How to Kick Emotional Spending

We live in a consumption-driven world where we’re celebrated for the things we have — gorgeous wardrobe, a new car, the latest mobile phone. We’re rarely applauded for intentional spending, choosing to save, or delaying gratification.

But there are long term consequences to continuing down an emotional spending path.

I want to show you there’s another way which your future-self will love you for and show you this is the ultimate form of self-care.

This blog post shows you how you can establish strategies to spend less but spend well.  I did it myself, so I know you can do it too.


1. Identify your spending triggers

The first step to avoiding emotional spending is to figure out why you do it in the first place.


There are several reasons for making purchases –boredom, escapism from life, stress reduction, feeling like you’ve earned it (justification),to feel in control, to seek happiness or fulfillment.


All of these could be true for you, that’s not uncommon.  


Now, write your ‘why’ down.  What drives you to go online shopping or to hit the stores?


Think about how you felt before your last few retail splurges –write them out too.


If you can’t recall this, take notice and ask yourself next time you feel the urge to splurge.  What feelings and emotions are present for you?

Name them, write them down, acknowledge them –they’re part of you.  Describe where they are in your body, sit with them, give them space and reflect on how they are making you feel.


Ask yourself: ‘What will this new purchase give me, how will it change my current state?’

Keep all of this recorded in a Money Journal for a few months.


2. Work out what’s it costing you


I want you to think about what your retail spending is costing you.  Really costing you.  What are you missing out on or not experiencing as a result of buying more and more stuff?

If you’re putting your purchases on credit cards –maybe it’s costing you stress and worry when the statement comes in;

·       maybe it’s costing you having to rent for another year because you aren’t putting away enough money for your home deposit;

·       maybe it’s costing you personal time – you spend hours trawling websites or shopping centers looking for the next thing to buy;

·       perhaps it’s costing you a relationship – does your shopping cause arguments or stress with your partner or a family member?  


How is your spending impacting your own self-esteem? do you feel guilt, self-loathing, critical, disappointment or shame?


It’s ok – you’re not alone.  

This is what I experienced on a regular basis, and I hear it regularly from my clients.


Figure out what your spending is really costing you and the impact on your life.


Now ask yourself ‘what will life (and financial situation) be like in 5 years from now if you continue down this path of over-spending?’  Now close your eyes. Visualise it.


Eyes still closed….. Go forward, 10 years have passed (trust me, it happens quicker than you think) what have you missed out on, what do you regret, what would you wished you’d done different?  Really sit with this image or picture.


Write down what came up for you.


Now, you get to start new from today.  


What would you like to have in the future instead? This leads us to step 3……

3. Set financial goals


Give your money a purpose so you have motivation to save rather than spend.


Create goals: 6 month; 12 month; 3-5 year and a 10+goals.

Write down what will these goals cost

ie. I want to study a course, it will cost $7,000.  


Want help setting goals – have a read of this article: Why Money Needs Goals


4. Understand your weak-spots


What’s your Go-To purchase to make you feel better?


Spend a few money-minutes thinking about your own spending patterns.  What are your spending-weaknesses?

There will be things you buy that you just don’t think twice about.


Mine was shoes. I accumulated 92 pairs of shoes in my 30’s.  I’m not a caterpillar but on some emotional level, I felt like I must have been to own so many shoes.

I used to get a complete chemical rush trying them on, looking in the mirror at my feet in a new pair of shoes.  Nothing was going to get in my way of me having these in a shopping bag and walking out the store with them (or 2different colours of it).


So, what does your ‘no budget applies’ items mean for you?

For me, I wanted to look good, look perfect. As a child, my mum would always buy my sister and I new clothes or shoes. She’d prioritise clothing over a fridge of nutritious food, but we’d always look good.


If you know your go-to-feel-good items, make yourself an “Off limits” list. Keep it in your purse or mobile phone cover so you can refer to it when emotions start fluttering up.

5. Create a new environment


This means remove temptations.  James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, states that if you want to maximize your success, then you need to operate in an environment that accelerates your results rather than hinders them.

Make shopping harder for yourself using these tips:

§  Unsubscribe from emails so you don’t see SALES or New Arrivals pop up from your favourite retailers

§  Don’t visit shopping malls or retail websites

§  Delay your purchases: wait at least a week before buying something non-essential– be sure you really need it

§  Set time limits for Instagram, Facebook, and other apps that entice you to spend

§  Delete any auto-fill credit card information from your phone or laptop

§  If you’ve memorized your credit card number (yep, no doubt you’re clever and capable), order a new card from your bank.

And very importantly,

§  Be mindful and selective of the people you surround yourself with – this can be the most effective strategy to reduce emotional spending.


6. Create a spending allowance


Set a monthly amount or allowance that you can safely spend on purchases.  Guilt-free shopping to buy whatever makes you happy. But – once its gone, she’s gone. Can’t ‘borrow’ from next month (we both know, you won’t pay it back).  

This allows you to have some ease – making a strategy restrictive isn’t realistic (remember our patterns and strategies). It will be you fighting you and no one wins.


7. Find other ways to fill your time


If you typically shop out of boredom or escapism, take the time you’d spend shopping and fill it with something else, like:

·       Visit your local library - you just might get the same adrenaline rush as buying something new but for free.

·       Call a friend -take some extra time to check in with your favourite humans and nurture relationships.

·       Get outside and go for a walk – get out into nature, move your body and feel good, appreciate the beauty around you that costs nothing.

You're ready for Conscious Spending

Start spending in a way that feels purposeful. Create a monthly allowance for your discretionary spending – and stick to it.

When you adopt an intentional approach to your spending, you’ll distinguish between needs and wants. Your discretionary spending it to spend on what makes you happy.

Practise delayed gratification when purchasing stuff.  Sleep on all purchases for at least a week.

We recommend keeping a list on your phone of all the things you’d like to buy. As long as it’s within your discretionary spending budget for the month, you can buy one item – this way it becomes a conscious purchase, rather than an impulsive one. 

Being intentional will give you feel-good vibes, one the act of shopping, and secondly by keeping a promise to yourself.

That's the power of planning your purchases and being in the driver’s seat of your finances (rather than sitting in the back going along for the ride).


You may not even know you’re an emotional spender –here are the typical signs:

1.     You buy when you’re upset or stressed.

2.     You have an uncontrollable urge to spend money.

3.     You refer to shopping as ‘retail therapy’.

4.     You regularly hide your purchases from your partner or family members, or lie about what they cost.

5.     You shop to overcome boredom or because you want to cheer yourself up or feel stressed.

6.     You have clothes still with their tags attached or unopened packages.

7.     You have credit card debt, or little savings or avoid looking at your bank statements.

8.     You often regret your purchases.

9.     You spend money you can’t afford to.


Knowing you’re spending emotionally is one thing, but owning it as a problem is another. You might think small indulgences are harmless compared to big-ticket items, but you might be kidding yourself.

Those small weekly emotional purchases here and there can do much more harm. Think about this - $25 here, $40 there, $60 on this and a cheeky $100, over a fortnight, might not seem bad, but it will cost you $5,850 by the end of the year.

Its time we’re honest with ourselves about when and why we spend.

 “The question of what you want to own, is also a question of how you want to live your life”

– Marie Kondo


Karen Eley is a financial coach with more than 20 years’ experience as a financial adviser. Through her business, Women Talking Finance, she helps women to be confident and knowledgeable about all things finance. Karen translates complex financial concepts into simple digestible ideas.

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