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Why we spend on small things

By Paula Pant · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Posted: 9 am ET

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You run into the store to "pick up one thing." You just need to grab a toothbrush. That's all.

But somehow, you approach the checkout aisle with a cart full of stuff. They are all items you think you need. You only wanted to get a toothbrush, but while you are browsing the aisles, you grab a bottle of mouthwash and some floss.

In the next aisle, you remember that you are out of conditioner. You grab a bottle of that and a package of hairpins.

That reminds you: Aren't you going out on Saturday? Should you browse for some earrings? They're only $10.

These tiny expenses add up quickly. It's hard to realize how big of an impact they are making on your budget. I believe there are three reasons we spend on "little" things.

1. Marketing convinces us. We have been convinced that all of these items are necessities. Hairpins are no longer an option, they are a need.

2. Social permission makes us feel it is OK. It's socially acceptable to own all of this stuff. No one will gasp in awe at your "big spending" habits. No one will walk into your house and say, "Wow, you have mouthwash! How could you afford it?"

If you bought a fancy car, your family or friends might start whispering, "Can she really afford that?"

But if you spend an extra $150 per month on random junk -- sunglasses and yoga mats and nail polish -- no one is going to comment.

3. Small expenses are easy to ignore. If there's an item on your credit card bill for $500, you going to pay close attention. But what if you have 10 items on your credit card bill, each totaling $50? What if the receipts from your shopping trips reflect a litany of items priced at $5 to $10? It's much easier to ignore the small expenses.

It's easy to imagine that tiny expenses don't matter. No one goes broke because they purchased a tube of lipstick. But at the end of the day, those small items add up.

Paula Pant blogs at AffordAnything.com about creating wealth and living life on your own terms. She's traveled to nearly 30 countries, owns five rental units and works for herself. Follow Paula on Twitter @affordanything.

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