You might start with solid intentions of spending money wisely. But how can you guarantee you'll make smart decisions in the heat of the moment?
Whether you're prone to impulse purchases, analysis paralysis or just can't pass up a sale, here at 10 questions to ask yourself next time you face a spending decision that will help you make the right choice.
1. Do I Love the Item or Just the Price?
It's easy to get swept up in the lure of a great deal. But make sure you'd really love (and want and need) the item itself -- whether it was on sale or not. If it weren't 60 percent off, would you want it so much? If it wasn't buy one, get one free, would you really shell out the money for two?
2. Will This Go on Sale Soon?
Some stores are notorious for always having a sale of some sort running (Kohl's (KSS), we're looking at you). If you've found an item you love at full price, ask yourself if there's any chance it might go on sale in the next few weeks.
If you're worried about losing out on the item during the waiting period (say it's the last pink sweater in medium on the rack), ask about the store's layaway policy. Some stores will allow you to apply any current sales to an item you've put on layaway, even if it was full price when you did it. Alternately, ask about the price-match policy; some stores will refund you the difference if you spot a sale within 30 days.
3. Can I Find This for Less Somewhere Else?
There's an allure in finding a great item you can take home today. But a little comparison-shopping could net you big savings. Check out a shopping comparison website that will show you how much the item costs at both retail and online stores. Free apps like RedLaser allow you to scan an item's barcode in-store and see how much it's available for elsewhere.
4. Do I Need This Immediately?
You see something you like at a decent price, and it's something you know you were planning on buying sooner or later. Do you just go ahead and snag it now?
Not without asking yourself how soon you'll really need it. Every dollar you spend on this item is a dollar you can't spend on something else in your budget, so if you can wait until your next pay cycle, you might be better off deferring the purchase. Besides, there's a decent chance that you might not still want or need the item within 30 days. And that leads to the next point.
5. Can I Wait 30 Days Before Buying This?
This question is a great way to stave off impulse purchases. When you stumble on that "gotta have it now" item, consider putting it on layaway (if you're in-store) or bookmarking it (if it's online), then returning to it 30 days from now to see if you still feel the same way about it.
This gives you time to really think logically about whether you want or need the item and whether you can fit it into your budget. Chances are once you've removed yourself from that moment of temptation, you'll find you don't care about the item nearly as much as you did before.
6. Will I Use This Regularly?
Sure, that mini-cupcake maker looks awesome, but will you really use it more than once? You may adore that ultra-trendy top, but does it go with anything else in your wardrobe?
The best purchases have a lot of mileage in them, so make sure you're buying something you'll use frequently. Consider the cost per use. If an item costs $100 but you use it 100 times, its cost per use is $1, making it a considerably better value than a comparable item that costs $50 but you only use it twice.
7. Will This Last Me a Long Time?
Sometimes it's worth paying a little more for high-quality items, especially when it comes to things like coats and shoes that you use frequently. Don't make the mistake of going for the cheaper item if it's of such an inferior quality you'll just be replacing it in short order. Again, consider the cost per use: a sweater that costs $25 that you'll need to replace after 10 washes is a worse deal than a sweater that costs $50 that will survive 30 washes.
8. Do I Already Have Something Similar at Home?
We live in a culture obsessed with things that are bigger, better, newer and shinier. Just bought a new smartphone last year? It's already obsolete, so you'd better buy the latest model. Already have a perfectly serviceable blender? Yes, but this one has two extra speeds and comes in a gorgeous red.
Beware the danger of upgrade syndrome; unless the item you'd be replacing is something that no longer works, you're better off saving your hard-earned cash for things you don't already own.
9. Is This More Than I Need?
OK, so a purchase has passed all your other questions. You both need and want it, you must have it now, it's at a good price, etc. You still may not be making the best spending decision if you're buying more than you really need.
A car is a great example of this. You may have found a fantastic price on that sporty SUV with seat warmers and built-in flat screens, but if all your family really needs is four wheels to get it from point A to point B, you could still be making a bad purchase. Just because you can afford to go bigger, that doesn't mean it's the right choice for you.
10. What Will I Cut From My Budget to Make Room for This?
You can afford anything, but not everything. Even necessary and smart decisions come with some tradeoff. If the item isn't something you've already included in your monthly budget, you need to figure out how you're going to make room for it by cutting back in another category.
Do you want the item so badly that you're willing to stay late at the office and collect overtime pay? Will you forgo your regular Friday night restaurant meals? Will you cancel your cable to make room for this purchase? Don't wait and assume you'll "figure it out later"-- decide now so you can stay on top of your spending the rest of the month.
Paula Pant traveled to 32 countries, runs a popular finance blog and is a successful real estate investor. Her blog, Afford Anything, shows you how to live your boldest, brashest dreams -- whether that's travel, adventure, launching a business, or enjoying a debt-free life.