What’s Your Spending Threshold?

Categories Reader Question, Saving Money, Simplifying, Story

It often comes to my attention that I have a really low spending threshold for just about everything, much to my significant other’s chagrin. He thinks I am absolutely silly for stressing out about the little things, and deep down, I agree with him, but can’t seem to shake the habit. That’s for another post, though!

When I say spending threshold, I mean what I am willing to spend on an item. I always have an amount that I am comfortable with spending for something in my head, and when that amount is off, I re-evaluate to see if I should still consider it, or step away. I know a lot of you probably use this tactic for big ticket items, but I have a horrible habit of doing this for everything. Am I alone in this?

Spending Threshold


I don’t buy things that aren’t on sale, unless they have an awesome regular price tag. This sometimes means going a week or two without our favorite meals. If we can make do with something else, we will. I would never refrain from buying anything if we were seriously running low on food, but that hasn’t happened yet. I prefer to clear out what we currently have before stocking up again, especially since our freezer is quite small.

My boyfriend thinks the price of food, within reason, is trivial to worry over. We need to eat, thus spending on groceries is an inevitable evil we have to face. I like to do whatever I can to reduce that amount, though. For the large majority of food items, I would say my spending threshold is between $2-$4. You can keep in mind that I don’t buy any sort of specialty food, though I would love to go organic in the future.

Some recent awesome deals we found the other night while shopping were: 3 for $5 on bags of spinach (we only got one), $0.99 for one 8 oz. package of cream cheese (for cheesecake, yum), 3 for $5 for coffee creamer (we got 2), 3 for $5 also on lettuce in a bag (purchased 1), $1.50 for baby carrots in a bag, $1 bag of frozen vegetables, $3.33 for a frozen pizza (Red Baron), and ice cream for $2.

Even if an item is on “sale”, if I’ve seen it priced less, I’ll probably wait for that sale instead. If it’s something non-essential like snacks, I definitely make sure I’m getting the most for my money. It’s like a game to me; a challenge to get the best prices at all times. My boyfriend would rather grab what we want and go, no thinking involved at all, but I can’t bring myself to do that.

I’m going to say I inherited this habit from my mom. Back in the days of penny pinching, she always made sure she got the best price on everything. To do this, you need to know the prices and trends of what you buy. This is why it’s important to me to not only track our spending, but to track the price of individual items we spend on. I can do this mentally after years of shopping with my mom and scouring the circulars. For the most part, we try to keep each trip to the grocery store under $60, and we shop about once a week.

Restaurant food

I am the worst when it comes to eating out. I mentioned this in my breakfast post the other day, but sometimes I can’t bring myself to pay the price for something I can easily make at home, which is why we don’t go out to eat often at all. A lot of you brought up the time factor in regards to clean-up, which I can agree with, but I don’t feel like we’re currently in a position to put time ahead. We are in DIY-mode for the most part while we’re paying back our student loans.

Spending Threshold
Can’t wait to use these gift cards!

As you can see from our budgets, we do go out to eat, but I always make sure there’s a special going on, or that we have a coupon. It sounds silly and I guess somewhat restricted to those of you who really enjoy dining out, but we haven’t had an issue with it.

For example, if we ever go to Applebees, we always order off the 2 for $20 menu. An appetizer and two entrees for that much is a good bargain to me. If we’re in the mood for pasta, we go somewhere local that has pasta night for $11 each. This includes a drink, soup/salad, entree and dessert along with coffee/tea. There’s another local pizza place that offers a large pie for $9 Sunday-Thursday. Going out to eat on a weekday helps, as well as getting a lunch portion when possible.

I do want to say that I don’t really value going out to eat, and can understand wanting to spend more on this activity if you’re a foodie or just enjoy the experience. I am trying to work on being a picky eater, but for now, simple food is better than something gourmet. For the most part, our bill never exceeds $30. I try to stick to plates $11 and under, and we rarely order an appetizer unless it is included.


Spending Threshold I am happy to say that I barely purchased any clothing in 2013. Having moved in with R, we had to condense all of our stuff into one big closet and our two dressers. Yikes. I was quite used to having my dresser, two closets (one in the spare bedroom), and two plastic little containers with 3 drawers. Honestly, some of my hoodies that I had packed away last winter are still sitting in boxes because there’s simply no room for them.

