The Budget Hangover

That uncomfortable feeling in your stomach. The pounding in your head. The sinking feeling that you went overboard.

I’m not talking about getting drunk and waking up hungover. I’m talking about waking up after the week-long extravaganza we call Black Friday and Cyber Monday and realizing that you spent too much and blew your budget.

Did You Overspend?

Resisting temptation has become more complicated than ever. Online ads and marketing are better than ever due to data mining and targeted promotions. The stores know what YOU want, and they market directly towards that. We have all spent weeks and weeks with advertisers pinpointing our weak points and showing us ads, and sending emails to get us to weaken our resolve.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying something you need or want on Black Friday. I, personally, bought some stuff. As long as you budgeted for it and can afford it, then there is no problem. The problem is when you overdo it by spending more than you budgeted or if you can’t afford it.

Of course, there is a spectrum. If you are about to be thrown out on the street or your lights have been shut off, or you have no food to eat, then you don’t get to buy things on Black Friday, even if you need them and even if it’s a fantastic sale. And if you have millions of dollars and are super financially secure, then you shouldn’t be stressing out about the $5 doorbuster. This post is for the people in the middle.

So did you overspend?

Return What You Can

The first thing to do is go through all your purchases and return those that are clearly impulse buys or something you regret. Most stores offer pretty generous return policies, and if they don’t- try to sell it on eBay or some other resale site. If it’s still in its original packaging- you should make most of your money back.

What about everything else?

All the stuff you either didn’t know you needed until you did or all the stuff you rationalized that you needed. It’s not so easy to return something once you bought it.

Take each item and ask yourself the following questions to help you figure out what you need and what you can return or try to resell:

  1. Ask yourself: Do I Need this or Do I Want this? I don’t like asking, “Does this spark joy?” or “Does this bless my home?” when talking about things you are buying. It’s great for getting rid of things, but when we buy something, the answer to both those questions is usually a resounding Yes! When we have things that we need (or want) we can’t afford, then that is a problem. We can’t stay within our budget and spark joy. If you could do that, you wouldn’t be reading this post. It’s important to differentiate between a need and a want. We can buy things that we want- we have to make sure that we recognize that it is, in fact, a want and not a need.
  1. Ask yourself: Why do I Need this or Want this? We buy many things that fill a need or a want- but sometimes we lie to ourselves about what that reason is. Is it because you have no clothes to wear that you bought that new top or is it because you dread a holiday party, so you want something to wear that will make you feel pretty? Is it because your kid needs to read more so they don’t fall behind in school, or is it because you like watching your kid’s face light up when you give them something special? Is it because you need to give your sister a holiday gift, or is it because you know she is going through a hard time, so you want to give her something extra particular this year? Do I need that vase, or do I want to be the kind of person who has a statement vase in their living room? Remember: there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. All of these are valid reasons to purchase something- but when you get to the “why” of it, you can solidify for yourself what you really need or want.
  1. Ask yourself: Would I buy this if it’s not on sale? If there was no deal- would you have gone out and bought it anyway? For example, diapers you would have purchased even if it wasn’t on sale. Maybe even a sweater you would have bought at full price. But would you have bought this particular item if it wasn’t on sale? Or did you buy it because it was “just $5”?
  1. Ask yourself: Am I getting caught up in the moment? Sometimes there is the pressure of buying something TODAY because the deal won’t last. Or because the ad is just so appealing. Or because the atmosphere in the store was festive, so you figure why not? You really have to stop and think about whether you bought it because you needed or wanted it or because you just got carried away.

These questions can help you clarify which items you need and which items should be returned. Keep on doing this with every item until you are once again under your budget.

You should get into the habit of asking yourself these questions BEFORE you buy the item.

How My Friday Went Down

The following is how it looked for me on Friday. I got an email from Old Navy about their $1 fuzzy socks. That is super cheap, and I love fuzzy socks. So I put them into my cart. Then I got to thinking.

This I, not a need; this is a want. Although I cannot spend a lot of money on “wants” right now, I can technically afford the $4 total to buy everyone in my family socks. But then it got real. Why did I want this? Once I was honest with myself, I realized that I wanted the socks because it would be cute to have matching socks and take cute pictures together. It would be fun.

But… my kids and husband don’t like socks. My kids will take any opportunity to take OFF their socks and wouldn’t really appreciate them besides for the first 30 seconds. I definitely would NOT have purchased them if they weren’t on sale. It was only because they were on sale that I even considered buying them.

I was getting caught up in the moment because Old Navy was offering free shipping, which they don’t usually do. So if I changed my mind later, it would be too late. Once I went through all those questions, I realized it wasn’t worth buying the socks. The point isn’t that it was only $4. The same thought process would work, whether it was $4, $40, or $400. It’s not worth the money, no matter how cheap it is. I didn’t buy the socks.

4 Questions to ask yourself before you buy something

Still not working?

It’s time to take yourself out of the equation—no more emotions.

In a room without any of the stuff you bought: Make a list of all the things you bought, how much they cost and who you bought them for.

Then, try reading the list with as little emotion as possible. Look at the hard numbers and try to approach this from a neutral point of view. So much of what we buy is based on emotions. We buy things to make us feel good, make us feel in control, make others feel good, etc. When you take the emotions out of the purchase and look at it with a cold eye, it’s easier to see where you are overspending. This is why it is so much easier to tell SOMEONE ELSE what to cut out of their budget or call them out on their spending (why do you think there are so many personal finance bloggers?!).

If you are struggling with this- call a friend (one who will help you- not egg you on) and have them go over the list with you. Keep on returning items until you are once more under budget.

What if I did that, and I am still over budget?!

It was all things that I need, and I am not returning any of them! If that is the case, then don’t allow this budget lapse to spur you to spend money until after New Year’s. As I talked about before when I discussed budgeting for one thing after another– it’s important to not let one “failure” spur you on to another failure. Approach the rest of the month with a clean slate. Just because you overspent now doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all, and it doesn’t mean you are doomed to bust the rest of the budget as well. Clean slate. New budget. This time you will be able to stick to it!

Hi! I am a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. I have always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start my blog after a period of extended unemployment. That experience really changed the way I viewed my relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education.

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