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Emotional Spending? 4 Ways to Stop & How to Help Someone Who Does it

By Myles Leva

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Last Updated: July 13, 2022

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Emotional spending is a problem many of us struggle with. 

We all have different ways of coping at the end of a bad day.

Some of us go for a jog, others have a sip of wine, and so forth. It may sound strange, but it’s a habit many people have and one you may have without even realizing it.

Emotional spending is a simple problem, but as with many guilty pleasures, it’s something our brains may allow us to overlook. It happens in the most seemingly innocent of circumstances, too.

In this article, we will cover:

  • What emotional spending looks like
  • Why it happens
  • How you can stop

 

 

What is an example of emotional spending?

You’ve come home after a long day’s work.

The kids are screaming and there are a billion tiny, tedious chores lined up for you. At some point in the evening, you open your laptop and start browsing online. You’re passively thinking about all the little things that could make your life easier.

At some point, your browsing session starts to include a shopping cart.

Emotional spending is at least partially a coping mechanism. A study by Self found that 49% of Americans buy products they don’t need just in the hopes that it will make them feel better.

As for our example, it’s more common than you’d think. Browsing online is an extremely common pastime, and that browsing very often includes “having a look” at things that you may want, and very well may end up buying.

Emotional spending can rear its head during these innocent browsing sessions, but it’s just the most popular of all the ways that emotional spending can take place.

As for the effects of emotional spending, as with many vices, the act may trigger regret. The same Self study found that of all the people who browsed stores as a form of escapism, 30% had feelings of regret after.

 

 

Emotional spending psychology

Mental health is still a mystery that is constantly unraveling. It can affect everything in your life, including the way you interact with your money.

Why do I spend money when I'm stressed?

There are common threads between all vices.

Like many vices, spending money emotionally may provide a brief but good feeling. If you’re feeling down, spending money can provide a brief high. So, some people naturally spend more than they need to.

Some states of mind are more dangerous than others when it comes to emotional spending. For example, when you’re manic or hypomanic, you are more likely to spend emotionally, among other things. If you have a mental health condition that causes either, you may be at a higher risk for regrettable spending.

In some cases, emotional spending comes alongside a broader problem in the connection with your mental health and finances.

People who overspend may also avoid taking care of their financial responsibilities.

Other bad habits that surround mental health include avoiding opening your bills, bank accounts, or anything that forces you to think about your broader financial situation. If you’re in this state of mind, what’s stopping you from making a purchase for the little high it provides?

 

How do I stop emotional spending?

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already gotten started.

1. Accepting that you have a problem is the first step to fixing it.

It’s often emotionally easier to just stay in denial, so if you’ve stepped over that barrier you’ve already started working to fix your problem.

 

2. Now, start figuring out what your triggers are.

What were you doing or experiencing each time you made a regrettable, emotional purchase?

Common triggers include:

  • Jealousy (simply wanting something others can afford, but which you cannot)
  • Guilt (emotional response)
  • Sadness (you need a little something to boost your mood)
  • Happiness (you feel good about yourself and want to “reward” yourself too much)
  • Fear or anxiety (Something is bothering you and frivolous shopping is a good distraction and coping mechanism)

 

3. Now, remove the opportunity to react poorly to your triggers.

  • Remove shopping apps from your phone.
  • Unsubscribe from email newsletters.

When your trigger is pulled, make sure there are no bullets in the gun.

 

4. Next, find another coping mechanism.

That means replacing your emotional spending with something positive.

This will likely take the most work, as it’s hard to break ingrained habits.

But a healthier coping mechanism is likely to improve your overall mental health as well. Look for activities you can do or actions that will give you a similar rush of good feelings. Watching a favorite show, playing a game, or simply going for a walk can all help you curb your desire, and help you build healthier habits. 

 

 

How do you help someone with a spending problem?

The connection between mental health and spending goes both ways.

Your mental health affects your spending, and your spending affects your mental health. Money challenges can cause actions like opening a bill to trigger anxiety and can lead to sleep problems. So, it’s possible for someone to enter a downward spiral of mental health problems and harmful financial decisions.

 

1. If someone you know has problems like these, it’s important to avoid judgment and approach the problem cautiously.

You need to be firm but gentle with them. Simply resorting to shame is unlikely to work, and may make the problem worse.

It’s important to not feed the person’s bad habits.

 

2. Do not loan someone money if they have a serious spending problem.

First of all, you’re likely to not get that money back anytime soon. But the money is also likely to get wasted on more frivolous spending. This is a lose-lose for you and the person you want to help. So, you will want to set boundaries.

Boundaries are an important aspect of any social relationship. They aren’t a matter of shaming anyone, but simply a necessary step in protecting yourself and the person you’re trying to help.

 

3. Next, ask them if they want help.

Again, don’t try to make them feel pressured or ashamed. Many people want help with their vices, but don’t know how to ask for it. So, ask questions like:

  • “How are you doing, do you want to talk about it?”
  • “Are you tired of this?”
  • “Do you want to make changes to your habits?”

Of course, this may not work. If the answer is no, you will have to respect their answer and their privacy. But if the answer is yes, you’ve got an opening you can climb through to try to make a difference.

Simply talking can make a difference. It enables you to possibly dig down to the root of their problem and address it.

  • What if their income is simply smaller than many of their friends, and they’re just trying to save face?
  • What if their emotional spending is just another symptom of a broader mental health problem for which professional assistance is the only good shot at making it better?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

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