How to Control Emotional Spending

Emotional spending… we’ve all played victim to it when situations arise in our life. But how do recognize they symptoms before they happen and control the urge to spend?

What is emotional spending?

Emotional spending is when you buy something you don’t need, in some cases, don’t even really want. This happens because it improves the mood. Some people allow this to occur:

to cope with stress,
bring one out of a bored or listless mood,
to increase self-esteem,
to feel special

In fact, we even spend when we are happy. Do you remember what you bought yourself last time you got a raise or when you found out your BFF was going to have a baby?

The problem with emotional spending is that it happens on impulse. And when it’s allowed to keep happening then we spend more than we need to.

How to Get Emotional Spending Under Control

Acknowledge. Notice your feelings and circumstances when you are spending. Did you just finish get into an argument with someone? Have you just been sitting around not knowing what to do with yourself? Being aware of your feelings can help you understand the desire for instant gratification received from impulse shopping.

Stay away from Retail Shops. If you recognize the feelings that tempt you to spend, then it’s not a good time walk into the store or mall. Perhaps, its not time to peek online, too. Instead occupy your time with other inexpensive or free activities. Maybe going for a walk, spring cleaning, or talking with a friend.

Keep the Ads away. Less advertising, less spending. The ad campaigns on TV and paper are psychologically designed pull your full attention to their products. Deliberately, keep your exposure to the ads at a minimum.

Here is a list of things you can do to help keep the ads away:

Opt-out of credit card offers
Unsubscribe to catalog mailings
Sign up for the Do Not Mail Registry
Block TV sites like QVC, the Shopping Channel, etc…
Install an ad blocker on the computer

Be aware of the small purchases that can quickly add up. A person will rationalize that small purchases are okay because it is cheap. The problem is when we buying items at small totals and think it’s okay. You’ll be suprised when you add up the sum of them all! (this is my total weakness!)

Budget for the cause. Set up a category for emotional spending (or the self fund) and budget a small amount of money towards the cause. It’s okay to occasionally spend for a ‘moment’ when its planned. :)

Try finding other activities. Go to the library to check out a great book to read. Have a friend over for lunch and a rental movie (highly recommend seeing It’s Complicated – Hilarious!). Give yourself a home spa treatment. Take a walk. Play a game of basketball with the kids. Get a group of friends and bring out the board games. There are many great ways to spend without spending any money.

We’ve all succumbed to emotional or impulse spending at sometime or another to try and lift a week moment or make up for a bad day, but when we make purchases we can’t afford, we end up feeling worse instead of elated. The next time you have a bad day or want to eleviate stress, try to acknowledge your feelings before you spend and question your motivation.

How do you cope when tempted with emotional spending? And if you did partake in impulse shopping did you bring back the item for a refund or take the financial loss?

47 thoughts on “How to Control Emotional Spending

  1. Financial Samurai

    I think more people should indulge a little and buy the things they want. And after 29 days, just return it making sure you understand any fees!

    It’s a great way to address your urges and never have to spend a dime.

    Sam

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      Return it? I don’t see many people doing that (as they will probably forget about that purchase in 30 days). But it sounds like a way to curb emotional spending if you can do such a thing.

      Reply
  2. Financial Bondage

    This use to be me. If I got bored, stressed, depressed, etc…. I bought things that I really did not need.

    I have to keep an eye on this one, it’s easy to back slide if I’m not careful.

    I avoid malls, magazines, and watch little TV. This reduces the need to feel like I have to spend.

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      bored… seriously gets to me, too. I opted out of junk mail and credit card offers. Anyway, I hate the thought of wasting all that printed paper for my trash can. And I dumped my magazine subscriptions… It really is amazing how ads can suck a person in.

      Reply
  3. Everyday Tips

    I am not an emotional spender, but I have a few friends that are. (As a matter of fact, I am downright crabby when I spend.)

    One thing I found about my friends is that they don’t want to stop spending. They complain about not having money, but its like they don’t see the correlation between spending and being broke.