I had determined that I had enough clothes and that I needed to wear what I had for a while. It was made difficult by the fact that my coworkers at my old job all dressed very nicely. It seemed as if they had a new outfit every week, and there were times I felt under-dressed. I just kept telling myself that as long as my bosses were fine with it, I had nothing to worry over.

I don’t think I’ll be buying many new clothes this year, either, as my current job is very lax and doesn’t really have a dress code. However, I will say that I am trying to adapt to spending a bit more on clothing. I’ve started to realize the value in having classic, well-made pieces that will last years.

I haven’t really ever had a problem with my clothes falling apart, though, and I mostly shop at J.C. Penney’s and Kohls. For the most part I like to stick between $10-$15 for tops, and $20-$25 for jeans. I’ve been trying to find a decent pair of boots I like for about $30. Aside from running shoes, I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $50 on a pair of shoes. I suppose it helps that I’ve never really paid attention to fashion trends.


Lastly, I’ll touch on cosmetics, because I had a horrible addiction to buying new products back in 2012. After hearing it from my boyfriend numerous times while I was browsing the beauty aisles of Target, I decided he was right and that enough was enough. Seeing as my focus was slowly shifting to student loans, I started to lose interest in spending money, and thus, lost interest in buying things I didn’t quite need. As I stated in my other post, not watching YouTube reviews really helped cease any temptations. Spending Threshold

Now I always try to buy only what I need when I run out. I have enough eyeshadow to last me forever, and while the new Naked 3 palette looks really pretty, I’m not going to bother. I use coupons when I can, and usually shop at Target or a drugstore to get the best deals. The only high-end products I’ve purchased are my eyeshadows, and I’m probably going to keep it that way for a bit.

I would say most drugstore brands run in the $10-$15 range, but I try to stick to $10 and under, unless it’s foundation. I’ve also been trying low-cost brands like E.L.F. and NYX that have excellent lines. It helps that coupons for cosmetics and beauty products are plenty in the paper.

Overall, I might be too cheap for my own good, and I am better at saying “no” to things than “yes.” I know a lot of people wish they had this issue, but I think both extremes deserve attention. It’s important for me to note that I don’t really feel deprived in life; it’s just a necessity right now as we get rid of our debt.

What is your spending threshold for your budget categories? Is there anything you wish you spent more or less on?

Erin is a total goofball who sucks at writing about herself (though she finds referring to herself in the third person amusing). When she's not editing videos, she can be found messing around in Photoshop, laughing at her cats, watching YouTube videos, playing video games, chair dancing, sipping coffee, or any random combination of the above.

54 thoughts on “What’s Your Spending Threshold?

  1. I definitely do that too, without even really thinking about it. I have an idea of what it should cost in my mind, and if it is significantly above that then I reconsider my purchase. I don’t really keep track of it, it’s something that just happens in the back of my head.

    1. It usually happens in the back of my head as well for things other than food. I do consciously consider it when it’s a big ticket item, but for clothes and other things that aren’t necessary, I evaluate it on a case by case basis.

  2. My spending thresholds are relatively low for most items. I don’t like to spend much on food, clothing, and the sorts. I know my wife hates it sometimes, but she appreciates when we have plenty of money in the account!

  3. I’m better at saying “no,” rather than “yes,” too. Most of my thresholds are low for spending, and spending a lot usually makes me anxious. I don’t think it’s in a bad way – that feeling always makes me put the brakes on so I can ask myself, “is this item worth the cost to me? Is it worth giving up X amount of dollars that could have gone to investments?” I rarely give in to impulse buys this way, and I’m also usually pretty happy with my purchase if I end up going through all that and deciding yes, it is worth it.

    1. Exactly! Our thinking process is the same. Seeing the prices add up at the check-out makes me anxious, though seeing the total decrease with coupons is nice. I always ask myself if it’s worth it to delay paying more back toward my student loans. Usually the answer is no.

  4. I don’t have a threshold per item for food but generally per pound or per unit. I’ll spend $30 on meat if it’s a great per pound rate and I have space to stock up. I know packaging is often deceiving so I rarely go by price of an item for food.

