The Feminist Financier

Easy credit and a busy lifestyles can become a recipe for overspending. Even those with a good financial education can fall into debt, ignoring what they spend too much on their little plastic cards. Now that spending money is easier than ever before, with our favorite online stores saving our credit cards and encouraging shopping with flash sales and free shipping, our spending habits may be a little out of control. One click can lead to a few hundred dollars in expense, and we forget about it until the items arrive in our mailbox and the charges hit our credit card bills.

The average American household has a credit card balance of $8,377 and has an interest rate that is greater than 12%. While credit card debt comes from many sources, overspending is a major contributor to debt. Just as it sounds, overspending is spending more money than we save. It can take a serious toll on people's financial health as well as mental and physical health.

Here are a dozen signs you—or someone you love—might be overspending. We'll also look at the actions you can take along with actions you can take to curb your spending habits.

1. You dread opening your credit card bills.

If you have a feeling of dread when your bills for your credit cards arrive, that’s a signal that some of your past behaviors might not be setting you up for financial success. That feeling of dread may come from knowing you have debt to pay off and lack a plan to do so, or that you know you spent too much and don’t want to know the total. Regardless, hiding from the details won’t help you succeed, so consider creating a very specific plan to pay your existing debt off. This won't happen overnight—it may be one of your long-term goals—but make a detailed action plan to move in the right direction. Moving your credit card out of your wallet can also help prevent you from spending money you don't have.

2. Your email is full of sale notifications, order updates, and shipping notifications.

If your email inbox includes a lot of traffic from your favorite online stores, it is possible that you’re overspending by responding to tempting retailer sales. Consider unsubscribing from the newsletters retailer send you. After all, those sales are specifically engineered to get you to part with your hard-earned money. Are you really saving 40% if you never planned to spend in the first place? (No, you're not.)

3. You’re regularly surprised by the boxes that arrive in your mailbox.

Are there packages arriving regularly that you open without recalling what you ordered? This suggests that you might be spending on impulse purchases that may look enticing in the moment—but quickly evaporate from your consciousness after you hit the “order” button. Online shopping can be incredibly convenient, but you may need a few weeks to detox if you’re regularly surprised by your mailbox contents.

4. Much of your conversation with girlfriends revolves around shopping.

When hanging with girlfriends, it can be fun to show off our latest finds. But if much of your conversation centers on the things you’ve been acquiring, it may be a signal you’re overspending. You may need to be the one in your group that intentionally looks for other activities beyond meeting up to go shopping in order to curb your spending.

5. You’re hitting big life milestones—and rewarding yourself accordingly.

First job, big promotion, milestone birthday—each of these can be an occasion for a very well-deserved splurge. But if those splurges continue unchecked, they can lead to lifestyle inflation, where your spending starts to creep up higher and higher as your “little luxuries” become “everyday occurrences.” Celebrate your milestone intentionally—and then shift back to your regular spending.

6. You have items in your closet with the tags still on them.

Usually, we purchase things that we want to make use of: the summer dress for a future picnic or that amazing jean jacket that would be perfect at a concert. If there are items in your closet that still have tags on them or haven’t been worn because they’re being saved for an unspecified future event, I strongly advise both cleaning your closet and curbing your impulse to buy for a hypothetical situation. This habit can really add up, since we buy things that might be perfect at some point in time but that we don’t really need today. After all, we typically wear less than 25% of the clothes in our closet on a regular basis.

7. You have subscription boxes, but no automated savings.

Subscription boxes can be a fun way to bring a surprising treat to us on a regular basis. However, if you have one (or more) subscription boxes and no automated savings, you can strengthen your financial future with one small change. Set up a regular (at least monthly) bank transfer into your savings or investment accounts. This will help you build a stronger financial base for the future.

8. You don’t have a cash emergency fund for rainy days.

If you haven’t yet set aside some emergency savings, it may be because you’re overspending. Women tend to have less saved than men: a median of $2,000 for women, compared with $7,000 for men, a number that varies widely based on factors such as age, race, and income. If you have yet to get started, begin with a manageable goal (and specific deadline) for you to hit your first milestone. Work toward having enough saved so you could sustain a few months of unexpected unemployment, which may take time, but will arrive faster if you start today!

9. You aren’t investing for retirement.

If you haven’t yet started investing for your future retirement, it could be a signal that you are overspending in other areas. Ladies, we face a retirement gender gap. The first reason is a positive one: women tend to live longer in all countries. Because of this difference, we need more money to sustain our longer lives. The other reasons contributing to the retirement gap are frustrating. Women face a persistent wage gap over the course of our careers and spend more time out of the workforce than men. On average, we need to save $1.25 for every $1 men save. I’ve created a simple guide for how to get started, because investing shouldn’t take a back seat to spending.

10. You don’t know how much you spend each month.

We work so very hard for our money, but many of us spend it without keeping an eye on where it goes. If you haven’t started tracking your spending, then it is highly likely you are overspending in some areas. We are all tempted to spend more than we can afford, and advertisers and marketers work so diligently in their profession to entice us to part with our hard-earned money. Once you start tracking your spending, it is likely you will find some areas for improvement.

11. You aren’t donating to charitable causes.

If giving hasn’t yet become a part of your budget, it may be because you’re overspending in other areas. Even modest amounts donated regularly can make a big difference for charitable organizations. Increasing your donations and creating a strategy to support giving to the causes that matter most for you will have a lasting impact.

12. You don’t talk about money with your girlfriends.

We often avoid topics that cause us stress, and money is commonly a source of stress. For many people it's even a a taboo topic. A Fidelity study found that 92% of women want to learn more about financial planning, but eight in 10 “confess they have refrained at some point from talking about their finances with those they are close to.” Women report that talking about money is “too personal.”

I’ve found that money is something we’re dying to talk more about. Importantly, discussing money is critical to learning. If we’re not talking about money with our closest girlfriends, how do we expect to make progress closing the pay and money gap women face? So I encourage you to be the woman in your group that brings the topic of money to the table in a non-threatening, positive, non-judgmental manner.

When I was struggling with overspending, I felt out of control and frustrated by my credit card debt. Now that I’ve finally gotten my spending under control—after falling in credit card debt four times—I am much happier and feel more confident with my money.

If you’re overspending, the first step is to recognize your behavior, and the second step is to start to take actions to change your behaviors and create a stronger and more positive relationship with your spending.


The Feminist Financier is on a mission to help women build wealth and own their financial independence, by improving financial literacy and taking the mystery out of money. Ms. Financier is also a shoe addict, travel fanatic, and wine enthusiast.