Three Tricks to Resist Emotional Spending

I discovered money was a great antidepressant years ago I spent to change my mood, to reward myself and to make myself feel better after a stressful week.


I spent money when I felt sad and when I felt glad. I spent to get approval, to make my kids more popular, to impress people I didn’t even know. The list goes on and on.

Who hasn’t indulged in retail therapy? Case in point: the 48 pairs of shoes in your closet, of which only three pairs are comfortable enough to actually wear. But emotional spending is nearly always a mistake. The adrenaline rush lasts about as long as it takes to walk to the car. The feelings of guilt and remorse set in soon, sending your emotions on yet another wild ride. “Retail therapy” isn’t too soothing in the long run.

Making money decisions based on how you’re feeling at any given moment is a financially dangerous way to live. It took me a long time to understand how to manage money in ways that didn’t change with the wind. Once I got this through my head, I stopped assigning money the job of making me happy.

It’s time to start dealing with your emotions in a reasonable way that will not send you hurtling into the darkness of debilitating debt.

Notice the feelings. It takes a little practice, but you can learn to recognize the feelings that propel you to spend. Anger and disappointment are big ones. How about envy or sadness? Recognize that using money to anesthetize these feelings may work for a while, but it wears off quickly. In the long run it’s better to deal with emotions in an appropriate way than to slap them down with a temporary fix.

Don’t go there. If emotional spending is your nemesis, stop setting yourself up to fail. To make it difficult to give in to temptation, stop carrying credit cards. Avoid situations that entice you to overspend. I’m no saint, but I rarely visit malls or department stores. Those are the places where I am most likely to slip and fall, so I choose to stay away on purpose. I’ve also deleted my link to eBay, and I toss unopened mail-order catalogs into a recycling bin. Figure out the specific steps you need to take to rein in your spending impulses.

Find your diversion. For many women, spending on anything from French fries to Fendi just feels good—so good we want to repeat it over and over again. But there are plenty of other mood boosters that don’t involve spending money. Now, while you can think clearly, come up with several feel-good actions you can rely on when your emotions are in high gear: maybe taking a quick walk or checking in with a friend. Carry a juicy novel, a book of crossword or Sudoku puzzles, or a knitting project in your purse.


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  • G2G

    Surely the Mary we know and love wouldn’t suggest we indulge in what ‘a juicy novel’ implies in this world even as a substitute for spending money. Say it ain’t so, Mary!

  • Peggi

    When I’m ‘in the mood’ to spend, instead of buying stuff I don’t need I give to my favorite charities or give extra to my church. I’d rather look at my spending (and budget) and know I gave more to others than myself.

  • Michael

    Mail order catalogues are the ones I have trouble resisting, so I throw them when they come and I started removing my name from their mail list. If I open one, I’m done for!

  • Theverydirectcheekysaver

    When I am tempted to spend now I changed how I deal with it. Simply put, I get stuff for free. Only items that will impact my life in a good way. On facebook there are usually local groups like a freecycle group, craig’s list, kijiji (in canada) that have giveaways. My latest was a small deep freeze. In my deep freeze I keep freezer meals and things to make freezer meals and to keep a small but reasonable stockpile of sale items. Making the long story short, when I feel like spending I find something for free.
    There are some things I do regularly to reduce the urge to spend.
    Breakfast, I make things like muffin master mixes. Mocha white chocolate chip are amazing, so are my chocolate cherry muffins! I don’t feel like stopping at a store because the mix is 2 mins to throw together when I have a craving. I also make my own biscuit mixes, hot chocolate mixes, english toffee coffee mix and pancake mixes. No chemicals and all good flavors. (there are tons of recipes on pintrest)
    Dinners, I make meals ahead. You will not find boring meals in my crockpot. We bring home stuff on sale and get to work putting together meals. It saves time, money, helps with portion control and eliminates waste food. 2 days ago it was pulled pork with my cherry bbq sauce. General Tso’s chicken and sweet and sour chicken is so yummy! I cut up and spice meat for fajitas and freeze it in batches for one night’s meals. I ONLY make foods I think we will love and I make a big effort to cook things we would purchase in restaurants. This can be applied to almost all areas of your dinners. You just don’t crave the expensive restaurant stuff when yours is better at home.

  • Chris

    At that moment, I try to think ahead about how I will feel after the purchase. This usually helps me. . and thankfully I don’t have this happen to terribly often!

  • L

    I think about retirement so I don’t have to work so hard to survive later in life – I leave the money I would spend in the bank, move to a special account and at times give to charity mostly for animals and church – Proverbs 23:2 For you will put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to desire.