    I’m with you on the clothing though– I try not to go over a certain threshold. I unfortunately somehow stain my clothes frequently, either with a grease stain (possibly from fabric softener too, not just food lol) or I do spill food on myself. And then I’ll get a hole in my shirt from the washer! So I feel I do have to replace a shirt probably once a month so I generally shop at my favorite very organized thrift store or a consignment shop.

    1. I do always make sure to check the unit prices. Packaging is definitely annoyingly deceiving sometimes.

      R’s work clothes get stained maybe a day after he first wears it. It’s an awful inevitability. I also have a horrible habit of dropping food onto myself.

  5. Hey, I just read in “Millionaire Next Door” that most shop at JC Penney’s, so you’re on the right track! ;) I have willpower when it comes to things on retail since I hate paying for it, but I do tend to like designer pieces (this being said, I use them once a week or at least once a month, so I make sure to get good use out of them). I like to shop for deals when it comes to food, as well, mostly because we buy in large quantities since we both eat a lot. I think you’re doing great in recognizing that you should perhaps loosen the purse strings somewhat for quality pieces, but not in a way that would lead you down the debt road. It’s something I wish I figured out when I was in my 20’s, so great job realizing this so early on! :)

    1. Haha, I never got through that book, so that is good to know. I think part of my fear is that I am really tall/long, so if something is tossed into the dryer, it will probably shrink and stop fitting me. I’ve had some pieces of clothing ruined this way and it was disappointing to say the least.

      Last year I had a work event that required a nice dress, so I went out and got a simple black one for $60 I think. While I didn’t like the idea of having to buy a dress for ONE occasion, I decided to get that staple “little black dress” so I could make multiple uses out of it. It softened the blow at least!

  6. I’m with you on the clothing and cosmetics, but not on food. I don’t eat out much so when I do I like to enjoy what I get. But I almost never shop that way at the grocery store. I just buy whatever I like and if it’s on sale, great. I probably could use a LOT of your sensibility, but I don’t think I could, or would ever want to change completely. I’m a bit of a creature of habit.

    1. Likewise, I don’t think I could ever grab something off the shelf that wasn’t on sale. It’s so ingrained in me from about 7 when I remember going to the store with my mom. It’s ridiculous but yes, we humans are creatures of habit =).

  7. I did this when I was looking for a decorative mirror. I arbitrarily said I would spend $50 on it, and when I found one at $65 I couldn’t pull the trigger – even though it was the only one close to my price range that wasn’t hideous. And then it was engrained in my head so I couldn’t easily change my spending threshold, even though I pulled the number out of thin air.

    Still no mirror.

    1. Sounds like my boot problem! Also my laptop problem, but that’s on the big ticket side. I am horrible at pulling the trigger when it comes to purchases, whereas my boyfriend has no problem with it. I do hope you find a mirror soon, though.

  8. Knowing how your grandma stocks up, I’d say you have this mentality from your family’s habits! It’s hard to avoid.

    On the food, I agree with you – though our cream cheese is NEVER that cheap (easily $5 each I think), and meat is obviously outside the $2-4 range for us – nothing’s that cheap per kg! I tend to look over the recipet for things over $10 or even $7, and wonder if they are necessary – my berries in a 1kg packet are $7-9 and I eat them daily, so I hate the unit price, but hey? Toliteries drive me nuts on the grocery budget! However, I don’t ‘wait’ for sales. We buy what we buy based on the menu set at home. I don’t get the flyers at home. IF the corn chips or salsa have a deal for two, then me and the BF usually make the most of that, but otherwise, we’ll still buy 1 on non sale weeks. Hahah I only just read the line where you mentioned your mum (after starting my comment!). I don’t buy snack other than granola bars. I tend to think they are unhealthy, and I’ll home make if desperate.

    For eating out, I really enjoy it (as the BF knows) and we usually spend $50 per visit. I do know our prices are higher than when I eat out in the US, but the $50 is a little more than we could get away with. Coupons aren’t as common here, but there are deals and good nights to go like you mention. And I LOVE goumet, so this birthday I’ll pay upwards of $200 for my dinner alone, a multi course affair. I love it, but it’s not a regular thing!