    I am going to forward your post to a couple friends!

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      LOL. Punch Debt in the Face brought this up, one time. How his friends moan they are broke but are letting money slip through their fingers right in front of them. Yet they don’t see it. Well I hope the post works. ;)

      Reply
    1. Money Funk

      I am so glad that I don’t like shopping for clothes or I’d be in big trouble. Well now, if you stick me in the kitchen aisle… ya that’s trouble for me. That immersion stick I just bought for potential Indian cooking… um, has only been used once. $50…wasted.

      Reply
  4. Money Smarts

    I’ve actually heard that for some people making a purchase gives a shot to the person’s pleasure receptors – it’s almost like a drug! I think the key to avoiding this kind of spending is making sure you address what’s at the root of why you’re spending – are you doing it to be happy, or to fill a hole? Maybe it’s time to address why you feel that hole in your life?

    Also – don’t put yourself in situations where you might be tempted to spend. Just like an alcoholic shouldn’t go to a bar like they used to, a shopaholic or emotional spender may want to avoid malls or amazon.com

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      And you are probably right on that one. It’s harder to face that hole in your life. Be true to yourself. I just saw a tweet, by Gwen Bell, this morning that said to start a sentence with “the truth is…”. Powerful. Hard to do.

      Reply
  5. Uneekdolldesigns

    I have been guilty of that- the only way I find to control is to avoid tempatation and stay out of stores and no looking online when feeling stressed. Or, allow myself a small dollar limit and stick to it…:)

    Reply
  6. Single Mom Rich Mom

    Years ago, when I quit smoking (May 18, 1997 – but who’s counting?), one of the things that I learned was that anything that you do as a habitual process that is negatively affecting you – is basically an addiction. So the shopper who buys for emotional reasons – not because they want something in particular or because they need something – is (I believe) addicted. Buying something only to take it back would feed the addiction – and good luck doing that with stuff like movies or CD’s etc. The good thing is that over time, it’s possible to literally rewire your brain it seems to just not see that as something that you’d consider doing when under stress, happy etc. I know I don’t anymore. But as I said on my post today, to get to that point, I also didn’t set foot into a mall for 2 freaking years! After that, the emotional spending was taken care of and then it probably took another couple of years to work on the (squirrel !) impulse spending. :-)

    I think the craziest thing of all with a spending habit is that a lot of the time, the spending itself (and the accompanying debt) is the creator of the stress. How is that any better than a bloody alcoholic? And it’s certainly wrecked some people’s lives as much.

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      Addiction. Good correlation.
      I don’t like malls anyway. They are filled with all this WAY overpriced stuff. Hey, saying that… maybe I have become stingy with my money. ;) Nah, I still need to work ‘buying little purchases that add up to a big sum’.

      And I think we all harbor some addictive qualities. Maybe we need to just become addicted to something good for us. Like working out, making money, and sticking our noses in good books obtained from the library or a friend. ;)

      Reply
    1. Money Funk

      I think to put away a bit of money for yourself is a healthy habit. Even if its a small amount. ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. ;)

      Maybe we should start a change jar and use that as a self fund. Its amazing how fast that change adds up.

      Reply
  7. james

    i have got into a habit of walking around the store with the items i want to buy and after 20 or so minutes i can feel the urge start to wear off and i simply walk out of the store without the impulse item.

    Reply
  8. Money Reasons

    I’m in the same boat as “Everyday Tips“!!!

    I have some friends that complain about debt or not having any money, then go out and buy new John Deere tractor, or a new leather couch set (yes, this has just happened to me) the next day. It’s so frustrating!

    Thanks for identifying that spending type! Half the battle is recognizing those thoughts and feelings!

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      And I am sure on credit, no less. It amazes me how many people don’t even know what financial state they are in (including me some years ago). When I calculated our financial status to find we were $89K in debt… that hurt. But the truth can set you free, yes? :)

      Reply
  9. Little House

    I have to admit that I’m not much of a shopper, whether I’m feeling down or feeling great, the last place I want to be is at a store or mall shopping. Yuck! However, my one little splurge is Starbucks, so if I’m feeling tired or stressed, my first instinct to make myself feel better is to go there and get a drink. At least I can cure my ailments for under $4.00!

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      Oh, Starbuck’s. Ya, I love a good iced Chai Latte. Funny you should bring that up, because I ended up calculating the cost of that drink splurging should you want to continue curing that ailment throughout life (as well as mine)… if we did that 3 x a week x $4 = $12 (tip, too?); 12 x 54 weeks = $648; $648/0.04 = $16, 200 to fund this expense (see The true cost of coffee addiction). Makes me think twice and has me considering learning to make my own. Then again, are we paying for the experience and having someone else fix it for us or are we just paying for the coffee? ;)

      Reply
  10. Katie

    I always find myself doing this especially if I have a stressful week or if I am feeling down about something. This usually happened when it would be finals week in college and I would want to take a break so would go make myself happy by shopping and then I would come home and question why I bought so much stuff, and so much stuff that I did not need!

    -I love this article, it makes people come to reality about the amount of shopping they do and the amount of money that they spend!

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      Not only stressed, but you are pushed to the time limits. If I am short on time to cook, breath, etc… because of things like finals or deadlines… then I am one to easily go for convenience (aka fast food splurge). And also just to give myself a mental break.

      But since you know the trend around finals time, perhaps its best to make a budget for it. :)

      Reply
  11. Tiffany @ Passive Income Goals

    I have noticed that when I am bored I tend to pack the kids up and head out the store. I don’t buy that much, but those little things that you don’t really need can add up.

    I think I will be more aware of this now that I read your article. Thanks for the suggestions on what else to do!

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      I once read that this person would take road trips instead of spending bored. Might be fun to hit up a kid’s museum, gallery, or community event. Take a trip to the park for a picnic. Explore a new place in town. Even though it would costs money, the experience/lessons learned may be of more value. And could still be done frugally.

      Reply
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  13. Jerry

    This may sound weird but my insurance for not overspending is exercising and trying to maintan a positive outlook. If I get anxious, bored or depressed, it almost invariably leads to me buying something to cope with it. The more at peace I am, the less I spend.

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      Oh, I think exercising is a healthy one. I mentioned in one of the comments that it would be valuable to replace the shopping addiction with a healthy addiction. This would fit the mark. (I could use some exercise, too). ;)

      Reply
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  17. Sharon

    Christine…
    This post was written about me! I’m an emotional spender (especially on my kids) for sure!!! It’s one way I “express” my love…..I’ll definitely have to find other ways!

    Reply
  18. Aury (Thunderdrake)

    Whenever I’m tempted with emotional spending, I personally think about my asset column. I realize the best way to get over that hump is to eventually build up enough assets that will let me enjoy said emotional spending with no strings attached. A ways to go… But that’s what separates the broke from the abundant, methinks.

    Reply
  19. TaraT

    I found that emotional spending is very tough to break. Even during hard financial times I spend money when I get stressed.

    Reply
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  21. Moneyedup

    Keeping track of small purchases that can really add up is a great tip. If you find yourself wanting to reward yourself with a small purchase or wanting to buy something small to cheer yourself up you may need help with emotional spending because all these little purchases can really add up. I try to reward myself or cheer myself up with things that don’t cost money, like some quite time doing something I like, playing guitar, painting, or reading a good book (as cheesy as this may sound).

    Reply
    1. Money Funk

      I think some of that emotional spending also incorporates getting out of the house, too. Thrift store shopping might also be a good compromise to add to that list of yours!

      Reply
  22. Shaun

    Trying to control emotional spending takes a lot of self discipline. I guess if we manage to be in control of our emotional stress, then this will bring us to an easy way of making ourselves comfortable of just peeking and not buying at all. Imagine how much we throw on purchasing just to satisfy our emotional grievances? This must be a way out of your current stress but will be a more damaging solution rather.

    Reply
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