Money can’t buy happiness. Even if we know this is true, that doesn’t mean we won’t occasionally test out the theory. Especially when you’re feeling down and out, it’s easy to spend with the subconscious hope that your purchase will bring you joy.
When our emotions are in control, they often become culprits in helping us make unexpected purchases. If we aren’t mindful about why we are shopping, emotional spending can totally break the bank. The triggers for emotional spending vary wildly. It’s easy to trace the notable ones, like a devastating breakup that leads to buying a whole new wardrobe, but some triggers fly under the radar. Maybe you’ve been stressed at work and started eating lunch at a pricier spot to help get you through the day; it’s not in your budget, but you feel like you deserve it because you’ve been working so hard. Purchases like these don’t necessarily raise a red flag, but if you’re making money choices based on your mood, it can spell trouble for your self-control in the long-run. Even positive emotions can wreak havoc on our checkbooks. The relaxing, go-with-the-flow feel of vacation can lead to spending without thought. A new job promotion or confidence-boosting success becomes a great excuse to pop a bottle of nice champagne, even when the money isn’t in the bank yet. Emotional spending can strike with any mood, but being aware of your headspace when you’re on the verge of swiping that credit card can clue you as to why. “The words you use to justify your reason for purchasing an item will give you a hint to the emotional trigger leading your buy,” says Darla Pellersels, president of Prosperity Financial Associates, a financial firm in Nevada. “When you are telling yourself ‘I deserve, I want, [or] I have to have this purchase’, that may be a strong sign that you are working from emotion not reality.”
You don’t need to be a shopaholic to fit the bill for emotional spending—even small purchases can be an indicator of emotional stress. Maybe you try to cheer yourself up with a coffee at Starbucks and happen to add an overpriced muffin to your order. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if it falls outside your normal routine and set budget, it means you’re trying to fill an emotional void with a happiness-boosting purchase. The truth is, it works—at least for a moment. We get a little jolt of happiness, a spending high when we treat ourselves to an unexpected purchase. So yes, buying that thing you really want in the moment will give you a rush, but it’s not long before that feel-good moment fades and you are looking for the next purchase to keep your high. “If you were to look closely at that deal that you ‘can't pass up’, chances are the real deal is to walk away,” says Pellersels. “Eighty percent off something you really don't need is still spending that 20 percent on an unnecessary thing.” Pellersels says the key to curbing those urges to self-satisfy is to find an accountability partner to keep you honest and to commit to a written budget. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun with your money; it simply means you should plan your fun in advance and have a limit. A good compromise is to use small amounts of cash to control emotional spending when you feel like you need it. Keeping yourself within your set limits depends on your determination and mindfulness of spending habits. Don’t let your emotions run away with your wallet. Staying focused and aware of where you want your money to go means less emotional spending and more financial control over your future.