Do you spend all your spare money in dribs and drabs all over the place? Do you never have much to show for all the constant spending? If so, you might be a money fritterer. Here’s how to recognise the problem, and put a stop to the drip, drip, drip of money out of your purse or wallet.
In direct contrast to a splurger, a money fritterer spends little and often, usually on things they don’t really need. The frequent small amounts spent tend to add up to a large amount over the course of a month, and they can sometimes cause more damage than simply draining your bank account as we’re about to see…
Signs you might be a money fritterer
Honestly now, have a read through these potential signs and see how many of them apply to you:
- I buy breakfast on the way to work every day
- I go into high street chemists and beauty stores whenever I pass by
- My accessories collection has run out of room but I’m still buying jewellery / hair ornaments
- I make regular in-app purchases without thinking about it much, it’s only £1 here and there
- It’s nice to take a break from the office by nipping out for coffee or a bar of chocolate
- A day never passes when I don’t buy myself a little treat
- There’s always a new magazine or three on my coffee table
- I’ve bought more notebooks and pens for myself than I could use up in two years
- I pay for subscription services (Sky, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Audible), then make regular extra purchases from them on top of this – it’s just a film or an audio book, so I don’t worry about it
- When out buying groceries, I always throw a couple of extra items in the basket that aren’t on my shopping list
- If I’m out for a meal, I’m always the one who orders extra side dishes (even if I don’t eat all of it)
- My shelf in the bathroom has seven different shower gels on it, all partly used
- I just have to get a new case for my smartphone every few weeks, it’s my thing
- My bookshelf / Kindle is full of so many books I haven’t read yet
- If I go to the cinema I always have popcorn, a drink and some sweets
- (Smokers only) When I go out to get cigarettes, I always pick up something else from the shop
- If a product is new, I’ve gotta try it right away
- I’m incapable of walking past a bargain bin without buying at least one item from it
Recognise any of these traits and behaviours in yourself? The more of them you identify with, the more you might be frittering your cash away – and it might be money you can’t afford, or money that you’d really prefer to put to better use if you stop to think about it.
What are the psychological factors driving it?
Each person is unique, but there are several common factors behind behaviours where we find ourselves frittering money. First and foremost, we might simply have ingrained spending habits. If you’ve been doing something over and over for years then you might simply be on auto-pilot and barely even realise what you’re doing. It’s especially problematic if an old habit no longer matches up with your current needs and wants, but it’s still being followed.
Another common one is basically being a bit lazy. Most of us are hard wired to avoid making too much effort, and it’s quite common to take the most convenient option instead of the best option. So, for example, we might have an extra ten minutes in bed in the morning, and then buy coffee and toast on the way to work. We also do things to avoid discomfort, such as buying a magazine to make a long commute more bearable, or going to the corner shop to get away from an unpleasant office environment.
We might also spend, spend, spend in an attempt to boost a low mood. That’s likely to be the case when you find yourself buying yet another chocolate bar, can of beer or drugstore lipstick. It’s a little something to pick you up if you’re having a bad day, or feeling unattractive, or just downright sad or miserable. The flip side of this type of spending is a sense of entitlement – you think you deserve it, which then justifies the purchase in your own mind. It’s exactly the feeling that the ‘because I’m worth it’ advertising tag line taps into so successfully.
This leads neatly into being extra susceptible to advertising. Advertisers become cleverer and sneakier with every passing year, and let’s face it this can get to the best of us from time to time. We just can’t help wanting that new and improved thing that will make us feel less of a loser, or ahead of the pack, or that will simply give us some novelty and break our sense of boredom.
If it gets completely out of hand you might find yourself well and truly skint, but the negative effects don’t stop there. You can end up eating lots of junk food, takeaways and unhealthy snacks, drinking or smoking more than you intended to, sleeping badly because of coffee jitters, and going for the convenient option every time instead of making choices that might make you far happier in the long run. It can affect your general health and wellbeing too, on many levels.
It’s a complicated problem, but there are many ways that you can help yourself to stop frittering all your money away.
How to stop frittering money
As the main cause of spending too much money in this way is ingrained habits, it’s a good idea to start keeping a spending diary. This will help you to become aware of times when you’re making lots of small purchases, as it may not be on your radar at all. It’s especially helpful to make a note of your mood or your circumstances alongside what you’ve bought and how much it cost – this can help you to work out what might be triggering your behaviour.
If you’d like a free printable spending diary, you can help yourself to one here.
Once you know your triggers you can find ways to avoid them, or replace the spending behaviour with a different behaviour. For example, if you’re bored at work then you could take a walk around the block or listen to the radio rather than going to the newsagent. If you spend money whenever you go into a certain shop, try to avoid going into the shop in the first place or cut back on window shopping in general.
If you’re always taking the easy way out and you can’t afford to pay for the convenience, it’s time to make a tiny bit more effort. Add a loaf of bread to your weekly shop, freeze it for freshness, and get up 10 minutes earlier to make that toast and coffee instead of buying it on the way to work. Likewise, a packet of supermarket muffins costs less than a single muffin from a coffee shop, and it’s usually even cheaper to make your own at the weekend if you have more time.
Are you someone who orders lots of takeaways? Hunt around for some simple recipes that you can make quick, tasty meals with, and keep a few useful items in your storecupboard. You’ll feel a lot healthier too, with normal portion sizes and less salt, fat and sugar.
You might find that your spending is masking a low mood, self-doubt, restlessness or anxiety, especially if you start using a spending diary. Sit with those sensations and thoughts for a while and think about how you’re really feeling, instead of trying to escape from it. You might realise that you need to make some general changes in your life, whether it’s as simple as taking some exercise, or a bigger decision such as having therapy or ending a relationship. Don’t stay stuck.
People who have a sense of entitlement need a reality check. It isn’t about ‘deserving’ certain purchases – it’s simply about whether you can afford them or not. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.
You can decide to cut the small spends out altogether, or you may prefer to cut back a bit and put aside a set amount for little purchases each month. Having a budget for it can be helpful for many people, and can give you the best of both worlds: a few prioritised treats here and there, and a cash limit to stop things running out of control.
Finally, if advertising is getting to you then consider taking some steps to make it have less of a hold on your life. Fast forward through the ads on TV shows or install an ad blocker on your browser, and have a break from glossy magazines and ‘aspirational’ social media (away with you, blasted Kardashians!). Focus on other things for a while, like hobbies, learning and education, your health and fitness, your community or your relationships. It will help you relax and focus your budget onto things that you truly value.
Do you find that you fritter your money away in small amounts here and there? What would you say are your personal triggers for overspending in this way?