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Breaking Free From Emotional Spending – Part 3

emotional spending

We’ve been covering the topic of emotional spending in this series. You can find part 1 with an Emotional Spending Self- Assessment here. Part 2 lists some helpful questions to ask yourself about your spending habits.

I was at a conference recently and the ride home took me past one of the largest shopping complexes in the area. I became excited when I found out I would drive right by it, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why I was happy. I didn’t need anything…didn’t particularly want anything. Parking spaces were as scarce a hen’s teeth— that meant there were bargains and sales galore. Humming and smiling to myself, I was feeling light and breezy at the thought of giving away my money for absolutely no reason. Then I thought of a reason— a justification to shop.

“Ooooohhh…I want—I mean need—some new placemats. Yessssss!”

This was post-holiday season; all the leftover merchandise from the holidays would be sitting in bins and carts marked 75% off, but now the color palettes in the stores were drab in comparison to the exciting colored lights and shiny tinsel of just a month ago.

I got to the right aisle and found the placemats; there was brown, light brown, chocolate brown, nut brown, brown ombre, beige, beige vinyl, beige trim, etc.

My mood began to match the lackluster placemats…but dang it, I was determined to buy something. I didn’t want to be one of those mall zombies who walked around aimlessly, glassy-eyed and with no shopping bags. I wanted undisputed proof that I could find a bargain, too. As I walked by other shoppers my eyes narrowed with envy at their bags stuffed with goodies. I wanted to be them. I wanted goodies!!! Right now you’re probably thinking that I have an overactive imagination or that I need help, and you would be correct on both counts.

When I came to my senses and realized with my brain—instead of my emotions—that I still had money in my pocket, I wanted to know why I had such a strong compulsion to spend in that moment. I sat in my car and assessed my behavior. I had just attended a great conference; learned a lot and made awesome connections, so what was the deal?

Full disclosure; I was a department store manager for many years and when the shopping seasons would change, the markdowns coupled with my discount meant I scored in major ways. Shopping was my celebratory default mode. If something good happened, I shopped. If there was a hint of a bargain, I shopped. If I was near a store, I browsed and shopped. If someone else got a bargain, I wanted one.  All the boxes were ticked and the muscle memory came back.

  • Celebration shopping
  • Post-holiday bargain shopping
  • Proximity shopping
  • FOMO (fear of missing out) shopping

I had habituated myself into these behaviors years ago and even though I thought I had successfully broken them (and for the most part I had) I still need to be vigilant. I’m being transparent because I want to encourage others that emotional spending doesn’t have to rule your life. Here are some ongoing practices that continue to help me.

How to Break the Emotional Spending Cycle

  • Make a budget with clearly defined and realistic goals. Invest some time in making your budget it; own it! It’s your money and you get to say how it will be used without being coerced by compulsion.
  • Find ways to celebrate that bring you joy instead of spending money; go to an outdoor festival, an art museum, have coffee with a friend or go to the library and check out a book that you’ve always wanted to read. Do something new—I’m learning calligraphy from a friend.
  • Move. Create new muscle memory and maybe add some music to your movements. It makes a difference in helping to feel in control.
  • Don’t shop hungry, angry, tired or when you’re lonely. It won’t alleviate any of these circumstances. Have a bite to eat, take a nap, deep breathe or call a responsible friend until the emotions pass, and they will.

YOU are the boss of your emotions—don’t let them tell you otherwise. You can choose to break the cycle of emotional spending!

The team at CESI is committed to helping you make wise financial decisions and to helping you understand how to get out, and stay out of debt.  For a free debt analysis, contact us and find out how we can help.


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