What Your Spending Habits Say About You


Everyone has that friend or neighbor. The guy who always buys something just a bit better than everyone else, who doesn’t just keep up with the Joneses but one-ups them.

My husband had a fellow soldier in his unit, a guy who happened to live around the corner from us. If someone got a new digital camera, this guy got one with more megapixels. When we traded in our old car for an SUV because it wasn’t big enough for 2 car seats and a passenger, this guy got a ginormous, fully loaded Chevy Suburban.

Conspicuous consumption, by its very nature, sends out a message to everyone. Most people aren’t like my old neighbor, but all the same, whether you realize it or not, the way you spend your money says something about you.

Our spending habits can be both complex and highly irrational. According to MIT’s Sloan School of Management professor and neuroeconomics pioneer Drazen Prelec, they often defy economic theory. Why do people buy lottery tickets *and* insurance at the same time?

And while our spending habits are formed by watching our parents and those around us, they are also based on a complicated internal set of rules. For example, if we have an internal rule that we won’t buy expensive coffee drinks and then we splurge on a Trenta Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino with an extra shot, we may not enjoy that drink quite as much as we would have otherwise.

What Your Spending Habits Say About You

You Are What You Spend

But surely you can’t tell much about a person from their purchases beyond their being a tightwad or a spendthrift, right?

To test this out, I pulled out a deck of cards I got at a financial literacy conference a few years ago. Called Money Habitudes, these cards claim to “Target Your Habits and Attitudes About Money.” At the time, it sounded a bit gimmicky, but I forked over the cash thinking it could be a useful tool for financial counseling sessions or perhaps as an icebreaker in financial education classes.

The cards pose a series of seemingly innocuous questions about spending and ask you to sort your responses into 3 piles: That is Definitely Me, That Is Absolutely NOT Me, and Maybe….Sometimes…It Depends. There’s no scoring, no points, no winning and no losing. But after you go through the pile of cards, you turn them over and get to see the type of money personality you have.

Hey, Big Spender

Do you like to pay extra for brand names?

Do you turn up your nose at thrift shops and yard sales?

Do you always buy a round for your friends when you go out?

Do you buy expensive gifts for friends or family when you can’t really afford it?

Then you might be what Habitudes terms a Status money personality. Status spenders make great first impressions, are generous and have high-quality possessions, but can also come off as being shallow and dissatisfied. They may be deeply in debt from their spending habits.

Secret Secret, I’ve Got a Secret

Do you see something and just have to buy it?

Do you buy something when you’re having a bad day…or a good day…or just any day?

Do you buy a lot of stuff that you never actually use?

Do you gamble a bit with your money on your favorite sports team or play the slots at Vegas?

Do you sometimes hide purchases or say that they cost less than they actually did?

Then you have a Spontaneous money Habitude. People may view you as fun and outrageous, but you can also seem irresponsible and erratic. Spontaneous people often have no savings, are maxed out on their credit cards and keep their debts secret.

Better to Give Than Receive

Are you so generous with gifts or money that you sometimes don’t have anything left over for yourself?

Do you always make sure you pay your fair share when you go out to eat with friends?


Are you more comfortable spending money on others than yourself?

Are you a bit disappointed when others don’t share your values?

Then you might be a Giving or Selfless spender. You may try to take the whole world’s problems on your shoulders and encourage others to become dependent on you while not really taking care of yourself.

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

Do you pay off your credit card bill in full every month?

Or maybe you pay cash for everything?

Do you buy the less expensive or generic brand of something rather than something you really want?

Do you start to freak out if your savings account takes a nosedive?

Do you hate to take risks with your money and avoid loaning it to others?

Then you are someone who has a Security money personality and you use money to feel safe and in control. You may be over cautious and cannot enjoy anything that involves spending money. You are so focused on the future, you may not be living in the present.

I’m Free

Do you rely on other people to tend to the financial details, pay the bills or make decisions involving money?

Do you just think that your money problems will all work themselves out?

Do you not know how much money you have?

Are you completely uninterested in learning about finances?

You may have an easygoing, Carefree money personality. You have a positive outlook, but may be overly dependent on others and consequently they may take advantage of you.

It’s All Part of the Plan

Do you go to the store and buy only what you need?

Do you comparison shop and read reviews before buying big ticket items?

Are you interested in managing your own money and have goals for the future that you are actively saving for?

Then you have a Planning money personality. You use money to reach your goals, but may also be inflexible and resent other people who aren’t as goal-driven as you are. You may be so focused on your dreams that you miss out on fun or new opportunities.

Forewarned Is Forearmed

Most people are a blend of these money types. When I had my unsuspecting and slightly skeptical husband go through the cards, he found out that he actually had several traits of the Status spender, because he definitely is in to high-end electronic gadgets. He is also a bit Giving and Carefree.

I myself display aspects of the Giving, Security, and Planning personality traits, and so it’s not surprising that occasionally my husband and I will butt heads over spending decisions.

But I like to think that forewarned is forearmed: being aware of my weaknesses allows me to try and overcome them while playing up my strengths. And talking over your money personality quirks with others can be helpful and illuminating.

What do your spending habits say about you? What’s your spending habit personality? 



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