What Is A Spending Trigger?

By Zach Buchenau

Last Updated: February 26, 2021

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What is a spending trigger? | Be The Budget

If you want to save or invest more money, one of the most important things you can do is identify and overcome your spending triggers. Why? Because doing so can help you reduce wasteful spending and feel more in control of your financial life. That said, if you’re not sure what a spending trigger is, it can be pretty hard to address them. That’s why, before we go any further, I’d like to answer the obvious question, what is a spending trigger?

In short, a spending trigger can be any situation, emotion, place, or person that tempts you to spend money. Whether it be your favorite retail store, a restaurant on your way home from work, or even something as simple as boredom, spending triggers can come in many different forms.

And the thing is, everybody’s spending triggers are different.

So, how do figure out what yours are? And is it really worth the effort? Well, stick around, because that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss for the rest of this article.

Identifying Your Spending Triggers

As I already mentioned, spending triggers come in all shapes and sizes. And while some might be pretty obvious, others can be fairly subtle. And honestly, since subtle spending triggers can be more difficult to identify, they are often the hardest to avoid.

So, in an effort to help you shine some light on as many spending triggers as we possible can, let’s take a dive into the four major categories you should assess.

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Physical Spending Triggers

Physical spending triggers are probably the most obvious of all. They can be anything from a retail store to a fast-food restaurant. Essentially, if you can look at it, touch it, walk into it, or drive through it, you can probably consider it a physical spending trigger.

For instance, I know that home improvement stores are one of my worst physical spending triggers. In particular, if I walk into a store that sells power tools, I am like a kid in a candy shop–I want to buy everything in sight.

My wife, on the other hand, loves to buy home decor. So, if there is a HomeGoods or furniture store in sight, she has to exercise a lot of financial restraint.

The good news is that physical spending triggers are the easiest to identify. In fact, I’m willing to bet that if you have any physical spending triggers, they were the first to pop into your mind when you started reading this article.

Overcoming Your Physical Spending Triggers

In general, the best way to conquer your physical spending triggers is to either limit the amount of money you are willing to spend when you interact with them, or just limit your interactions with them altogether.

For instance, you could take a new way home from work to avoid seeing that fast food restaurant you love. Or, you could leave your debit and credit cards at home when you head to your favorite retail store, and limit your spending to a certain amount of cash.

As a last resort, you might even want to bring someone with you that is willing to hold you accountable.

What is a spending trigger, and how to overcome them | Be The Budget

Situational Spending Triggers

Situational spending triggers are a little less obvious than physical spending triggers, as they are not necessarily limited to a particular place. A good example of this is when you go out for dinner and drinks with co-workers. Even though the setting might change, the situation is the same. One moment you’re just hanging with friends, and a couple of hours later you’re staring down a $50 check that doesn’t fit in your budget.

Speaking from personal experience, one of my biggest situational spending triggers is golf. Over the course of time, I have just come to realize that I am financially weak when I’m on a golf course. Whether I’m buying a burger at the turn or a few extra beers, every round of golf I play is just waiting to ambush my checking account.

Overcoming Your Situational Spending Triggers

Similar to physical spending triggers, the best way to overcome your situational spending triggers is to limit the amount of time you spend in those particular situations. 

That might mean saying ‘no’ to drinks with friends more often. For me, it means limiting my time on the golf course. 

While it might not be easy, your bank account and your financial goals will definitely thank you.

Emotional Spending Triggers

Have you ever made a purchase that was heavily influenced by anger, sadness, boredom, or excitement? If so, you have fallen prey to the subtle, and often disastrous, trap set by the beast known as the emotional spending trigger. 

Whether it’s a head-first dive into online shopping because you’re bored, retail therapy after a hard day at work, or a pizza and ice cream run when you’re feeling a little blue, emotions are a powerful spending trigger.

Overcoming Your Emotional Spending Triggers

In my experience, the best way to avoid emotional spending is to figure out which emotions cause you to spend money the most and then replace the act of spending money with something better.

For instance, if you end up online shopping every time you’re bored, then one of the best things you can do is fill your time with more productive habits. You could take up a new hobby, start your own side hustle, or maybe even get a second job.

Relational Spending Triggers

If you’re the kind of person that likes to spend money on other people, then relational spending triggers might be your biggest weakness. And honestly, of all the triggers we’ve discussed, this is probably the most difficult to overcome.


Because most of the time, relational spending comes from a very good place in your heart. In fact, at times, it can be hard to tell the difference between unhealthy relational spending, and generosity.

For instance, if you go out to dinner with a friend, and you pick up the tab, that is a very generous thing to do. However, if you do that every single time, to the point where it disrupts your progress toward your financial goals, then it’s actually an unhealthy financial choice to make.

Overcoming Your Relational Spending Triggers

The difficulty with relational spending triggers is that you have to draw a defined line between what’s healthy and what’s detrimental to your finances.

To do that, I recommend including a category in your budget for relational spending. That way, you have a defined amount of money that you can spend on other people. From there, you just have to commit to saying ‘no’ to relational spending once you’ve maxed out your budget. 

Whether it’s $50 a month, or $500 per month, if it works within your budget, then that’s all that matters.

3 Benefits Of Knowing Your Spending Triggers

Ok, now that you understand the different types of spending triggers, it’s normal to wonder if addressing them is really worth the effort. In other words, does addressing your spending triggers really have much impact on your financial well-being?

The short answer is, yes. In fact, here are 5 of the top benefits.

1. More Financial Control

There’s no doubt about it, spending money is fun when you’re in the moment. However, if you let your spending get out-of-hand, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you don’t have any control over your financial life. And the worst part is, the stress that it causes can actually end up becoming a spending trigger. It’s a vicious cycle.

The good news is that when you identify your spending triggers and take steps to overcome them, you’d be amazed at how quickly you can take back control over your financial life. 

2. Increased Ability To Save And Invest

This might seem pretty obvious, but the less money you spend, the more money you’ll have to put into savings and/or investments. That, in turn, will improve your overall financial health, and increase your ability to build wealth.

Think about it like this, if addressing your spending triggers allows you to save an additional $500 per month, you could max out a ROTH IRA every year for the rest of your life. That could result in some serious, tax-free, wealth!

3. More Financial Confidence

As you regain control of your spending and increase your ability to save, it’s only natural for you to feel a greater sense of confidence in your financial life. I can tell you from personal experience that it is much easier to make confident financial decisions when you’re sitting on a big pile of savings and investments than when you’re barely scraping by and spending every dollar you make.

Bottom Line

Spending triggers come in many shapes and sizes. Whether it be emotional, physical, relational, or situational spending triggers that give you the most trouble, the sooner you identify and overcome them, the better off your financial life will be.

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Zach Buchenau

About The Author:

Zach Buchenau is a self-proclaimed personal finance nerd. When he isn't writing about budgeting, getting out of debt, making extra money, and living a frugal life, you can find him building furniture, fly fishing, or developing websites. He is the co-founder of BeTheBudget, and Chipotle's most loyal customer.

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