How to Know When You Are “Spaving” (and Practical Ways to Stop)


“Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.” –Benjamin Franklin

Have you ever found yourself spending more than you intended just to save a little money? Probably. It happens to all us—and frequently.

In fact, they’ve even created a name for it. It’s called spaving. The word is a blend of the words “spending” and “saving,” and refers to any time we are asked to “spend more” to “save more.”

On one hand, I suppose it’s nice to know you are not alone when you do it. On the other, it is so common and normal nowadays, it can be difficult to recognize when we are giving in to it.

While the idea is often a punchline in jokes, “If my spouse doesn’t stop saving us money while shopping, I’m going to need a second job,” there’s no doubt the practice contributes to both clutter in our homes and larger-than-expected credit card statements every month. So it’s not something to laugh at.

How to Recognize When You Are Falling into the Spaving Trap

Spaving happens when we justify buying more than we intended to because of the promise of saving money in the long run. For example, we might buy more items to qualify for free shipping, or purchase a second item at a deep discount, thinking we’re making a smart financial decision.

Retailers are skilled at crafting deals that encourage this behavior, often leading us to spend more than we planned. Large corporations are incredibly gifted and educated and focus group tested on the best ways to offer savings for increased spending that results in their increased profit.

But large corporations are not the only ones—even the most rookie online entrepreneur will be schooled in the subtle art of trying to get their community to buy just a little nicer package for a seemingly better price. I see it all the time. Almost every online platform from email delivery systems and sales pages to online stores and credit card processors provide simple in-house features for entrepreneurs to make more by “upselling” products to their customers.

At every turn, the goal is to part you with your money. No doubt, you’ve seen the option to “spave” countless places. And now you have a name for it.

The word has been used as far back as 2004, but has grown in popularity in recent years because of inflation. This makes sense when you realize one of the most dangerous aspects of spaving is that it plays on our emotions and decision-making the most during economic uncertainty. The more worried we are about prices or our household budget, the more likely we are to look for saving opportunities… and the more likely we become to spend more just so that we can save more.

The keys to avoiding the temptation is to recognize it when it happens so it doesn’t cloud our judgment and also to develop strategies to counteract the urge.

Here are some ways to help us identify when we are falling into the spaving trap:

We’re asked to buy more to save:

This is, of course, the textbook definition of the word. But every time you notice an offer or benefit if you spend just a little bit more, you can clearly recognize the tactic that is being deployed.

This tactic takes various forms. One of the most common spaving tactics these days is the free shipping threshold. For instance, you need a book that costs $12, but the website offers free shipping for orders over $25. Instead of paying $5 for shipping, you add another book you didn’t plan to buy, spending $20 instead of $17.

We’re promised extra benefits for more purchases:

Retailers often lure us with additional benefits for buying more. Consider the buy one get one 50% off deals. We might end up purchasing more than we initially intended, thinking we are getting a bargain. Additionally, sometimes we get faster shipping if we spend more or a store credit to be used next time if we purchase a minimum amount—these are all examples of extra benefits for more purchasing.

We spend more than anticipated because of deals:

Grocery stores frequently use promotions like “buy 5 to get the sale price.” You’ve noticed them, no doubt. We go to the grocery store only needing two items but end up buying five just to take advantage of the discount, spending more than we planned.

Or we wanted to eat a breakfast sandwich from our favorite drive-up establishment, but end up buying two because the second was offered for just $1 in the app.

There are no savings without spending:

Whenever we see an offer that can only be realized by spending our money, we can call it what it is: spaving. Offers like “get $5 off if you spend $50, or $10 off when you spend $100” are designed for one reason: to get us to spend more than we needed to.

We make an impulse purchase triggered by a promotion:

Every time we walk out of a store with additional items that we didn’t enter the store (or open the website) to purchase, it would be wise for us to reflect on the purchase—especially those made without careful consideration—to see if the invitation to save money somehow spurred those purchases.

We react to deals out of financial insecurity and fear:

According to Charles Chaffin, co-founder of the Financial Psychology Institute, we become more hyperreactive to deals and sales when we sense financial insecurity. On paper, this makes sense. The more fear we feel about personal finances, the more we desire to save. But couple that fear with retail tactics that result in us spending more than we needed to and you have a recipe for trouble.

Practical Ways to Stop Spaving

So how can we break free from the impulse and practice of spaving? To break free from the trap, here are some practical strategies:

1. Evaluate Your Past History With Shopping

It may not be enjoyable, but before any other step, it would be smart to get open and honest with yourself about your past shopping habits. If you look around your home and realize you tend to buy more than you need, it would be helpful to know that. It would also be a good indicator that you are prone to fall into this trap.

2. Ask Yourself, “Do You Really Need More?”

Before adding extra items to your cart to qualify for a discount, ask if you genuinely need those additional items. Often, the answer is no. In fact, almost every time the answer is no. Remember, if you didn’t need an item before you saw the sale price, you don’t need it after.

3. Do the Math

Loss aversion is our tendency to focus more on what we are losing than what we are gaining. Retailers understand this tendency and utilize it to their advantage by getting us to focus on the savings we’ll be missing out on if we don’t spend a little bit more.

But you can flip around this tendency by focusing your math and attention on the spending rather than the saving. “I’ll have to give up $13 more dollars just to save $5? That doesn’t make sense.”

4. Remove the Savings Aspect from the Offer and See How it Feels

If you were shopping and a sales associate approached you and randomly asked you to buy more stuff, would you? Probably not.

Knowing that, you can mentally remove the savings aspect from the “ask” and see how it makes you feel about their request. “Would you like to find something else in the store to get this purchase up over $100?” is almost insulting to you as a customer. Internally, treat “If you spend $100 today, you’ll get $10 off” as equally insulting.

5. Consider the Impact on Your Home

Every example of reckless spaving requires us to purchase something we didn’t intend to purchase. To help overcome the temptation, reflect on whether you want more items cluttering your space. Minimalism teaches us that fewer possessions lead to greater freedom and peace. Your decision to buy more just to save more costs you more than finances—it also costs you a little bit of peace and space at home.

6. Unsubscribe from Retail Newsletters

Reduce temptation by unsubscribing from retail newsletters and promotional emails. This helps minimize the constant barrage of deals and sales.

7. For Bulk Purchases, Ask Three Questions

One often utilized example of spaving is bulk purchasing. Despite the name of this blog, I’ve never been entirely against the idea of bulk purchases. Sometimes, they make perfect sense and our family of four still purchases a few things in bulk.

To be intentional in your bulk purchasing, ask three questions: 1. How much money will this actually save me? 2. How long will it take my family to consume this bulk purchase? 3. How much space do I have to store bulk items?

8. Say the Word “Spaving” Whenever You See It

The next time you are shopping in-store or online and see an example of spaving tempting you to make a purchase, call it what it is. “This is an example of the store using spaving to entice me. I only save if I spend more.” You may still decide to buy more, but just articulating aloud what is happening will help you overcome the temptation more times than if you don’t.

9. Ask your Spouse or Partner

So often we skip this step precisely because we know what that impartial voice is going to tell us. But I think that’s too bad because a relationship should be a partnership—each person working to become the best versions of themselves that they can possibly be. And often times input can be helpful. So, the next time you are tempted to spend a little bit more just to save a little bit more, ask your partner and see what he/she thinks about the idea.

Will these nine tips stop you from ever falling into the trap of unintentionally spending more than you intended while shopping? Probably not. But they are definitely worth considering every time we see a store trying to convince us to spend more just to save more. Because our shopping habits should never become a punch line.

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