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How To Avoid Emotional Spending 

Have you ever had a really bad day and made yourself feel better by buying something? That’s one example of emotional spending – but just as there are a lot of emotions, there are as many reasons we buy things we don’t need. 

These emotional purchases are also known as impulse buys, where we pay for something we don’t need but for some reason, we want. Canadians all over the country fall prey to emotional spending, forking over an average of $3,720 a year to improve their moods. And it’s no wonder we’re also in a lot of debt. For every dollar we have, we owe $1.78 – a number that’s creeping higher with each passing month. 

The Science Behind The Buy 

According to Psychology Today, the root of emotional purchases is our unconscious desire to buy what will manage our current emotional state. Simply put, we want the product to either elevate, maintain, or calm our current mood. Feeling low-key? You’re more likely to buy tea. Experiencing excitement? You’ll probably reach for that energy drink. Conversely, if you’re stuck with the blues, you’ll seek out what cheers you up. If we like our mood, we gravitate towards what will keep us feeling this way; if we’re uncomfortable with the emotion, we shop for what will change it. 

It all sounds simple, to be aware of our “why” behind every buy. Yet, it isn’t easy to make the unconscious, well, conscious, especially in the thrill of the emotional moment. Plus, not all of us are aware of what we’re feeling, exactly when we’re feeling it. 

While we may not be able to control our unconscious emotions, what we can do to bring them to our awareness is to get curious about them. To answer the “why” of each purchase starts with learning more about how your values and personality impact your spending decisions. Next time you’re shopping and you pick up an item off the shelf, stop and ask yourself a few questions: 

  • What about this product do I like? Is it the quality, the brand, the colours or design? Is it the messaging on the package? Is it the price? 
  • What do I believe this product will make me feel? Happy? Encouraged? 
  • If I didn’t (or did) buy this product, what would happen? 

Another way to improve your emotional awareness is to know your triggers. 

Triggers For Emotional Spending 

Triggers are defined as an event, situation, word, smell – really, any stimulus – that can set off a strong emotion, either positive or negative. Triggers for emotional spending are stimuli that result in us buying something that we think will either enhance or decrease the impact of the stimulus. 

There are certain emotions that more commonly result in purchases, according to The Journal of Financial Planning. They are: 

  • Feeling Depressed (triggers you to buy happiness) 
  • Feeling Stressed (triggers you to buy relief) 
  • Feeling Unattractive (triggers you to buy beauty) 
  • Feeling Guilty (triggers you to buy redemption) 
  • Feeling Bored (triggers you to buy entertainment) 

While it helps to determine the source of these emotions – like whether watching reality TV is impacting your unhappiness with what you don’t have – sometimes it’s very confusing what, exactly, is making us feel a certain way. This additional complexity isn’t necessary to understanding when you’re triggered, though. Focusing on knowing your triggers is enough to help you become aware that you are, indeed, emotionally spending.

Here are just a few examples from Huffington Post about what we commonly buy depending on what we feel: 

  • Feeling Powerful: You’re likely to spend money on yourself rather than someone else. 
  • Feeling Weak: You’re likely to spend money on someone else, rather than yourself. 
  • Feeling Excited: You’re likely to buy something you didn’t know you wanted. 
  • Feeling Envious: You’re likely to buy something very expensive to compare or outdo others. 
  • Feeling Flirty: You’re likely to buy attractive undergarments. 
  • Feeling Sad: You’re likely to buy the more expensive option. 
  • Feeling Claustrophobic: You’re likely to buy something more individual, louder, or vibrant. 

Taking control over your emotional spending simply starts by asking yourself a few questions before you purchase something and being aware of the different moods you are in while shopping. Once you bring these emotions to your awareness, you may find that you have a much easier time walking away from certain purchases, or even choosing a less expensive alternative. For more topics on how to improve your financial situation and how to save money, check out the Speedy Cash blog now!