The slippery money slope of “Just this once”
For all our planning and budgeting, there are one-time events—the car breaks down, the roof blows off or someone winds up in the hospital—that we can’t predict. You do the best you can, you save as much as you can, but they’re usually events outside your control. But what about those one-time events that aren’t critical, that are in your control? Often we use the excuse, “just this once.”
It starts out small enough. Maybe you’ve been really good and stuck to your budget all week, so you tell yourself its okay to make an extra coffee run. A couple of weeks later, you tell yourself that since you haven’t splurged in awhile, it won’t matter if you swing by the store on your way home from work. After all, they’re having a sale, and it’s just this one time.
Like the excuse we might have heard from a high school friend to justify doing something stupid, “just this once” is almost always a sign of trouble. Often we rationalize the decision because we’re convinced that we’re getting a deal.
Two-for-one. Free prize with purchase. No money down. The offers aren’t new, but we allow ourselves to be tempted by the idea that if we fail to act, we’ll regret it for the rest of our lives. Obviously this is an exaggeration, but there’s no escaping marketers and the fact that they know how to play on our emotions and impulses.
Remember the coffee and the store sale? What happens the next time you want a caffeine jolt or pass by a sale sign? And then the time after that one?
We’re tempted all the time to use this “logic” to rationalize bad money behavior. Gifts, vacations, clothes and anything else that’s extra on top of our budgets often gets justified with that notion that we’ll do it one time and then never again, or at least not that often. Yet it keeps happening.
My argument isn’t that we shouldn’t treat ourselves to something special. And there may definitely be times that massaging the budget for that special treat makes sense. However, don’t kid yourself about why you’re doing it. Be honest and accept the consequences that may follow.
Even more important, if you are finding yourself indulging in special purchases more often, don’t twist the facts. Stop referring to these purchases as one-time events. Instead, account for that extra something in a budget when it starts happening on a regular basis.
By continuing to allow these optional, one-time events to in fact be regular, they can be the very thing that stops us from achieving our dreams and goals. And the last thing we want to do is look back and wonder if that trinket was really such a good deal after all.
Extracts from this post originally appeared in The New York Times.
What have you bought recently thinking ‘just this once' or what do you find yourself saying often ‘just this once' to?