    Wow, I can’t believe your pants threshold! Sometimes I can get jeans that cheap when travelling, but in Aust, if they are that cheap, they will be thin and only for summer. I don’t like that any pair of pants seems to start at at least $60, more likely $80!! But they do last, and I don’t need many pairs of bottoms, I need more tops (imo!)

    Cosmetics, I go high end. I don’t wear it every day, but my mother used to work for Estee Lauder, so I started with that. So I have lancome foundation (which I buy duty free travelling), and perfums from Bulgari and Hermes (ie not drugstore!). Admittedly, I easily go a year without buying a cosmetic item, so while the unit price is high, the overall spend in a lifetime is low. I’m lucky I have a palette of eyeshadows from an old Xmas pressie which I still use (also, I refuse to believe the shelf life claims on cosmetics, sorry, I think it’s a joke). I do wear cheap (or free with a magazine) mascara, not sure why I haven’t gone high end there :p

    1. I do think there’s differences based on location – sadly I know Australia is not cheap! I am all for people spending more on groceries in order to be healthy. Not having food waste is awesome, too. I don’t get the circulars now that I rent, but most of them are available online. Either that, or I’ll look when I visit my grandma.

      Oh yes, tops are definitely more essential. I have maybe three pairs of jeans I wear daily, two pairs of leggings and another pair of pants. I’d have to guess I have maybe 20 tops and then 10 tank tops to wear underneath if it’s cold out.

      I don’t see how eyeshadows really expire, either. I guess if they start smelling and looking weird it’s a possibility. Eventually I am sure I’ll purchase some high-end products to use for special occasions. They’re usually better for your skin, too!

  9. I’m with you on thresholds at resturants and when it comes to clothing. I never get anything over $10 when I go out to eat. Usually my bill is $8 or less, so $10 is more on the extreme side for me. Clothing wise I’m a cheapie. I never pay more than $22 for jeans and tops I never spend more than $25. Shoes & boots, never get more than $30 for me.

    I think having thresholds helps to keep you in your budget and to set limits. I know some who spend a ton of money on clothing. I’d hate to buy a $50 pair of jeans and accidentally rip them. Plus, a $20 pair of jeans and a $50 pair can be virtually the same quality wise.

    1. Glad I’m not alone! It’s difficult to find places around here that offer cheap food for dinner. I wish I could take advantage of lunchtime specials. For the most part, the three boots I do own and wear were all gifted to me, but I do think I’ve purchased dress shoes for a wedding that were maybe $40. Ugh.

      I really haven’t had many issues with the quality of clothing I’ve purchased. Many of my jeans have been around for 5+ years now.

  10. I have a very high spending threshold when it comes to food since we are wannabe organic grass-fed hippies, haha. Our grocery budget is almost double what it was just two years ago, but we enjoy good food so we’re willing to cut back in other areas of our life to afford the food

    1. I would really like to end up there at some point. Unfortunately our student loan payments are kind of holding us back right now, as we can’t really afford to spend much more on groceries. You’re also likely increasing your well-being and saving on healthcare costs down the road. Seems like a win to me!

  11. One area I need to try and do a better job at is looking for sale prices on grocery items. Although part of that is a little tricky because I want to try and go back to an old method of shopping B and I used when we still lived in DC. The basic idea was to stock up at a Costco for the month and basically live off the items. You would occaisionaly need to run to the store for smaller necessities but for the most part I just had to deal with one grocery bill. I might not find the best sale items but the less frequent grocery trips help make up for that.

    1. One big shopping trip does make your life easier! I don’t really like going grocery shopping, so that method seems pretty appealing. I just wish we had a place to store bulk items. When I used to go to Costco with my mom, she always knew what was worth it to buy and what wasn’t.

  12. I have relatively low spending thresholds, but that’s probably why I’m blogging about personal finance and hating my debt, right? Haha. I don’t do much grocery shopping but when I do I like going to Aldi’s, Trader Joe’s, and buying things on sale.

    Going out to eat I try to keep it under $15 a plate or even $10 if I know there isn’t going to be leftovers. What really makes me cringe is when I see that a soda, iced tea, or even alcoholic drink is more than $3 and especially when no free refills on soft drinks! I’d rather pay for the food, not 3x the price for a drink.

