Are You an Emotional Spender?



I’ve been a nervous wreck for the past few weeks, though I’ve tried to pretend I’m fine. I’ve been on call for work for 19 straight days and have 4 more to go, which means I can’t sleep because I’m waiting for the phone to ring. I’ve made multiple trips to work (at 100 miles round trip) to deal with various issues on top of the usual 5 trips each week. I’m also trying to tie up all the loose ends at my job before this Friday, which is (thankfully) my last day. Oh, and there’s the fact that I will no longer have a guaranteed paycheck after this week. Yeah, I’m freaking out a little.

I’ve noticed that my spending is a little out of control. I haven’t even looked at the details because I don’t want to think about it yet, but I know that the Mint app on my phone beeps every five minutes with an “over budget” alert. I’ve had packages arriving left and right. I went to Target on Thursday, which is a huge no-no. I opened my freezer Thursday night and was shocked to find food in it because I’ve been so busy eating out. I started contemplating all this and thought, WTF, Andrea? Why are you doing this again?

Because I’m stressed out and I’m channeling that into buying stuff. I’ve been hyperfocused on finishing my home office (which includes buying stuff) so I don’t have to think about all the work-related drama going on. In other words, I’m being an emotional spender, which is a large part of what got me into debt in the first place.

How do you know if you’re an emotional spender? Read on and I’ll fill you in.

Signs of Emotional Spending

Emotional spending simply means you buy things when you feel a particular emotion very strongly. It could happen when you’re stressed, happy, upset, hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Usually when we try to avoid feeling something, we end up acting out in some way. For me (and maybe you, too!) it means spending money.

No one says to themselves, Gee, I’m feeling awfully upset right now. Now I feel the urge to buy a new pair of shoes in an effort to ignore my emotions! If it was that easy to recognize, none of us would do it. Ask yourself these questions to figure out if you are an emotional spender:

  • Do I reward myself with food, clothes, or other tangible items after a long day?
  • Do I spend time justifying purchases in my head?
  • Do I hide the evidence (remove tags, throw away receipts, etc.)?
  • Do I find things around the house that I forgot I even had?
  • Do I find myself wishing I hadn’t bought a certain item because it keeps me from doing something else?
  • Is there something bothering me that I don’t have time to deal with right now?

If you recognize yourself in some of those questions, you might be an emotional spender.

How to Stop

Recognizing and dealing with emotional spending isn’t easy. Even the most self-aware people can fall back into bad habits at times. The best way to avoid this is dealing with emotions as they come.

Take time for yourself. Before things got so hectic at work, I used to spend 30 minutes every morning thinking about the day ahead and “reading” my emotional state. If I knew I was feeling stressed, I would try to plan lots of tasks to keep myself busy (as in too busy to spend money). Lately I haven’t taken time to do this, and it shows when I look at my bank balance. It’s all too easy to get caught up with work, kids, friends, and life in general - you MUST make time, even if it’s only a few minutes, to think about what’s going on in your life and how you’re feeling.

Ask for help. This one is hard for many people, especially for me as a single parent. I feel like I’m supposed to be able to handle everything on my own. I’ve spent too much time asking people for help; now it’s time to put on my big girl panties and do things independently. Well that’s great if you can do it, but we all know I’m no superhero. More and more, I’m learning to say, “Sorry, but I’m stressed out and I don’t think I can handle anything else right now.” It’s hard to feel okay doing it, but I’m trying because I don’t have time for a nervous breakdown right now.

Put the wallet away! I leave my purse in a room far away from the computer. That way, if I’m going to buy something, I have to walk across the house to get my debit card. On the way there, I tend to question whether I should buy whatever I’m planning to purchase. Many times I never even leave my chair. Lately, I’ve caught myself getting my wallet out and setting it near the computer, making it easier to buy things I don’t need.

Talk to someone. If you’re feeling a strong emotion, don’t sit around being miserable. Call a friend or family member and talk it out! Email someone! Hell, email me and I’ll give you my phone number! I can seriously compare my phone records to receipts and figure out when I spent the most money - it’s the days when I don’t talk to anyone. Everyone needs someone to gripe and moan to, and when you don’t use those resources, you put yourself at risk for emotional spending.

Are you an emotional spender? What safety plan have you put in place to prevent this from happening?

  • rhitter1994

    This is so me. I am an emotional spender.

  • Miss T

    I definitely have been in the past and it got me into trouble. Now I try to take my emotions out of it and think methodically and realistically. It has definitely helped me stay on course with my budget.

  • Ashley @ Money Talks

    Thankfully I don’t emotionally spend… not in the way you are talking about here anyways. when I get overwhelmed I dive into the internet. Maybe StumbleUpon has the answers! Stumble. Stumble. Stumble. Stumble. Stumble. Stumble.

  • Bumps in the Road

    Yes this is me. Right now I’m wrestling with the idea of just going out and buying that second set of size 7 40 inch circular knitting needles so I can start another one of my Christmas presents. It’s really a small purchase $7 purchase but when I go into the store for 1 things I always leave with at least $30 worth of stuff.

    I have no idea what my plan of attack is going to be to be honest.

    Thanks for your message! It really made my afternoon

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      If you can will yourself to ONLY buy the knitting needles, $7 isn’t bad. Especially for something you need and will actually use. My problem is buying random stuff that I’ll use but don’t necessarily need!

  • Kaylah Walker

    HOW did you manage to post on the very topic I’m struggling with this weekend!? lol

    I’ve been so stressed by my speeding ticket that I threw caution to the wind and suggested that my boyfriend and I go out for dinner and a full priced movie - with me footing the bill. The tab wasn’t exactly atrocious but with a little more planning and a more level head, we definitely could’ve cooked dinner and streamed Netflix in or ate from a lunch menu somewhere and caught a matinee.

    THEN, stressed from the stupid date-night spending, I scheduled a sushi date with my girlfriend for tonight!


    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I feel your pain. Went to dinner with friends last night and ended up paying for one of them because I *know* she couldn’t afford it. And now my conscience goes, “Well, neither can you, you big dummy!” Sigh.

  • Daisy

    I’m totally an emotional spender and it’s my worst money downfall. I am so stressed lately that I’ve spent so much money unnecessarily. I don’t have anything to stop me, and thats a huge problem. I just buy and then later regret it.

  • JT

    I can be. My biggest issue is wanting to enjoy extra earnings, a chunk of unexpected cash, etc., immediately.

    This weekend, I was paid for work that I had almost forgotten about. I’ve been wanting to buy a new laptop for awhile. The force was strong with this one. The urge, man! I had to fight it off, though I still want a new freaking laptop.

  • Kyle @ The Penny Hoarder

    Yeah, I’m definitely in this boat too. I find that when I’m feeling overworked or stressed, I tend to start ordering a lot more takeout. One thing that has really helped me is to keep a running to-do list on my computer. I know that To-Do lists are exactly “novel”, but for some reason just having it written down calms my mind a bit. I’ve also been trying to plan for stressful weeks, by having some emergency frozen meals in the freezer just in case I’m in a hurry.

  • Pingback: The Best of: Weekend Reading » Financial Success for Young Adults

  • Pingback: Your Compulsive Spending Habit Isn’t Helping The Economy-Here’s How To Stop It | Athens Report