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3 habits that actually cause you to spend more money, according to a behavioral researcher

Mariel Beasley, the co-founder of Common Cents Labs, shares some habits that can lead to higher spending.

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David Pereiras / EyeEm

When it comes to managing your finances, you can set out with the best intentions but still make mistakes because, well, you're human.

Maybe you feel discouraged when you make a budget but overspend anyway. Or, you tell yourself you'll only order one glass of wine at dinner with friends but end up drinking three instead. You might challenge yourself to save $50 every month, but find yourself with only $25 in savings once you pay your bills.

In these scenarios, our psychology may have a hand in why we spend more than we intended to — and understanding our thought processes might even help us develop a personal system to avoid overspending.

Select spoke with Mariel Beasley, the co-founder of Common Cents Labs, who broke down some habits that lead us to spend more money and what we can do to avoid them.

Habit #1: Relying on willpower to restrict our spending

"Motivation, like anything else, ebbs and flows," Beasley says. "So if you're relying on sheer willpower to prevent you from making purchases, it's going to wear down over time and won't always be effective."

One of the ways we seek to restrict our spending is through budgeting. Creating a budget can help show you where your money goes, but people have a tendency to fall into a cycle of overcompensation when they're trying to curb their spending.

They'll stick to their budget and spend less one week, but then the following week they'll actually overcompensate for their lower level of spending and go over budget, says Beasley. And once they realize they're over budget, they'll reduce spending once again to fall under budget — and the cycle continues in this way.

That's not to say that you should never look at a budget again, but this cycle can be very draining and make you feel as if you're constantly taking one step forward and two steps back.

"Budgeting is effective as a one-time thing, like for Christmas shopping or going on a vacation. But long-term, it is not effective because it makes people feel bad when they don't hit the budgeting goals they set for themselves," Beasley says.

Habit #2: Focusing more on immediate satisfaction versus long-term benefit

As humans, we're biased toward our present selves and obtaining the things we want right now. But often times, that instant gratification means that we're putting less emphasis on a future benefit.

"We're more focused on the here and now rather than the financial benefits that can be realized far off into the future," Beasley explains. "We're already naturally inclined to do what feels good in the present. This is because the current cost of delaying gratification is sometimes painful, and that's not very motivating from a behavioral perspective. As a result, we just make decisions that feel good in the present."

This is one big reason why it's harder to start saving for retirement earlier on. Retirement is just so far off into the future, but there are a number of products, services and opportunities closer to the present that feel much more attainable and that's often where we put our money.

Habit #3: Following the crowd

Following the crowd — a.k.a. keeping up with the Joneses — can influence how much money we spend when it's so easy to see what other people buy.

"We take cues on what we should be doing from those around us," Beasley says. "Financially, we are motivated by what we see others doing, which includes their spending habits."

Visibility of consumption can have a powerful impact on how much and what we spend money on, she explains. We probably know where our friends shop for clothes and what kind of car they drive, but we likely don't know how much money they save for retirement or whether they have a fully funded emergency account. These habits are invisible.

In fact, research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that if your neighbor wins the lottery, you're more likely to file for bankruptcy. This is because your neighbor may be spending their influx of money on a nicer car, home upgrades and other visible luxuries, so you'll subconsciously take those cues and buy nicer items, too — even if you weren't the one who brought home a jackpot.

How to break these habits?

Strategies for keeping your spending under control are more effective when they work with your psychology rather than against it.

"Creating spend rules for yourself is more effective than coming up with a plan that puts a restriction on how much you can spend," Beasley say. "A budget is a numerical rule that's hard to follow because it encompasses many different expenses to account for. But action-based rules tend to be easier to maintain long-term."

One example of an action-based rule that Beasley follows herself is only buying Starbucks if she's going to a doctor's appointment that day. Another example of an action-based rule is only paying with cash when you go out to eat with friends — this way, you can't overspend because you literally don't have the money.

Another rule that can help you strike a balance between spending and saving is making a deposit in your savings account every time you make a nonessential purchase. So each time you buy something from your favorite candle shop or purchase a new video game, for example, you'll also immediately add $10 — or some other fixed amount of money — to your savings account to ramp up your balance.

Bonus points if you transfer the money into a high-yield savings account, like the Ally Online Savings Account or the Marcus by Goldman Sachs High-Yield Account, since the interest rates will allow you to grow your balance just a little bit quicker.

Of course, though, there's no limit to the types of action-based rules you can come up with for yourself when it comes to how you spend money.

Information about Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the banks prior to publication. Goldman Sachs Bank USA is a Member FDIC.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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