Emotional Spending: Why You Do It and How to Stop It

By Ed Reynolds | Monday 26th March, 2018

For the most part, shopping is harmless. We all do it and it’s actually great. So great... But when it becomes an emotional crutch, it also becomes a threat not only to your mental wellbeing, but also to your bank balance.

You can identify emotional spending by the way you feel before you purchase something and the way you feel after it. You’ve had a shit day and you feel really unattractive (your skinny jeans are a bit too skinny/ you've had a break out/ you got dressed in the dark) so you think, fuck it, I’m gonna buy something new to cheer myself up. As soon as you’ve made the purchase you feel instant gratification followed by guilt and shame. ‘Oh for fuck's sake… why did I just buy that? I really don’t have the money for it and now I’m skint.’


So then you return it (or not because that shirt you bought actually looks great so...) and the cycle continues. It doesn’t always look this obvious though; emotional spending, for some, is an escape. You might buy your partner gifts to avoid a serious conversation, eat out all the time to avoid how you feel about your body, or spend because you are stressed about money but you want to pretend otherwise.

If you don't feel you resonate with any of these, then have you ever responded to your spending habits with the following phrase, "I bought it because I deserve it"? Well then, you're an emotional spender too. This sort of attitude along with people who purchase items to self-improve or to out-compete others are just more subtle manifestations of emotional spending.

Before you know it, though, you’re drowning in debt, completely ashamed and haven’t dealt with the issues that all the spending was trying to mask. So how do you overcome it?

Attack the root

The only way to combat emotional spending in the long term is by addressing the real cause of it. Really think about how you felt just before you spent your money. Were you anxious? Depressed? Self-conscious? Admitting that you spend money because you feel really shit about your job/ relationship/ body is a great first step and it will help you identify any triggers you have. So when you go to buy something you can check-in with yourself in case you're really just avoiding something deeper.

Be mindful and limit temptation

I’ve always lived by the philosophy that the best way to get rid of temptation is to give into it. And trust me, it very rarely has a positive outcome. So only shop when there is something specific you want to buy and avoid window shopping. Also, try to limit browsing online and don’t save your card details on websites because it makes impulsive shopping too easy. If you do have to shop, leave your credit card behind. The relationship between you and your credit card is currently an abusive one. End it.


Create a budget

Budgeting your money will go a long way in dissuading you to spend. If you only have £100 to spend a week, you’re less likely to go and buy new clothes and forfeit eating or going out (hopefully). Plus if you can see, from your budget, where all of your money is going, you will be more accountable to it. Too busy to budget? Download Loot here and the app will do it for you.

Don’t swap your spending for another ‘addiction’

If you feel the urge to spend money aimlessly, then go for a run or watch something on Netflix (Read: don't binge on Netflix). Don’t go for a pint or comfort eat all the chocolate because you are just feeding the main problem rather than getting to the root of the issue.

If you're worried about addiction or you'd like to talk to someone, then you can find support here.