FCTI - Blog

Why Do We Buy? Self-Awareness to Help Curb Your Spend

Posted by Rebecca Hellmann on Jan 2, 2020 6:45:00 AM

Chances are you’ve purchased something in the past day or so. Even those who claim to dislike shopping are likely to make regular purchases for a variety of reasons. But how often are we buying things we need?

Do we need figurines, posters, make-up, closets full of clothes, or “rustic” home décor? Maybe not. But are those unnecessary purchases keeping you from sticking to your budget? If they are, it might be time to tackle your spending habits. And the first step to curbing your spend is understanding why you are compelled to buy.

While most people would say we make purchases to address a want or a need, that line of thought does not address the thought processes behind the action. It is more accurate to say people buy things to get a job done.

Clay Christensen, Harvard professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, uses this definition of why people buy products in his consulting. For McDonald’s, who wanted to increase their milkshake sales, Christensen and his team asked customers what job the milkshake performed for them.download-this-free-budget-worksheet

It turned out most milkshakes were purchased through the drive-thru by lone males early in the morning. The job? Keeping the driver fed and occupied during their drive. Making morning milkshakes slightly thicker ended up increasing sales. (Inc.)

While the milkshake had a very particular job for a specific demographic, there are several universal jobs which most purchases perform:

  1. Social
  2. Health and Wellness
  3. Safety
  4. Boredom
  5. Personal Growth

fall-uniformWearing the same clothes used to be normal. You had one or two of everything, such as a work uniform and an outfit for when you were not at work. This was, of course, before mass manufacturing drove down textile costs. Now we have a cliché phrase, “I have nothing to wear!”

Behind the cliché is the understanding that society expects you to have more than one possible outfit. It is also assumed that others will recognize if you don the same outfit more than once in a week.

But it is not only clothing. Shoes, cars, house, neighborhood, what you drink, where you eat, the movies you see, all of these things are seen as indicators to others of your affluence, drive, and preferences. Most people make many of their purchasing decisions based on how they see themselves or want others to perceive them.

Health and Wellness

Another significant factor in many purchasing decisions is to address physical and mental needs. Beyond visits to the doctor and prescription medications, there are “healthy” food programs, diets, supplements, and many more options purporting to help increase immune systems, strength, and longevity.

The products and services to address mental health are also growing. Spas, foods, therapies, and exercises all boast the ability to assist with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and more.


There was a time when people could leave their homes and be virtually unreachable until they reached their destination. Mobile phones increased security by providing a way to contact family members or service in case of an emergency. Most people will invest in products and services that enhance their feelings of safety.


The average American spends over 12% of their budget on movies, events, eating out, alcohol, and reading. Expenditures on streaming services and entertainment, in general, have consistently risen year-over-year. (CreditLoan)

Technology has made life consistently more convenient. Oddly, the result has a boom in entertainment options, which we are loathed to miss. Rather than deal with a few hours of potential boredom, we feel pressure to maximize our leisure time. (The Atlantic)

Personal Growth

Have you ever spent money on a class or self-help book? Maybe you bought a set of paints and a canvas or two in an attempt to try painting. You might be looking at taking certification courses or advancing your degree to take hold of new career opportunities or increase your chances of moving up the corporate ladder. Most people will buy goods and services if it means increasing their income or excelling in business.

Understanding these universal jobs and how you might be making purchase decisions is an essential step to curbing expenses. But just because your purchase falls into one of these categories or fills some other job, does not mean it is the right purchase to make. Whether something you buy makes sense at the time, you should always check it against your budget to make sure it fits in with all of your required criteria.

Topics: consumer budgets, money management, household budgets, financial education


Written by Rebecca Hellmann

Rebecca Hellmann has been researching and writing in the payments technology industry for over six years. Prior to the payments industry, Rebecca developed marketing, branding, and content for businesses such as Bil-Jac, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, and Homestead Furniture. She currently works as Director of Marketing for FCTI, Inc.
Find me on: