Even if you have the best of inten­tions, it’s easy to over­spend. Accord­ing to a Gallup poll con­duct­ed June 9–15, 2014,* 58% of peo­ple who had shopped dur­ing the pre­vi­ous four weeks said they spent more at the store than they orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to. Even if you’re gen­er­al­ly com­fort­able with how much you spend, you may occa­sion­al­ly suf­fer from a case of buy­er’s remorse or have trou­ble post­pon­ing a pur­chase in favor of sav­ing for a short- or long-term goal. Here are a few key ques­tions to con­sid­er that might help you fine-tune your spending.


1. How will spending money now affect me later?

When you’re decid­ing whether to buy some­thing, you usu­al­ly focus on the fea­tures and ben­e­fits of what you’re get­ting, but do you think about what you’re poten­tial­ly for­go­ing? When you fac­tor this into your deci­sion, what you’re weigh­ing is known as the oppor­tu­ni­ty cost. For exam­ple, let’s say you’re try­ing to decide whether to buy a new car. If you buy the car, will you have to give up this year’s fam­i­ly vaca­tion to Dis­ney World? Con­sid­er­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty cost may help you eval­u­ate both the direct and indi­rect costs of a purchase.

Some oth­er ques­tions to ask:

  • How will you feel about your pur­chase lat­er? Tomor­row? Next month? Next year?
  • Will this pur­chase cause stress or strife at home? Cou­ples often fight about mon­ey because they have con­flict­ing mon­ey val­ues. Will your spouse or part­ner object to your pur­chas­ing decision?
  • Are you set­ting a good finan­cial exam­ple? Chil­dren learn from what they observe. What mes­sages are you send­ing through your spend­ing habits?


2. Why do I want it?

Maybe you’ve worked hard and think you deserve to buy some­thing you’ve always want­ed. But are you cer­tain that you’re not being undu­ly influ­enced by oth­er fac­tors such as stress or boredom?

Take a moment to think about what’s impor­tant to you. Com­fort? Secu­ri­ty? Safe­ty? Sta­tus? Qual­i­ty? Thrifti­ness? Does your pur­chase align with your val­ues, or are you uncon­scious­ly allow­ing oth­er peo­ple (adver­tis­ers, friends, fam­i­ly, neigh­bors, for exam­ple) to influ­ence your spending?


3. Do I really need it today?

Buy­ing some­thing can be instant­ly and tan­gi­bly grat­i­fy­ing. After all, which sounds more excit­ing: spend­ing $1,500 on the ultra-light lap­top you’ve had your eye on or putting that mon­ey into a retire­ment account? Con­sis­tent­ly pri­or­i­tiz­ing an imme­di­ate reward over a longer-term goal is one of the biggest obsta­cles to sav­ing and invest­ing for the future. The small­er pur­chas­es you make today could be get­ting in the way of accu­mu­lat­ing what you’ll need 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.

Be espe­cial­ly wary if you’re buy­ing some­thing now because “it’s such a good deal.” Take time to find out whether that’s real­ly true. Shop around to see that you’re get­ting the best price, and weigh alternatives–you may dis­cov­er a low­er-cost prod­uct that will meet your needs just as well. If you think before you spend mon­ey, you may be less like­ly to make impulse pur­chas­es, and more cer­tain that you’re mak­ing appro­pri­ate finan­cial choices.


4. Can I really afford it?

Whether you can afford some­thing depends on both your income and your expens­es. You should know how these two things mea­sure up before mak­ing a pur­chase. Are you con­sis­tent­ly charg­ing pur­chas­es to your cred­it card and car­ry­ing that debt from month to month? If so, this may be a warn­ing sign that you’re over­spend­ing. Reex­am­in­ing your bud­get and finan­cial pri­or­i­ties may help you get your spend­ing back on track.

*Source: Amer­i­can Con­sumers Care­ful With Spend­ing in Sum­mer 2014, www.gallup.com.