Emotional spending is an effort to relieve stress by spending money on something you don't need—and it's common. According to a survey by NerdWallet.com, almost half of all Americans spend more than they can afford for emotional reasons. Whether you're trying to console yourself after a breakup or just trying to avoid thinking about why your boss is giving you the silent treatment, shopping may seem like the best way to make yourself feel better, but the benefits are short-lived.
The problem is that emotional spending can make you feel worse than before. When you get your credit card bill, or when the excitement of your new purchase wears off, the bad feelings often come back with a vengeance. Making matters worse, this kind of self-medicating can quickly get out of hand and lead to unmanageable credit card debt.
If you feel guilty about past purchases, you are probably more likely to overspend in the future. Guilt, shame, and other negative emotions can lead people to make unwise or irresponsible purchases to cope with their feelings. People who feel guilty about spending money on themselves tend to spend more than those who don't feel as bad about it.
There are better ways to deal with these emotions than spending your hard-earned cash on things you don't need. For example, you're feeling down because someone said something rude at work today and now want comfort food to make you feel better. Rather than giving in to that urge and buying an expensive meal, take a walk outside. Exercise releases endorphins that will calm your feelings of stress or sadness by lifting moods. Work on a hobby or do something else you enjoy that doesn't involve spending money.
Pause and take a deep breath.
Stop, relax, and take long deep breaths before making a purchase. Pausing will allow you to reevaluate and let the emotions that encourage you to buy calm down. Going on a shopping spree for things you don't need may not seem appealing once you pause and reconsider.
Try the 24-hour rule. If you're tempted to buy something, put it on hold for a day or so. You often realize you don't need the item and can move on with your life without feeling like you've missed out.
Face your problems directly.
It is important to remember why you spend money and your motivations. If you are spending money to avoid thinking about something else or to cope with emotions, it is better to face the problem directly. There are usually cheaper ways to deal with negative emotions. For example, if you feel alone and depressed, contact friends or family instead of buying things.
Avoid your triggers.
Many emotional shoppers have triggers that cause them to spend. For example, you might overspend when you hang out with other friends who are emotional shoppers. Reducing the time you spend with those friends or suggesting other activities that don't involve shopping may help reduce the money you spend.
If online shopping triggers you, you can do a few things to help curb your spending. First, delete your payment information from all the websites you use. This way, every time you want to buy something, you'll have to go through the extra step of entering your credit card information and shipping address. Another option is to get an app on your phone or computer that blocks your access to certain websites for a set period.
Stay away from the mall if you don't need to be there or turn off the TV if you're flipping through channels and see an infomercial for something enticing. The more you are exposed to things that could tempt you to spend, the higher your chances of succumbing to those temptations.
Ask questions before making a purchase. Are you buying something because it's on sale? Do you feel you deserve a reward for working hard at work or school? Do you think shopping will improve things because nothing else does? These are essential questions to ask about any purchase, as they'll give insight into why you're spending money and encourage healthier dialogue with yourself. In addition, being aware of your triggers, habits, and limits will help keep your wallet safe from unnecessary purchases.
The good news is you can regain control of emotional spending. By understanding your triggers and what you want from life, buying things will start to feel less important. It can be hard to break habits, but it is possible with patience and learning from each experience as they happen.
Contributed by our partner in financial wellness, Balance.