Avoid the Spending Rip Current

Avoid the Spending Rip Current

More than 60,000 beachgoers each year are rescued by lifeguards. Most are swimmers caught in something called a “rip current,” a powerful offshore current that can drag everything in it a half-mile out to sea.

If you’re caught in one, it doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer you are. You can’t swim through it and make it back to shore.

But here’s the secret. Although rip currents are strong, they’re usually very narrow—only 20 or 30 feet across. So if you’re caught in one, swim a few strokes sideways in either direction. You’ll be out of the rip current in no time, and you’ll have no trouble swimming back to land.

So why are we telling you this?

Spending creates its own pull

People who don’t have a healthy relationship with money often get caught in a spending rip current.

Do you know anyone who always has to have the latest outfits? Has to have the coolest new cell phone? The latest videogame console? The most expensive bike? Chances are this person is caught in a spending rip current.

Just like a rip current in the ocean, a spending rip current is a powerful force pulling against you financially, causing you to spend and spend in the hopes that the stuff you buy will make you happy, but never actually getting you there.

Think about it

It’s not like you’ll ever be able to say, “Phew! Now that I’ve bought the newest, coolest, most advanced iPhone, I’ll never have to worry about buying another cell phone again.”

Of course not!

In three months, there will be an even newer, even cooler, even more advanced phone out there. If you’re caught in the spending rip current, you’ll have to buy that one too. It never ends.

Are you caught?

  • Do you usually spend money as soon as you get it?
  • Do you buy things to keep up with your friends?
  • Do you feel the need to have the coolest new stuff?
  • Do you buy things because you’re bored?
  • Have you ever bought something you knew you’d use only once?
  • Have you realized almost immediately after a purchase that you didn’t really want it?
  • Have you ever bought an item without knowing why you wanted it in the first place?
  • Have you ever bought an item knowing, even as you were paying for it, that you didn’t really want it much—but bought it anyway?
spend less, have it all


If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher’s stone.
-Benjamin Franklin

Recognize the signs

These are all signs of the spending rip current—where you spend money almost out of habit, and buying things becomes a big part of your life.

What’s important to remember here is that spending doesn’t make you happy; it can provide you only a temporary thrill. And if it gets you into money trouble—as it does, unfortunately, for the average adult—that temporary thrill comes with a huge price tag.

Remember, The Money Savvy Teen philosophy says that smart spending is fine. In fact, it’s one of the joys of life. But you need to make sure you’re spending for the right reasons—not because you’re caught in a spending rip current.


Teens in the U.S. spend over $84 billion a year.

The dangers

The spending rip current is dangerous for a lot of reasons.

Just a few:

  • Financial danger
  • Psychological danger
  • Future danger

Let’s look at each of these a little closer.


Teens are more likely to spend at a mall than any other kind of shopping outlet (electronics or convenience store).

The financial danger

Obviously, when you’re caught in a spending rip current, it’s very difficult to save any money. If you’re always buying things out of habit or just to pass the time, how can you put away enough cash to buy a car? Or for an apartment? Or even enough money to have in case of an emergency?

You can’t.

The worst part is, because you’re buying lots of stuff that you’ll eventually get bored with, you won’t even have anything to show for all the money you’ve spent while you were stuck in the spending rip current.


Teens 14 to 17 spend on average $46.80 per visit to the mall.

The psychological danger

People caught in a spending rip current often think that if they just buy this one new thing, they’ll be happy.

But it never works that way.

When they get the one new thing home and realize they’re no happier now that they have it, they often suffer even greater sadness.


More than 28% of teens’ purchases have been directly influenced by magazine advertising for music, games, makeup, and clothes.

The future danger

Although getting caught in one now, as a teen, can be dangerous, we’re far more worried about you getting caught in a spending rip current that lasts into your adulthood.

Adults caught in spending rip currents can lose their homes, lose their cars, and get into debt they can’t climb out of.

Remember the IRS coming after Will Smith for $2.8 million?


Teens who read magazines are more likely than others to buy in many categories, including health
and beauty, leisure, electronics/technology, apparel, and food.

Avoiding the rip current

How can you avoid a spending rip current?

You’ve already learned plenty of of concepts that can help you, including:

  • Remember the financial principles we’ve discussed, like Protect Monday and Know Your Whole Money Picture
  • Ask yourself some questions before you buy, like what’s motivating you to make this purchase
  • Make some small adjustments to your spending habits

Now let’s dive a little deeper.

Use the rules we’ve already laid out

Know Your Whole Money Picture

If you know your whole money picture—what you have, what you owe, what you earn—it’s easier to avoid a spending rip current. That’s because you will rarely make a purchase without considering its effect on your overall financial situation.

Protect Monday Me

When you apply the concept of Monday Me to your life, you’ll find it very hard to spend money wastefully or buy things all the time without thinking through how important the purchases are to you. In other words, you won’t get caught in a spending rip current. That’s because you understand that any money you waste today is money you’re essentially taking from a future you.

Ask yourself…

When making a purchase, ask yourself the questions we listed earlier:

  • Am I buying this to keep up with my friends? Because it’s cool?
  • Am I just bored?
  • Will I really use this?
  • Do I really want this?

Often, just stopping to ask yourself a few of these questions before you buy something will jolt you into realizing you don’t really want to buy it after all.


As of 2009, only three states (Utah, Missouri, Tennessee) had made personal-finance courses mandatory in public schools.

Swim sideways just a little

The danger of an ocean rip current is that no matter how hard you swim, you can’t make it back to shore. Same with a spending rip current. You can adjust your spending habits just a little to avoid a spending rip current. Instead of going to the mall every month, pull back to going only every three months. Instead of being first to get the new gadget, why not wait a while and look for a better price?

Just as the narrow rip current requires you to swim only a few strokes in either direction to free yourself, you only need to alter your spending behavior a small amount to avoid a spending rip current.


Like dodging an ocean rip current, you can avoid a spending rip current by changing your spending habits just a little.

Bottom line

Avoiding a “spending rip current” will…

  • Help ensure you are far happier with the things you spend your money on
  • Keep you from developing dangerous spending habits that could hurt you throughout your whole life


What’s the best way to get out of a spending rip current?

The best way to get out of a spending rip current is to make small adjustments in your spending.

One more takeaway

Avoiding a spending rip current is one of the easiest money-management tools to learn.

All it really takes, if you think about it, is being aware of the fact that sometimes we can be drawn to spend money on things we don’t really need—because of advertising, or peer pressure, or fear that we’ll miss something, or even just out of boredom or habit.

So just pay a little more attention to what you’re thinking and feeling when you’re about to make a purchase. It can save you a fortune!


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©2022 Money Savvy Teen

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