Emotional Spending Triggers and How to Control Them

Credit card expenditures

Emotional spending is spending that is deeply rooted in one’s emotions and usually manifests as unplanned, even spur-of-the-moment purchases. Emotional spending is driven by spending triggers, or emotions that push you towards compulsive spending, buying things you may not need and normally wouldn’t purchase under different circumstances. These triggers are mainly subconscious, driving you to spend money in order to magnify or replace an emotion you are currently feeling.

The reason why emotional spending is bad, no matter how small the purchase, is that your emotions are in control, not you. This can lead you into poor financial situations.

Signs of Emotional Spending

It can be difficult to get a mental grasp of what’s going on with your finances, especially if you’re not even realizing that you’re spending compulsively.

Fortunately, there are signs of emotional spending you can look out for that may grant insight into your spending habits:

  1. Experiencing “buyer’s remorse” or purchasing something because it “feels right,” then questioning the purchase afterward.
  2. Purchasing items/services due to an intense feeling of needing to have it “now.”
  3. Justifying purchases by telling yourself “I deserved it.”
  4. Buying things to help yourself “feel better.”

These are just a few examples of behaviors fueled by emotional spending, but in order to combat it, you need to investigate potential triggers to get to the root of emotional spending psychology.

What Are Some Emotional Spending Triggers?

While knowing the signs of emotional spending is good and even necessary, you’ll also need to identify the emotional triggers behind your spending habits. Everyone experiences these triggers differently. For example, some people experience these on a consistent, sometimes daily, basis, such as having a good or bad day. Other people experience them at a certain time of year or under certain circumstances, such as before a family or class reunion.

Here are some examples of emotional triggers that people commonly experience.

Stress

This trigger is probably the most obvious out of the entire list, as it’s an emotion that we can all relate to. Stress can stem from many different causes, such as family, school, work, or finances. Those who compulsively buy due to stress are seeking relief from it. Buying items can be a way to elevate one’s mood, but this feeling is often fleeting.

An example of stress buying is feeling the urge to shop after a hard day’s work and get something for yourself because you “deserve it.”

Boredom

Shopping out of boredom can be a common trigger for emotional spending. With our modern, mundane lifestyles, many people seek out entertainment regularly if for no other reason than to avoid becoming bored. Shopping can be easily justified when you have free time on your hands and have nothing planned.

Have you ever had nothing else to do and decided to buy a few upgrades on a game on your phone? This is a prime example of boredom spending.

Guilt

Guilt can be a difficult emotion to deal with. Whether you feel as though you have wronged someone or that you shouldn’t have been rewarded for whatever reason, many people will turn to shopping in order to alleviate or remove their feelings of guilt.

One such example would be buying some flowers or jewelry to make up to your spouse after having an argument.

Inadequacy

The feeling of not being good enough is incredibly common. These feelings can occur many times due to our past, whether it be our childhood and the way you were raised or in regards to past failures. People also tend to feel inadequate due to not living a certain lifestyle. This can lead us to try and redeem ourselves with ill-advised or unneeded purchases.

Buying high-end products that you can’t afford, such as a powerful sports car, would be an example of buying due to feelings of inadequacy.

Hunger

Hunger can be a very effective incentive to buy. Whether this form of emotional spending shows up as craving snacks while watching a show, dining out spontaneously, or buying more food than you need at the grocery store, food can serve as an enabler for emotional spending. It certainly doesn’t help when food commercials, especially those for fast food, are specifically made to look as appetizing as possible.

How to Control Emotional Spending

Once you’ve identified your emotional triggers, the question then becomes how best to control emotional spending. Fortunately, there are several tricks and methods that you can use to help you with your emotional spending.

  • Seek Therapy: There’s no shame in seeking help from a professional therapist, especially since some triggers are deeply rooted and subconscious.
  • Fill Your Tank: Just as grocery shopping while full can curb spending due to hunger, filling your emotional tank can also help with other kinds of triggers. Try spending some time with loved ones before going out.
  • Make a List: Predetermine what you want to buy before going out. If you can’t make a sensible reason for an item in your cart that isn’t on your list, put it back.
  • Make Better Selections: Always ask yourself if there is a less expensive version of your product that will give you the same kind of quality. While not your first choice, it will save you money.

Ultimately, how to curb compulsive spending will depend upon the person and their particular emotional spending triggers. This said, not all spending is emotional, such as when you need money after being broadsided by emergencies that you can’t afford. This can cause financial stress, which in turn can cause emotional spending.

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