    I always buy clothes off clearance and try to expand my wardrobe more like 1 item at a time, picking up what I think is a great deal. I’m not one to really clothes shop so it’s easy for me not to buy clothes!

    1. I need to give Aldi’s another try. We went there once and weren’t too thrilled with the selections. I used to go to Trader Joe’s a lot, but since we moved, it’s a bit out of the way.

      Oh I know! I always order water when I go out, mostly because it’s all I drink. I am “lucky” in the sense that I get full easily, so there’s usually always leftovers. It makes me feel a bit better about the cost.

      That’s a great method. I always go to clearance racks, too. Last year the only bits of clothing I really got were two summer dresses since I didn’t have any. I’m not fond of shopping for clothes either!

  13. I spend $20-50 a year on cosmetic and clothes, which is to say I really don’t like buying those items. I do spend more on food and drink because I like being out and it’s an experience for me. I can be pretty cheap about certain things. For example, last week I was sick and I came up from the airport and the bus wasn’t running. I walked the 20 blocks home instead of taking a cab because I couldn’t bring myself to pay. My bf was so mad at me because I was sick.

    1. $50 is a great amount! I don’t really like shopping for clothes either. I absolutely hate paying for cabs when I visit the city. I’m guilty of putting my health on the back burner at times, too.

  14. We don’t have spending thresholds per se on our budget categories. But we do have one about larger purchases. If something is $200 or more we don’t buy it without discussing it with one another. That may see like a high threshold but what really ends up happening, because we’ve practiced communicating about purchases so much, is that we really talk about purchases with lower price tags than that.

    1. I pretty much discuss anything over $50 with my boyfriend. Even though we still have separate finances, I think it’s a good habit to get into. As we earn more it may increase, but anything over $50 seems like a “big purchase” to me right now!

  15. My threshold is similar to yours. I would never want to spend more than $30 on a restaurant bill unless it was a special occasion, never want to pay more than $25 on jeans, and I never pay more than $20 for a shirt or sweater. Definitely an interesting topic to think about. I think marketers are realizing consumers want more for their money.

    1. I think so, too. A lot of chain restaurants are implementing value meals, almost like fast food chains. I just saw a Ruby Tuesday commercial the other day featuring 10 meals for $10 or less. Olive Garden is pricing their “classics” at $10 during the weekdays, too.

  16. Mike makes so much fun of me in the grocery store because it takes me SO LONG to shop because I have to compare all the unit prices before I buy anything! I never really turn anything down, I just make sure I get the cheapest possible option!

    And we totally only go to restaurants when we have a coupon! And I almost always have leftovers (especially from places like Chipotle) so it’s kinda like getting two meals for the price of one.

    1. Me too! R hates going food shopping with me now because I spend forever debating whether or not it’s worth it to buy something. I am hoping this decreases as we get used to making staple meals and it’s easier to spot which deals are good.

  17. You sound exactly like Rick when I mention going out to eat – I say “wanna go out to eat?” (which happens, like, 3 times a year), and he always says “Do you know how much food we could get at the store for $30?”. Makes me laugh. I have serious spending thresholds on everything else though, especially food. I found a blog site (the Prudent Homemaker) where she lists the very top dollar she’ll pay for certain foods. It inspired me, and now I have my own “top dollar” for foods, stocking up huge when they’re near their lowest price, and simply not buying them during other times of the year. It’s saved us tons of money!

    1. It really is an awful habit! I know you’re paying for the convenience when you go out to eat, but it’s still difficult for me to pull the trigger. I will have to check out her top dollar amounts to see if there’s anything I could possibly get for less. Always room for improvement!

  18. “I know a lot of you probably use this tactic for big ticket items, but I have a horrible habit of doing this for everything. Am I alone in this?”
    You are not alone! I thought I was alone! haha I am the exact same way and sometimes I do think it’s silly, but hey money is money. If I go to the supermarket and I see an item that is a dollar or two more than I can get it if it’s on sale or if I go to a different store (Target/Aldi, etc) I hate having to buy it. Sometimes, I just need to get it. Plus, nowadays with the baby, I don’t have as much time to shop where and when I want.

