Are Your Spending Priorities Out of Whack? 14 Signs That Say Yes

Several financial red flags could be signaling that your spending priorities are out of balance. Here are 14 indicators that you need to regain control of your financial situation.

by Andrea Norris-McKnight

Spending Priorities Out of Whack photo

Money talks, but you might not always listen, especially when it’s telling you something you don’t want to hear, like your spending priorities are out of whack.

Let’s explore some telltale signs that your financial priorities might need realigning. No judgment here, just some warning signs of overspending you might want to consider and suggestions for shifting financial gears.

1. Living Beyond Your Means

Do you often spend more than you earn? If you’re living a champagne lifestyle on a house wine budget, it’s a red flag that your spending priorities are off. It also may be a warning sign you are falling into debt (see #2).

2. High Credit Card Usage

Credit cards can make you feel financially flush — until the statement arrives.

Are you struggling to meet your monthly minimum plastic payments? If so, it’s a big red flag to reevaluate your reliance on borrowing to support your lifestyle.

3. Neglecting Essential Expenses

Has a utility bill or other essential expense ever gone unpaid so you could splurge on a discretionary purchase, such as a concert or some new gadget?

You should always prioritize essential bills and savings over discretionary expenditures. However, if you find ways to reduce the costs of needs — bills like rent, utilities, groceries — you’ll have more for wants.

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4. Overuse of ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Services

Like credit cards, “buy now, pay later” is convenient and were originally designed to finance large purchases, such as furniture. Now, you can get small installment loans to buy most anything — from a pair of shoes to a pair of jeans — and may even qualify to have several at one time.

If you’re juggling multiple installment plans, they can quickly become a deferred debt nightmare. As a general rule, if you don’t have enough cash in your checking account to cover a small purchase, you probably can’t afford it and should reconsider buying it now or later — at least until your financial situation improves.

5. Lack of Savings or Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is like a financial safety net, but if yours is nonexistent, it’s like walking a tightrope without a net.

Life’s unpredictable, and a sturdy savings account can make those surprises much more manageable and less scary.

6. Impulsive or Emotional Spending

We’ve all been there — retail therapy after a rough day or splurging on a whim.

It’s okay to treat yourself when you’ve budgeted for the expense, but if impulsive buys are your go-to for mood boosts, it might be time to find joy in non-monetary means.

7. Pressure To Keep Up Appearances

Social media can make it feel like everyone’s living the high life, but trying to keep pace can lead to financial strain. Resist the urge to keep up with expensive friends (or, worse, expensive strangers). Chances are, they, too, aren’t as flush with cash as they appear.

8. Ignoring Financial Statements

Do you dread opening your credit card and checking account statements each month because you’re scared to see how high (or low in the case of checking) your balances have become?

Stop burying your head in the sand about your financial situation. Regular check-ins can help keep you grounded and informed.

9. Constant Stress About Your Financial Situation

Not everyone who worries about money has a spending problem. But if you regularly experience buyer’s remorse and feel guilty after spending, it’s probably a sign that your spending and savings plans need a rethink.

10. Inability to Meet Financial Goals

Setting financial goals is like plotting your personal treasure map. If you regularly veer off course, it might be time to realign your spending compass.

What if you don’t have any financial goals? Start with building an emergency fund if you don’t have one. Take these to build an emergency fund on a tight budget.

11. Neglecting Long-Term Financial Planning

When the future seems too far off to fuss about, neglecting crucial long-term planning is easy.

Retirement and future financial stability deserve a spot in your present plans. Take advantage of your employer’s 401k or open an IRA. Start a savings fund for that house down payment you may need someday.

12. Strained Relationship Due to Money Issues

If you’re part of a couple and you rely on one another financially, your overspending will eventually strain your relationship if it hasn’t already. If money fights with your partner are becoming more frequent, it’s time to take a hard look at your financial habits.

13. Lack of Financial Literacy

Do you feel clueless when it comes to managing your money?

Understanding the basics of budgeting, saving and investing is crucial. If financial terms sound like a foreign language, consider boosting your financial literacy. Start with this Guide to Avoiding the High Cost of Financial Illiteracy.

14. Unwillingness to Adjust Your Lifestyle

Financial change is challenging, whether changing your spending habits or prioritizing debt. But after reading these warning signs that your financial situation calls for a lifestyle adjustment, if you choose to ignore them, it’s a big red flag your spending priorities are out of whack and you’re probably headed for money trouble.

Start Now Realigning Your Spending Priorities

Recognizing the signs you may have a spending problem isn’t about feeling bad about your money habits. It’s about gaining the insight to take control of your finances and make positive changes.

It’s never too late to realign your financial priorities. So, pat yourself on the back for seeking awareness and start taking steps to get control of your spending and your money.

Reviewed May 2024

About the Author

Andrea Norris-McKnight took over as the editor of The Dollar Stretcher and After 50 Finances after working under the site founder and previous editor for almost 15 years. She has also written for,, and The Sacramento Bee.

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