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Emotional Spending: Why We Do It and How to Stop?

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We’ve all been there. After a long, stressful week, you find yourself wandering the aisles of your favourite store or scrolling through an online shopping site. Before you know it, you’re at the checkout with a cart full of items you didn’t plan on buying. 

Or perhaps you’re having a fantastic day, you’ve just received some excellent news, and you feel the need to ‘treat yourself’ with a purchase. 

These instances, while seemingly harmless, are classic examples of emotional spending – when we let our feelings, rather than our needs or budgets, drive our spending decisions.

Emotional spending, or the tendency to buy things based on our feelings, is a phenomenon most people can relate to. It occurs when we make unnecessary purchases as a response to various emotions, such as stress, boredom, sadness, or even joy. 

Sometimes, it’s a conscious choice, like buying an extravagant gift to celebrate a milestone. At other times, it’s subconscious, such as making impulsive buys after a bad day.

While emotional spending isn’t always detrimental – after all, we should treat ourselves now and then – it can become a problem when it turns into our go-to coping mechanism for managing emotions, potentially leading to financial distress and emotional strain.

So, whether you’re looking to save for a specific goal or striving to gain better control of your finances, this read is for you.

What exactly is emotional spending?

Emotional spending is when our feelings dictate our spending habits. It’s the unnecessary shoes you buy after a stressful day at work, the fancy coffee machine you get because you’re feeling elated about something, or just because you see a voucher code for anything. All of that prompts you to buy. 

It’s important to note that not all emotional spending is bad – occasionally treating ourselves is part of life’s joys. 

However, when it becomes a routine response to our emotional highs and lows, it can quickly escalate into financial problems and emotional distress.

Let’s talk about how you can get rid of that habit, and save some money. 

How to stop emotional spending: 8 practical tips

Putting an end to emotional spending involves self-awareness, emotional regulation, and planning. Here are some practical strategies to help you out:

  • Identify your triggers. Understanding the emotional triggers that lead to your spending is a crucial first step. Keep a journal of not just what you purchase, but also what you’re feeling at the time of each purchase. Over time, you’ll start to see patterns that reveal what emotions or situations prompt you to spend.
  • Set financial goals. Having a clear objective for your money can help curb impulse purchases. Whether it’s saving for a down payment on a house, planning a dream vacation, or building an emergency fund, having a specific target provides motivation to stick to your financial plan.
  • Use a budget. Budgeting is one of the most powerful tools to combat emotional spending. Allocate money for necessities like bills and groceries, savings, and a reasonable amount for non-essential purchases or ‘fun money.’ This way, you’ll have a clear picture of where your money is going, and you’ll be less likely to overspend on impulse buys.
  • Implement a cooling-off period. When you feel the urge to make a non-essential purchase, hit the pause button. Give yourself a day or two to think about whether you truly need the item, or if it’s just an emotional whim. Often, the impulse will fade, and you’ll be glad you didn’t make the purchase.
  • Practise mindful spending. Similar to mindful eating, mindful spending involves really thinking about your purchases. Consider why you’re buying something, how it will add value to your life, and whether it’s worth the cost.
  • Find alternative ways to deal with emotions. If you’re using shopping as a way to handle stress, sadness, or even joy, it can be helpful to find other methods to manage your emotions. Exercise, meditation, talking with a friend, or pursuing a hobby can be healthy and fulfilling alternatives.
  • Use cash or debit instead of credit. It’s easy to lose track of spending when you’re swiping a credit card. Using cash or debit can make the money you’re spending feel more real, which can make you think twice before an impulse purchase.
  • Seek professional help. If emotional spending is causing significant financial or emotional stress, don’t hesitate to seek help from a financial planner or a mental health professional. They can provide you with tailored strategies to manage your emotional spending.

These strategies can help curb emotional spending, leading to healthier financial habits and better emotional well-being.

Takeaway

Emotional spending is more common than you’d think, and it’s certainly not an easy habit to break. But with a better understanding of what drives our emotional spending and armed with practical strategies, we can make smarter financial decisions. Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate all non-essential spending, but to ensure our purchases bring us long-term happiness, not just fleeting comfort. 

After all, mastering your money is as much about emotional control as it is about financial acumen.


Jeffrey Grant, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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