    1. Time really does put a constraint on things. I don’t live too far from most of the chains in our area, but sometimes I have a bad habit of spending too much time in one place, and then it’s a pain to go somewhere else. It’s funny, because I used to ask my mom why she didn’t shop at multiple places. Now I know why! My boyfriend hates when I say, “But it’s $.50 less at the other place!”

  19. Oh man, I wrote down my thresholds before reading the comments. And now I think I’ll be the odd man out. Oh well. My thresholds have changed in the past few years because I really want quality things. I gave up on $30 H&M jeans because they’d have to be replaced after 6 months. I gave up on $50 boots that barely last a season.

    So here are my general thresholds:
    Groceries: $6 because cheese
    Restaurant: $15/item
    Clothing: $200/item – With that said, I bought 3 pieces of clothing (1 pair boots, 2 dresses) last year. I hate shopping so I just want quality items that last.

    I don’t buy cosmetics, period. I also don’t eat at places like Applebee’s or buy frozen pizzas.

    1. Sorry Leslie – your comment just had to be approved, and since I was at work I didn’t get to it until now.

      It’s understandable to want quality items. Spending $200 to get clothes that won’t last you a year is worse than spending $200 for an item you’ll have for years. As I said in my post, I haven’t had bad luck with my clothes or boots, but I would like to purchase some more sophisticated items in the future.

    1. I think it’s normal for spending thresholds to increase as we age, partially because we are (hopefully) earning more. It’s good to keep lifestyle inflation in check though.

  20. Cool concept, EM. I think my spending threshold in a restaurant is about $15…I try to stay below that, unless it’s some sort of special occasion. In the grocery store, I guess $5 is probably my number. I find that’s a price point the stores can trick me with (e.g. Safeway’s $5 Fridays). With property, it’s $100k…something below that seems like a bargain.

    1. I think property would be a tricky one, especially here, since the areas are so diverse. I try not to let 10 for $10 sales trick me up. If I really don’t need 10 of the same item, it’s not worth it, even if it seems tempting. I also sometimes dislike when they make you buy a certain amount to get a discount.

  21. My spending threshold is definitely lower than bf’s. He’d just grab whatever he feels like eating in the moment regardless of price. I try to shop according to sale cycles and what foods are “in season”. As for clothing I’m hardly a fashionista and most of my summer shorts are at least 10 years old. I wear things until they wear out whether they are in style or not.

    1. We sound alike! A lot of my clothing has been around for 5 years or more. I’m very simple and usually just go with denim for everything. Some of my hoodies are from high school!

  22. My budget thresholds are pretty low in every area, the biggest one is groceries – around £250 per month but that’s for me, the hubby and our daughter. We occasionally go over budget on this! I don’t buy any new clothes at all and just a few second hand clothes throughout the last year. I would like to spend more on this to be honest but as my job involves me working from home, there isn’t a need so I can’t justify it!

    1. Sometimes I do feel as if my wardrobe could use updating, if just to look a bit more mature” Since some of my clothes are from years ago, I’ve kind of outgrown the style I used to have in high school! Likewise, since you can wear almost anything at my job, it doesn’t pay right now.

  23. I’m a little bit of a mix. I don’t really stress about the cost of groceries, but we also try to for the most part only buy things we actually need. Not a ton of snack food. With clothes, I don’t really have a spending threshold per se but I really don’t go shopping often either. I try not to sweat the small stuff too often but I do find myself from time to time stressing about a light being left on or something. Yes it’s a “waste” of money, but is it enough to get worked up over? Probably not.

    1. I am famous for giving my boyfriend a glare when he leaves lights on. It’s a bad habit of his, but we only have four rooms in our apartment. There’s no need to have all four lights on at the same time!

  24. I don’t have a set number threshold for groceries but I do know what things generally cost and like to buy stuff on sale rather than full price.

    Eating out is expensive in NZ (ie brunch $15-20, a fast food combo $8-10) so we try to stick to cheap ethnic restaurants, which are my favourite anyway! That’s like $10-15 for a dish, $20 tops.

  25. I am on your side! I experienced that too. But right now, I learned how to manage my expenses and started to save. Right now, I don’t really spend much of my money in food, clothing and other lusts. Your thoughts would be very helpful for those who wanted a change in there money management.

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