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(from Carl Richards’ 5/14/2015 Behavior Gap newsletter – click here for the original post. Carl is a Certified Financial Planner, the creator of the New York Times’ Sketch Guy column and director of investor education at the BAM Alliance. His book, “The Behavior Gap,” was published last year. His sketches and more can be found here.  Follow Carl on Twitter @behaviorgap)

Things happen. The car breaks down. The roof springs a leak. We can’t predict these one-time events. But we can predict that something will happen — eventually.


Our job is to plan for when eventually happens, and we can do so by setting aside a little money each month to help offset these one-time events. But I’ve started to notice a pattern with some people.

Supposed, one-time events aren’t really one-time events. Instead, we just call them one-time events to justify ignoring our budget.

For instance, we’ll celebrate Memorial Day in the United States two weeks from today. This three-day weekend marks the first, official holiday of summer, and the first big sale of the season. Retailers promise that “these deals won’t last for long.” As a result, people will tell themselves they can’t “afford” to miss this offer.

In theory, we could plan in advance and save the money to buy a new barbecue or deck furniture that weekend. But for a good chunk of people, they wander into the store, telling themselves they aren’t really there to buy anything. They just want to look around. They manage to stick with this goal … until they see something they want.

Then, they say to themselves, “Just this once…,” only this time probably isn’t the first time. It also won’t be the last time they buy something based on an excuse.

Look, we know all the sales tricks (e.g., buy now, pay later), but we’re bad at remembering these tricks work on us, too. Of course, there may be some great deals. But we need to be honest and ask ourselves if it’s the best deal or if we’re using it as an excuse to ignore our budget. We can’t keep counting great deals as one-time events if they keep happening.

Any time a buying decision becomes a regular thing, we need to account for it in our plans and budgets. Otherwise, we run the risk of failing to meet our goals because supposed, one-time events keep happening.