How to Stop Knee Jerk Spending


In my household, the definition of knee jerk spending is easily agreed on: It’s a type of spending that’s done too quickly, with little or no thought beforehand. There isn’t a single person in my home that doesn’t believe knee jerk spending is bad habit that can gobble up hundreds of dollars of monthly income. Scarier still, it can devour this income without anyone ever suspecting that it’s doing so. It’s a silent, heartless killer.

The definition of knee jerk spending is where all agreement stops. Ask anyone in the house if they’ve engaged in this cardinal spending habit and they will say no! Not them. I’m guilty of denial, too. To me, my purchases are never “knee jerk.” They’re simply the result of quick reflexes that kick in when I spot a bargain product I didn’t know I needed before I saw it in the store. If I ask everyone in my family why they made purchases outside of the family budget, they’ll say the same thing just as convincingly as I say it when I’m caught red-handed. They will say, “I wasn’t knee jerk spending. I just hadn’t seen that bargain yet.” The problem twists and turns because when one person makes a spur of the moment bargain purchase, they do so without consulting the rest of the family. That means that everyone makes the infamous knee jerk purchase and angers other people who feel that the product shouldn’t have been in the budget. The odds and ends bargain purchases accumulate during the month until the budget is unrecognizable and money is slowly thrown away.

My family budget is stretched to the limit, even with the basics and car payments thrown in. There isn’t room for the limits to be stretched much further with knee jerk spending. It can push the financial situation over the limit and into the realm of unpaid bills. Yet every month it seems that someone in my family, often many of us, buy into the dangerously untrue notion that if it’s a bargain, it’s worth it. Stores get us this way time and time again. Bargain bins are placed near the checkout line and someone always walks by and exclaims, “I’d be stupid not to buy this.” I’m here to tell you that bargains lead to knee jerk spending and knee jerk spending leads to debt. It’s a slow, agonizing debt, but a debt just the same.

I’ve made a solemn promise to myself that this type of spending behavior has to stop. The best place to stop it is to prove to myself that I can stop my own knee jerk spending. My plan is simple: No bargain is too wonderful to turn down. Okay, no plan is that simple. Here are a few of the rules we’ve all agreed on in our quest to stop knee jerk spending.

Rules of the House

1. There will be no purchases without the consent of everyone in the household. This stops the first mechanism of knee jerk spending before it starts. It rules out the possibility of grabbing the product and running home with to show everyone what a wonderful deal you got on the most necessary product on earth. Nothing over $10 can leave the store unless it’s in the budget.
2. Under $10 items must be one of the household essentials, such as toilet paper, dishwashing liquid, dog food, or other can’t-live-without items. The products must be on sale. This means that if someone cracks and makes a knee jerk purchase, the damage is minimal, and it’s on something that at some point will be used by someone.

These two simple rules prevent a whole array of knee jerk bargain purchases that don’t contribute to the common good. Everyone must agree on the purchases and this slows down the number of irresponsible knee jerk purchases that flow in and out of the household each month.

Our goal is to save money. That means not spending any money on some products, even if they are on sale. I believe that by ignoring the assumption that bargain hunting is a hobby many of us need to give up if we’re going to defeat the monster known as knee jerk spending.

This post was written by

jason – who has written posts on Budget Clowns.
Father of three and married to a lovely women. Always looking for ways to save money, and invest it properly for my children's future.

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