Recognizing Your Money Triggers

It’s August and I’m guessing most of you have broken your financial resolutions or goals right? I’m pretty good at staying the course, but ever since my daughter was born, I seem to be spending more than usual. You know how it is, something comes up and you just end up spending.

I know it sounds ironic that the “personal finance expert” is talking about overspending, but it happens to all of us. I’ve always preached that budgets are flexible, so you don’t want to get obsessed with your numbers or else you’ll end up disappointed. Every so often I need to look at my spending and see what’s changed.

money triggers

What my money trigger is

I’m not a shopaholic by any means. Generally speaking, I’m pretty good with my spending. Let me reword that. My savings are automated, so I tend not to care about how much I spend after. But occasionally, I go on binges and spend on my weakness.

What’s my weakness? Food. More specifically sweets. I have a weird obsession with cake. I literally could eat it all day, every day. It doesn’t help that one of my co-workers also loves cake, so we end up enabling each other, but that’s why we get along.

It also comes in waves. It doesn’t take me long to realize that I’ve eaten too much cake, but then all of a sudden, I’ll jump to different money triggers. At different times I’ve binged on things such as bubble tea (I’m Asian, I like that stuff), video games, and even clothes.

Getting over my money triggers

What you’ll notice about all my money triggers is that they are based on “things.” It’s not like I’m spending because it makes me feel good (okay it does make me feel good) or because I’m depressed. I’m spending because I really like to eat and snack.

Eventually, I realized that all that spending added up (shocking right?) It’s actually been easy for me to give up things such as spending on clothes and other possessions since I don’t like having many things. However, Getting over food is much more difficult since it’s an instant gratification.

Food has become a trendy thing to spend more money on. People are dining at more expensive places just to get the perfect Instagram photo. My friend Preet Banerjee summed up this new trend perfectly at the recent Canadian Personal Finance Conference.

“You will not find a faster depreciating asset than food. Twelve hours later it’s literally $h*t.”

Typical money triggers

There are quite a few common money triggers out there, but most of them tend to relate to the high you get when spending. Here are a few different scenarios which might get you spending more

Fear of missing out – Referred to as FOMO by all the cool kids, this can apply to a variety of situations. Maybe you’ve seen your friend taking a cool vacation, and now you want to do the same. Perhaps you don’t want to miss out on the latest food trend, so you have to try that new restaurant?

You don’t want to miss out on a deal – This problem used to affect me a lot. I would see something on sale, and I would buy it. I would usually justify the purchase by saying I got a deal, but what’s the point if I never needed it in the first place?

Retail therapy – Let’s be honest, spending money feels good. When it comes to retail therapy, I don’t there need to be money triggers involved. If you’re a victim of this, then you’ll want to avoid the malls

Being alone – Okay this is going to sound weird but there are people out there who end up spending more because they don’t like being alone. They end up heading out to the mall or bar and spending money because they “need” human interaction. Save yourself some money and go to the library instead.

Recognizing what’s more important

I got over my money triggers because I decided saving was more important. Here’s the funny thing though, I was saving to spend on other things. I knew that my money was better spent on experiences instead of things.

For me, travel is an experience that I don’t mind spending my money on. Ironically that money I saved by not spending on food and snacks ends up being spent on the exact same thing when I’m travelling.

However, I view it as a bigger picture thing. Saving on the small things allowed me to spend on things that mattered more to me. You shouldn’t have to feel guilty about your spending especially if you’ve saved for it in advance.

Final word

Figuring out what your money triggers shouldn’t be too hard. Getting over them can be the tricky part. Try to avoid any situations where you’ll be tempted to spend or think big picture and prioritize where your money goes.

By | 2017-08-13T17:13:40+00:00 August 9th, 2017|My Money, Personal Finance|


  1. Juna Lajeunesse August 9, 2017 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    Interestingly enough, each of the triggers you suggest is grounded in personal psychology: anxiety, fear, pleasure, etc.. I would suggest that identifying triggers is easier from the outside looking in, unless one is remarkably self aware. Frequently that is not the case however. And for those who cannot recognize the stimuli and / or do not have the self control to resist engaging in frivolous spending, the results can be be quite impactful, or even devastating in this world of easily accessible credit. Good article. I think there are probably some related threads to pursue here in future articles.

    • Barry Choi August 9, 2017 at 3:15 pm - Reply


      I never even thought about how these things link to psychology, you’re totally right. Depending on the day, I have self-control, but I admit spending does make me feel good at times.

  2. Vito August 9, 2017 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    I’ve often read and must admit that I have never tried this, if you’re an impulse buyer, try waiting 24 hours before buying that “thing” you “need” and if after the 24 hours you still feel the same draw, then buy it! Not sure how well that would work, sometimes video games get the best of me too Barry 🙂

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