked meal with your family, rather than how much you think you need a new gadget.
Nighttime money traps
The spending trap: Your friend texts, asking if you can meet for happy hour at a nearby bar. It's one of your oldest buddies, so you know it'll be more than a one-drink night — which means you'll probably spend somewhere between $20 and $40.
How to subvert it: Take advantage of this quality time with your friend to discuss, among other things, some of the financial goals you're trying to reach.
"People are incredibly reluctant to talk about money — and that's a huge problem," Wallaert says. "I think, 'You're not worried about it,' and you think, 'I'm not worried about it,' so we both end up spending more than we want at the bar. You have no clue what they're making, or if they can afford to go out with you."
So when your friend asks why you're forgoing that second cocktail, fill him in on the progress you're making on saving up for your new home, or how you're almost finished paying off that pesky student loan. If you're honest about your finances, your real friends will be supportive.
The spending trap: Exhausted from your busy day, you pull out your laptop to order takeout — Seamless.com has been your personal chef as of late. It's just this one time, you say… almost every day. You don't realize it, but you're probably spending in the neighborhood of $900 a year on takeout.
How to subvert it: Take a look at your order history, and add up your receipts for the week. Extrapolate that out to a month, and now you can see what takeout has really been costing you.
So heat up that leftover pasta and start plotting out a grocery list that will be conducive to easy weekday dinners. That type of preplanning will save you time and energy in the long run, says Faherty, because you can cook big batches over the weekend that you can easily reheat throughout the week.
"If you have veggies already cut up, or a big bowl of chili already cooked, it'll be easier to make a quick dinner, even if you're tired from the day," she adds.
The spending trap: Before you turn in for the night, you check personal e-mail, scroll through your Twitter feed and peruse your Pinterest boards.
The effect? One click leads to another, and now you're hovering precariously over that one-click order button.
Turns out social media creates a strong spending temptation: Online shopping site Shopify.com says it gets more than two-thirds of its social-media traffic from Facebook, while Instagram drives its second-highest order price, at around $65.
How to subvert it: Even though you may think you have no brain power left, one study shows that you're actually better at creative and innovative thinking when you're tired — this may be why some of your best ideas often spring up when your mind is wandering.
So instead of spending your late-night hours surfing the internet, think about a creative endeavor you've been wanting to try, and spend an hour actually doing it — or at least strategize how you can pursue it without busting your budget.
Faherty cites one client who realized she never made time for her art, so she devised a way to schedule it in and save money at the same time. "She ended up staying in a few nights a week, while her friends went out, so she could work on painting. And she didn't feel deprived because she saw it as a reward for herself."
More from LearnVest...
- 6 times we tend to overspend (and how to stop)
- The one-number strategy: A new approach to budgeting
- 8 sneaky overspending triggers that can sabotage your budget