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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