When times are tough, we all have our own ways of dealing with stress. For some people, they might do something like hit the gym or go for a run to work out some of their frustration and get some dopamine back in their system. But others might tend to rely on less healthy coping mechanisms, such as overindulging in alcohol or certain foods. Or, very often, people tend to turn to a little retail therapy.
Emotional spending is an extremely common occurrence, with one study showing that 62% of shoppers had purchased something as a way to cheer themselves up. Sometimes, a product might seem like a convenient solution to a problem at a given moment. For example, a person who is feeling down about their appearance might make a spur of the moment decision to pick up some new fitness gear, makeup, or clothes. Or, during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, many people engaged in emotional spending driven by the uncertainty the world was facing and having extra time to browse online stores. But emotional spending doesn’t only occur during stressful times in life. It’s also very common to see people engage in emotional spending in response to something good, such as treating themselves to a new electronic gadget or designer bag to celebrate getting a promotion at work.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional impulse purchase here and there. But if your retail therapy is a habit that goes unchecked, it’s easy for it to become a very expensive problem. Especially now that online shopping has made it easier than ever before to buy things at a moment’s notice with just a few clicks without even having to leave the house. Even if you’re not actively browsing a site like Amazon, ads on social media and other sites can easily tempt people to make some impulse purchases.
With prices of, well, just about everything skyrocketing due to inflation, it’s definitely a good time to think about your emotional spending habits and how they relate to your overall spending. The last thing you want is for those spur-of-the-moment purchases to turn into credit card debt or make it difficult to afford the essentials in life, like groceries, utilities, and rent/mortgage payments. If it’s time to cut back on emotional spending, what can you do to get it in line?
Become a Mindful Shopper
The first step to preventing emotional spending is to get more mindful about your shopping habits. Think hard about what drives your spending and look for patterns. Are there any specific moods or events that tend to trigger emotional shopping? Once you understand what leads to emotionally driven purchases, you’ll be able to find better ways of dealing with them.
In addition to understanding what triggers emotional spending for you, it’s also important to ask yourself why you want to buy something. Is something a want or is it something you actually need? For example, do you need a new pair of shoes to replace one of your everyday pairs that has gotten worn out or is it a pair that looks really nice, but isn’t very practical?
Give Yourself an Allowance
Remember the days of getting an allowance from your parents? If you’re spending more than you should on impulse buys, it may be a good idea to bring that concept back into your life. Only instead of getting that money from mom or dad, you’re giving it to yourself. That way, you can still have some fun, but you can work it into part of your monthly budget. Genisys Credit Union recommends either putting this money on a prepaid debit card or taking it out in cash. That way, you can’t spend more than the amount you’ve allotted for yourself each month.
Slow Down Your Purchasing
When you shop online, you’re usually given the option to save your credit card information to your profile so that you can check out faster when making future purchases. Or you might have the option to pay for purchases by using third-party services like PayPal or Apple Pay. While this does, indeed, help make shopping more convenient, it also makes it way easier to impulsively buy things you don’t really need. This is why it may be a good idea to delete your saved payment information.
Sometimes, having a barrier that forces you to stop what you’re doing and go get your credit/debit card before making a purchase is enough to make a person rethink their decision to buy something. Not only do people very often not want to make the extra effort, it’s something that helps improve mindfulness about your shopping habits.
Another idea is to create a rule for yourself to wait 48 hours before purchasing something you’re interested in. This gives you an opportunity to think about whether or not you really want or even need something before following through with your purchase. (Allowing exceptions for things that have a clear, immediate need, of course.) You might be surprised just how often an item goes from being a sudden must-have to something that almost completely leaves your mind within a day or two.
Thanks to the internet and mobile apps, it’s easier than ever before to shop for just about anything you can imagine. It’s also easier than ever to mindlessly spend time browsing online stores when you don’t really need something. Sites like Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Poshmark can be very fun to browse through, but doing that can create a lot of temptation to spend more than you should. Even if it seems like you’re getting a good deal, too many good deals can add up to not be such a great thing and it might be best to simply remove those apps from your phone if you’re prone to mindless browsing.
In addition to removing those apps, it’s also a good idea to go through your email inbox and think about all the mailing lists subscribed to. Getting notified about things like sales, new products, and offers of free samples or gifts when you make a purchase can easily encourage people to head over to a store’s website and look around when they otherwise might not have done so. If this has often happened to you, you might want to consider going on an unsubscribe spree.
Shopping in Person? Skip the Card.
As easy as it is to make impulse buys online, they can still easily happen while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores as well. If you’ll be visiting a store where you might be tempted to buy things you don’t need, it might be best to leave the credit card at home and pay with cash instead. That way, you’ll be forced to stick to getting only the things you need and won’t be able to spend more than you should.
Best of luck to you on reaching your financial goals!