How To Stop Emotional Spending

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Catherine Alford. Cat is a freelance personal finance writer who blogs at

Emotional spending is when someone, fueled by a particular impulse, feels like they have to shop. It can be something as complicated as getting into an argument with a spouse and spending a fortune at the mall or something as small as going to get a manicure just because you’re bored.

While spending money is not necessarily a bad thing in moderation, it’s important to be mindful of emotional spending since it’s one of the easiest ways to get your finances off track.

Below are some of the most common thoughts that emotional spenders have and tips on how to combat them.


 1.     I’m bored.

You know the drill: It’s the weekend. You don’t have to work. You don’t have any plans. So, you head to the mall and start browsing. Pretty soon, you’ve spent $200.00 on shoes and have to face the reality of a credit card bill a few weeks later.

Solution: Identify the cause of your boredom. Are you bored because you don’t have any plans for that day? Call up your friends and make some! Are you bored because you finished all of your work? Then, by all means, take a nap, watch a movie, or enjoy a glass of wine to reward yourself. Essentially, this emotion is all on you. You can’t rely on others to keep you entertained. Do the things that you enjoy when you’re bored, whether it’s reading a book or watching your favorite TV show, and stay away from the malls.


2.     I’m feeling down.

I can definitely understand why many people shop when they are down or depressed. That small moment when you get to put a new skirt in a shiny new shopping bag can definitely lift your spirits. However, this is a dangerous habit to get used to, since your automatic response to every crisis will become shopping.

Solution: Whenever you are feeling down and want to shop, ask yourself if shopping will make you feel better long-term. Sure, you might get exhilarated by finding something great on sale, but will your happiness last after you go back home? If the answer is no, take some time to tackle the real issue and try not to mask it by swiping your credit card.


 3.     I want to celebrate!

I definitely think it’s important to treat yourself when something great happens like a promotion or your birthday, but many people who are prone to emotional spending turn everything into a celebration.

Solution: It’s great to acknowledge when things are going well and even more fun to reward yourself. However, if you are on a budget and are trying to stop emotional spending, try treating yourself to a cozy night at home or a nice bubble bath instead. Even better, have a picnic outside with your significant other or take your kids to the park. Essentially, special treats don’t have to cost anything!


 4.     I’m really angry.

This emotion applies mostly to relationships. Often times, couples will get into arguments, and one will go shopping just to spite the other one. Or, a college student might get mad at their parents and swipe their parents’ card just to prove a point. All of these behaviors aren’t going to make anyone feel better in the long run, and it’s best to avoid them.

Solution: If you feel angry enough to shop till you drop, first take a deep breath and try to calm down. Usually time alone to think through the problem will be enough to quell your shopping craving. You can also remind yourself that shopping won’t fix the issue at hand. Only talking through problems and working on major issues will help you in the long run.


 5.     I want that right now!

Impulsive emotions are definitely the riskiest form of emotional spending. Seeing something that’s awesome or interesting and buying it on the spot is okay from time to time. However, if it becomes a habit or you never deny yourself anything, it can definitely hurt you financially.

Solution: Tell yourself no as often as possible. Whenever someone asks me for my number one piece of financial advice, that’s what I tell them. Every time you say no, you are saying yes to a bigger savings account. Ask yourself if you really need the item in front of you or if you are just buying it because you like the way it looks.

Essentially, emotional spending is something everyone struggles with, and it’s important to know which type of emotional spending you most likely experience. Once you know which one sparks a need to shop, you can better tackle that issue head on. Remember, shopping is great for a little bit of temporary happiness, but once that fades, the problem you were running away from is unfortunately still there.

How about you all? Are you an emotional spender? How do you try to combat those tendencies?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

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