As a child, one of my favorite forms of entertainment was reading; in particular, I enjoyed reading the comic books about Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the other teenagers in Riverdale. Full disclosure: I have not read these books in quite a while, neither have not seen the show (Riverdale); so I am not yet aware of how these characters have evolved or have been adapted to the current era. But, as a youngster I found these comics to be highly entertaining and educational as well. Their stories taught about humour, karma, studying, kindness and many other elements of life.
Make no mistake, this piece is about financial literacy and as can be seen from my previous pieces on this topic, lessons about money can be found anywhere; particularly in the world of entertainment. One of my early lessons about money and impulse purchases (making unplanned purchases in the spur of the moment) came from a 5-page comic book story starring Archie and Jughead.
Archie’s Unplanned Shopping Spree
The story begins with Archie meeting Jughead at his home. Earlier that day, Jughead purchased earmuffs for $3. Jughead is excited as he tells Archie about this; however Archie, being unimpressed, tells Jughead that he overpaid for the earmuffs. Archie, who also needs earmuffs, then proclaims that he could find earmuffs of comparable quality for less. As they drive around, Archie does indeed find earmuffs for 50 cents. He also, however, purchases many other items at bargain prices; items he did not necessarily intend to buy. By days end, Archie’s car is full of the items he bought, with only enough space for himself and Jughead.
After shopping, they stopped for a burgers which cost $1. Archie, feeling very proud of himself, brags about the bargains he found that day while lecturing Jughead about how not to overpay for certain items. Jughead calmly retorts by asking Archie how much money he had left, to which Archie responded that he had none left as he spent it all. Jughead then reminds Archie that they both started the day of with $20, but that he, Jughead, still had $16 left. Jughead then walks away leaving Archie feeling dejected and regretful.
The Lesson: Impulse Buying is Sneaky and Adds Up
Many of us are like Archie in the story above. It wasn’t that Archie needed the items or that he had planned to buy them. Rather, Archie decided to buy those items in the moment after seeing how inexpensive they were. His purchases were impulse buys influenced by price. This is not far removed from a lot of us who do the same.
Much of the commentary on economics and income suggests that many people who feel they don’t make a lot of money don’t necessarily have an income problem but rather a spending problem. Just this year alone, several studies revealed that many persons spent more money in April, than in January prior to the Covid lockdowns. The reason most given for this by spenders was that they were taking advantage of great deals. Some studies and articles have concluded that persons on average in the U.S. spend about $5,400 annually on impulse purchases which adds up to approximately $324,000 over a lifetime – not a small amount by any measure.
The Possible Reasons for Impulse Spending
Beyond the need to take advantage of great deals, other academic studies have concluded that impulse spending can also be attributed to certain personality types (i.e. generally impulsive behaviour), level of financial literacy, social and economic status and/or can occur as a result of an emotional response. In some cases, it can also be learned behavior – things persons have seen their parents or elders do. In Archie’s case, his character in the comics was not particularly wealthy. He would have likely been prone to this type of impulse buying based on his economic situation and his inability to afford some of those items at the regular price. Whatever the cause, it can be controlled once the person becomes aware of it.
Ways to Control Impulse Spending
The topic of impulse spending is a well covered topic and there have been many suggested ways to handle it which include things like:
⦁ Travelling to the store with a budget;
⦁ Travelling to the store with a list;
⦁ Travelling only with the amount of money you wish to spend;
⦁ Taking a pause to assess how much you really need that purchase;
⦁ Pausing for a day or two to determine if that purchase is necessary;
⦁ Saying no when friends suggest activities you aren’t financially prepared for; and
⦁ Giving yourself a set amount to spend on impulse purchases
Aside from the above, it is important to know yourself and understand your triggers for impulse spending; whether it is an emotional or economic response or whether you are generally impulsive. I know of people who are aware of their impulsive nature and purposely do not memorize their credit/debit card number so as to avoid random unplanned purchases. I’ve also found that trying to ‘keep up with the Jones’ is a fools errand and its generally best to ignore what other people have.
This is not to say that impulse spending is always bad. In some instances, impulse spending may be beneficial as you may unexpectedly find great deals on items you will need later. In these instances, taking advantage of a great deal is advisable. The main thing is to determine the necessity of the items you are purchasing. And, as stated above, do allow yourself some room for fun where you can, life is short – but not very short when you have no money saved.
There are many who will say that persons should just strive to make more money; that you can’t save your way to being a millionaire. These people are not wrong as wealth will develop through different actions as budgeting, saving and investing. But make no mistake, uncontrolled impulse spending certainly won’t help either. And if left uncontrolled, you run the risk of ending up like Archie above – having no money saved at the end of the day.