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What's fueling hate spending?

Stewart spoke with Jordan Hart, an Illinois-based writer who described themselves as thrifty. But despite being “outraged” by high prices, the 26-year-old Hart says she buys $100 leggings at Lululemon and drops $50 for a Stanley cup water bottle.

“With inflation, everything is just getting obnoxiously more expensive,” Hart said. “But at the heart of it, our desire as a consumer and as people to have nice things has not gone away.”

It’s not just consumerist desire that’s fueling hate spending. Stewart also attributes it to Americans’ good financial positions, even if they don't feel it. The country currently has a strong labor market and wage growth has outpaced inflation early in the year, according to an Axios analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Household wealth increased around 41% from Q1 of 2020 to Q4 of 2023, according to the Federal Reserve.

There also may be a general acceptance that price increases witnessed during the pandemic simply aren’t going anywhere.

“We've acclimated to these inflated prices,” Claire Tassin, a retail and e-commerce analyst at Morning Consult, told Stewart. “I don't know what would force us to hit the breaking point for this degree of consumer spending.”

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What to do if you're hate spending

If you find yourself in a cycle of buying things you hate the price of, you can change this behavior.

The first thing you need to do is shift your mindset. Stewart says that hate spending may stem from people’s general aversion to loss, which is why it’s a hard habit to kick.

“Having to change their lifestyle to fit newfound financial constraints feels like losing,” she wrote.

Stewart gives the example of buying a new dress for a party, even though you have a perfectly good one in your closet.

“Getting the new one is more fun and exciting, even if the accompanying price tag is annoying,” she wrote. “It'll be something interesting to complain about at said party later.”

Shopping can release dopamine in your brain, which makes you feel good, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It can also help us feel more in control of our environment.

“You don't have a choice in the economy and inflation and how that's affecting you, but you kind of have a choice in how much you let it alter your lifestyle,” Hart told Stewart. “It feels like you're admitting defeat if you're just like, 'Well, now it's just expensive, so I won't do it.'"

Another woman Stewart interviewed told her that she keeps buying a new iPhone at least every two years for $1,000, even though she hates spending that money.

“To the outside, that might look like a luxury but to them it says, ‘Hey, this, I need all this for my sanity,’” Ravi Dhar, a professor of management and marketing and the director of the Center for Customer Insights at Yale School of Management, told Stewart.

The good news is that you can get those dopamine hits and feelings of control elsewhere, such as when saving for a big purchase, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You get just as much dopamine anticipating a purchase as actually doing it.

You can focus your hate-spending energy into a long-term plan to save for a bigger or more expensive purchase that you really want — and won’t hate.

It’s also a good idea to create a budget to figure out how much you’re able to hate spend every month. Once you know the number, you can turn that monthly spend into a monthly save and use it for your big purchase.

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Sabina Wex is a writer and podcast producer in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Fast Company, CBC and more.

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