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Why We Spend More When We're Tired (and Other Money Triggers)

This article is from our friends at LearnVest, a leading site for personal finance.

It's 9 PM—do you know where your wallet is?

If you're like many women, it may be right there next to you on the couch as you idly peruse spring dresses and pastel pumps.

Or at least that's what has found: The members-only retail site recently added 9 PM flash sales on Wednesdays and Sundays to cater to our apparently growing penchant for mid-evening impulse buys.

As my friend put it over dinner the other night: "It's the new post-happy hour. My weak point is 9 or 10 PM. I get home, kick my shoes off, and online shop. It's not like I need anything, it's just a way to detox from work." 

In other words, after a tiring day, she feels like she deserves it. My friend has fallen prey to what consumer behavior experts call a “spending trigger”—an emotional state that makes us more vulnerable to parting with our money.

And as Gilt knows, she's definitely not the only one.

The good news? If you know your triggers, there are ways to avoid financial regrets. Read up on five other states in which we all tend to overspend—and what you can do about it.

You're in the Dating Market

We recently analyzed which was more expensive, being married or being single. While the tax advantages of either are a toss-up, single people definitely spend more at the prospect of a promising date. Putting your best face forward sets off spending triggers galore: There's temptation to splurge on everything from hair and makeup to waxing and wardrobe.

While we're all for feeling confident, remember that if this is someone new in your life, he or she doesn't know whether that dress you're wearing is brand new or your favorite go-to. Your best bet is to pick an honest friend who knows you well and have her help you choose the hottest look from your closet.

And always remember that a good portion of a first impression comes down to not what you're wearing, but what you convey. So take a good look at your body language and simply have fun!

You're Entertaining

Nothing causes us to do it up right like the prospect of having people over. For me, recently, it was brunch with my husband's ex-boss and her husband. Bagels would do just fine, my husband said. But we had a new home. And a new baby. And my inner Martha reared her scary, bobbed, perfectionist head.

Soon I was on Pinterest, stalking blueberry cakes and breakfast casseroles. That's fine, because I like cooking for people. But then my perfect cake needed a perfect cake plate, and I noticed we didn't own any nice serving ware. Suddenly I was at risk of turning a basic brunch into a culinary spending spree.

Maybe brunch doesn't set you off. For you, maybe it's the top-of-the-line barbecue to impress your guests. Maybe you buy for the Life You Want versus the Life You Have by investing in china for beautiful dinner parties, when the last time you had anyone over was in college.

The need to impress can take many forms, and it'll do a number on your budget. Your best bet is to consult your appropriate budget line (groceries, entertaining, whatever) and see how much money you have left to spend in a given category.

In the end, our lovely guests—knowing we had a new baby—brought enough food to feed us and at least one small impoverished nation. Which meant, if I'd just gone with bagels, no one would have gone hungry, and I'd be feeling a lot more flush.

You're Going on Vacation

This illustrates a double-whammy of financial don'ts: The spending trigger coupled with the sunk cost. You've just booked your dream trip, and since you only have a finite number of vacation days, this getaway has to go perfectly. Which means you must have every possible accoutrement to make it so.

Maybe, in your case, that's a new pricey camera, because for This Trip, your smartphone just won't do. And suddenly all of last summer's clothes aren't nice enough for this year. At least, that's what every purveyor of a "resort" line wants you to believe. The point is, not only have you already spent the money you allocated to your trip, if you're not careful, you may throw away even more money after that initial expenditure.

Of course, if you have room in your budget, by all means, treat yourself. Or create a vacation savings goal and build in extra padding for all these supporting purchases. Just remember, you don't want to come home with pictures of the sun setting over Mount Wherever—and a mountain of debt.

You're Trying to Get in Shape

The word "aspirational" might actually be the root of most spending evils. In general, we're more vulnerable to spending on any product that promises to make us look younger, prettier, or skinnier.

Sometimes we do it to ourselves, too. In the end, all it really takes to get in shape is stepping outside and putting one foot in front of the other, but it's easy to convince ourselves to join the nice gym, where we'll be motivated by other perfection-seeking humans. The gym, naturally, requires gym clothes, and wouldn't a personal trainer inspire you to new heights—or at least a new pants size?

God forbid you're taking up a new sport that requires serious equipment.

In any case, it's best to apply rigor to your budget as well as your workout regimen. Decide how much you have to spend on getting fit per month, and stick to it. (The 50/20/30 rule can help.)

Then, dip a toe in gradually, and reward yourself as you go. Say, for every five gym visits, you allow yourself a $5 expenditure toward reaching your workout goal.

You're Overworked

This is the king of "I deserve to treat myself" situations. After all, you rationalize, you're working 40 (or 60, or 100) hours a week, so don't you deserve something nice? For my online shopping friend, her release comes in the form of cardigans. For others, it might be frothy coffee or fine wine.

In moderation, there's nothing wrong with a splurge. In fact, splurging can actually help you achieve your goals, if done right. The problem comes when your imbalanced life throws your budget out of whack. After all, what would make you truly happy would probably be getting home at a more reasonable hour, hitting the gym, or getting an extra hour of sleep.

To combat this overspending tendency, put a barrier between you and whatever you tend to overbuy. For example, try pinning things you want but waiting till later to see if you really need them. There's psychological research to back up this approach: After 48 hours, the fog of dopamine, the reward chemical in your brain that goads you to hit "purchase," wears off.

Barring that, decide if your overworked state is a temporary condition (say, the result of a big work project) or a sign you're experiencing serious burnout. A good place to start? These 13 signs you might be too busy.

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  • How I Beat My Online Shopping Addiction
  • Photo of woman online shopping courtesy of Shutterstock.