As the world starts to open again, many of us are also opening our wallets — to spend money at restaurants, the movies, gyms — and on new clothes we previously had no place to wear during the pandemic. Some are calling it "revenge spending."
With the end of the pandemic in sight, it's only natural that you may be in a celebratory spending mood. After all, it's been quite some time since we've had a chance to splurge on dinner with friends, travel to see relatives or simply enjoy a latte seated in a cafe. But before you go on a spree and blow all of the savings you may have been able to put away over the past year (or rack up debt on a credit card) NBC senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle wants you to check yourself before you wreck your budget.
Understanding why we want to spend
The first thing to consider about spending is why we want to do it, said Ruhle.
"There are a couple of factors at play here," said Ruhle. "Of course restrictions are easing and it makes sense that we would be spending more on resuming everyday things like going to restaurants or the movies."
On top of that, people who have been able to work and who are doing OK financially are still saving a lot more than they used to, said Ruhle. "The personal savings rate last month was double April 2019 levels. In March it was quadrupled. And a new Creditcards.com survey found that over 40% of American adults are willing to take on debt to treat themselves right now."
Ruhle said that after such a challenging year, it's not surprising that people are trying to buy a little bit of happiness right now, and that spending can be a coping mechanism. They key is to recognize your impulse — if you can do that instead of feeling guilty, that will get you a long way toward moving past overspending.
Keep spending under control
It's natural to want to spend money right now, but there are steps you can take to make sure things don't get out of hand, said Ruhle.
1. Prioritize your needs. "Think about doing this before you even leave the house," said Ruhle. "A lot of people's bodies changed during the pandemic, and you may legitimately need new clothes," she said. "Make a list of the items you know you want to replace before you go to the mall."
2. Keep your values front and center. "Money is just an extension of our values," said Alex Melkumian, Psy.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Financial Psychology Center in Los Angeles, California. "It makes our values come to life through buying things or experiences or whatever we value." Maybe you value connection or experiences or travel. Or maybe you know you enjoy spending at restaurants because it gives you a social connection. Whatever you value, make sure that your spending reflects that.
3. Set a budget. Ruhle said it's OK to want to spend because you've been feeling deprived for the past 14 months. Just set a budget and let yourself do it — within reason.
Stay on track
Ruhle said that one way to keep spending under control — especially if you're someone who's tempted to spend online — is to remove your credit card number anywhere you have it saved.
"Try a cash diet," she said. "Our brains have a different relationship with spending cash versus swiping a credit card."
Another smart strategy is to put a 24-hour pause on all purchases. "Chances are you may not want or need the item after you've had more time to think about it," Ruhle said.
You can also set a splurge budget, which Ruhle recommends instead of denying yourself. "Let yourself splurge whether it's five bucks or 500," she said. "It's important that you let yourself even a little something freely."
How to repair the damage
If you've overspent by a couple of bucks, or even a couple of hundred, that's different than blowing thousands and thousands, said Ruhle. "If you can do something to undo it financially like making a return, of course start there.
More importantly, try to identify the underlying issue. "Why did you overspend?" asked Ruhle. "Were you stressed or upset when you were shopping?" Identifying the issue can go a long way to preventing other spending sprees and more importantly, toward forgiving yourself and letting go.
Take it slow
As more social invitations (and opportunities to spend money!) roll in, it can make some of us anxious, especially after so many months of just staying home.
"First take a deep breath," suggested Ruhle. "Money is a really emotional thing, it can be challenging to deal with these feelings. Give yourself some grace," she said.
Next, start slowly by considering your values when spending. Consider spending only on experiences with friends versus new stuff, or if you do go shopping, do so with list in hand.
"Despite all the 'hot girl summer' hashtags trending right now, you do not need to go out and get a new gym membership and a whole new wardrobe," said Ruhle. " You are doing your best and you don't need that stuff to start getting back to normal life."
Check out Stephanie Ruhle's On the Money TODAY series for more great money advice.