Here’s How To Kick Emotional Spending To The Curb

By Emma Edwards
18th Jan 2021

a young woman, sits in a park and throws her head back laughing

Spending on stuff we don’t need is the ultimate thief of joy, but all too often those purchases happen when we’re in a specific emotional state, making it extra tricky to reign it in. Stress, anxiety, comparison, low self-esteem or even plain old boredom—all of these states put us at risk of handing over hard earned cash for a quick fix of dopamine that doesn’t last.

While all spending is emotional in some way, there’s a difference between conscious emotional spending and unconscious emotional spending—and it’s the latter that we’re going to kick to the curb. Here’s how to stop wondering where your money went and align your bank account with the things that truly serve you.

Identify Your Triggers

Emotional spending happens when we experience a certain trigger. That trigger sparks the emotion, and our habit-loving brains then get used to the feeling we get when we spend on something in that moment. Next time that feeling creeps in, it wants more of the same.

Identifying what those triggers are for you is an important first step. The easiest way to do this is to think back to things you’ve bought that you’ve regretted a short time later and see if any patterns emerge. It could be that your stressful days at work always result in a disappointing Uber Eats spend, or your Instagram-fueled body hang ups lead to a full cart on The Iconic. 

Knowing what scenarios you’re in when you make emotional purchases gives you an awareness as to why the spending is happening. From here, we can move forward.

Find Ways To Avoid Or Minimise Those Triggers

Once you know your triggers, start to explore ways to avoid putting yourself in triggering environments. For example, if boredom is your emotional state and your trigger is seeing clothes in shop windows while you walk around town to pass the time on your lunch break, take a different route and remove yourself from the triggering environment.

Set Counter Actions And Obstacles To Create New Emotional Processes

Sometimes you can’t remove yourself from the triggering environment, especially when it’s those pesky emotions that pop up when you least expect them (like anxiety or imposter syndrome). If you’re the stressed-out Uber Eats orderer who’s brain automatically connects a busy day at work with the ‘bing bong’ of your doorbell and the sweet, sweet scent of pizza, recognise the behaviour and set a counter action or obstacle between your emotion and your spending.

Instead of reaching for the Uber Eats app with steam coming out of your ears, find a lower cost or free way to deal with that feeling. It sounds cliché, but take a walk, have a bath or hot shower, watch an episode of your fave show, or even keep some indulgent treats in the house that you can reach for instead, that are cheaper than your usual Uber treat. Not only are these counter actions—which you may find satisfy you on their own—they also act as an obstacle between you and your usual spending habit. By creating that space, you allow your brain to return to a more rational state.

In many cases you’ll find you’re satisfied with a bath and a $5 frozen pizza, leaving your dollars firmly in your bank account. Training your brain to deal with your emotional trigger with these cheaper or free actions and obstacles over and over again can save you big in the long run!

Ready to make 2021 your most financially savvy yet? These new year money resolutions will help you whip your spending into shape, quick smart!

Image Credit: Teymi Towns

Emma is a finance blogger at The Broke Generation and a reformed spendaholic. She shares hot tips on saving, property, tax, career and investing for millennials who want to break the spending cycle and get financially confident.

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