In case you didn’t know, for years I’ve had a spending archnemesis. She’s the anti-superhero. That nasty mean girl that comes out of hiding when I’m feeling hopeless about ever getting out of debt, unhappy with my work life, and she more or less finds ways to wreak havoc when I’m feeling less than shiny happy about the world. What’s her problem? Well, her name says it all – Spenderella. That emotional shopaholic anti-superhero that does anything to make you feel better by doing one thing really well – spending all your money.
You may or may not have your own Spenderella. She’s the one that says, “You deserve a new $600 handbag for dealing with that super stressful customer for the past 3 months” or, “I feel great today, I deserve to treat myself” and the best one, “Let’s give our confidence a boost with a $500 cut and color.”
Yes ladies, she’s that nasty mean girl that preys on not only your innermost weaknesses but also your happy moments, and spends to her heart’s content.
Whether you have a nickname for it or not is irrelevant. It’s categorized simply as being an emotional spender. When you shop to feel happy or shop to find fulfillment, you’re an emotional spender. When you shop in a heartbeat if you’re stressed about work, unhappy in your relationship or even when you’re jumping for joy about your raise, it’s all emotional spending.
If you find you’re channeling all your emotions into shopping and are finding an empty bank account and loads of debt as a result, you may be an emotional spender. It’s a way we avoid feeling our real feelings. But no more! It’s time to get a handle on your emotional spending, here’s how I control my emotional spending:
10 Ways to Control Emotional Spending
Start with your mindset.
Facing your feelings when you’ve been avoiding them for so long can be a challenge. But, this is your first line of defense against controlling your emotional spending. Until you face the music and own up to the fact that you’re shopping based on how you feel, there will be no way in hell that you’ll understand how to control your emotional spending. Understanding why you spend is your greatest weapon. Do you spend to make yourself feel happy? Do you buy a pair of shoes every time you have a bad day at work? Are you a tag along spender and feel you have to buy something when out with friends? Are you bored? Boredom is a big one for most people. In North America, we’ve been trained to head to shopping malls for entertainment.
Start by accepting you have a problem, and know in your heart that you are capable of solving it.
Become aware of the feelings that make you shop. You need to understand why you’re shopping mindlessly and you need to face them. No avoidance allowed! Whether you eat, drink, or use shopping to avoid your feelings, it’s all the same – avoidance. So no more avoiding!
Once you’ve found your trigger feelings, turn them around and find an activity that will fulfill your emotional need. Preferably one that doesn’t cost money or is self-destructive. Such as: journal about your feelings (what did you want to buy and why?), go for a walk, run, or hike, create, paint or do an inexpensive DIY activity.
What causes you to shop?
So you’ve figured out your feelings and faced the music, but what is causing these feelings? As I delved deeper into my own feelings to understand why I was shopping, I began to realize I was very unfulfilled in both my career and marriage.
There’s no doubt about it, online shopping combined with credit cards makes it way too easy to shop (and rack up enormous amounts of debt). Justifying your purchase simply because it’s “on sale” or you get “cash back rebates” is no justification for going into more debt for something. That sale is no sale at all when you’re paying 19.99% in credit card interest. Marketers know every trick to get us hooked and keep us hooked. They’ll email for every sale, for wish lists you’ve created, saved items in your shopping cart, and even for an item you looked at once.
Here’s a few tactics I use to remove the marketing hype from life:
- Unsubscribe from all emails. ALL of them. I mean it!
- Remove shopping/store apps from your phone.
- Leave nothing in your shopping cart.
- Delete wish lists.
- Don’t save your credit card info online. If you have, go delete it. And yes, that means deleting it out of Paypal and your Starbucks accounts.
- When you’re in store, don’t give them your email! Politely decline if they ask.
- If you have to be online, use tools like Stayfocusd, or Strict Workflow to keep you focused on your work.
Yes, you’ll need a budget.
Oh yes, ladies. I’m going there. One cannot conquer a spending problem without first knowing how much you spend, on what, and how much you earn. I cannot say this enough, you need a budget, and you must be tracking your spending. When I first did this, I had a holy crap moment. I’ve been spending what on what?!!??? Yep, the AHA! moment came and it wasn’t pretty. But don’t be afraid of it! Once you see it, you’ll want to change. If you’ve never budgeted before, keep it simple. Start with pen and paper and write down everything. Once you’re a bit more comfortable, you can try excel spreadsheets or finance software.
When you’re working to control your spending, consider budgeting a small amount each month for shopping. So when you feel the urge to shop, you’ll have a shopping fund set aside and you can control your spending. A small treat will help curb large spending binges.
Ditch your credit cards.
Credit cards make it very hard for an emotional spender to control shopping. Ditching the plastic will keep you from reaching for it every time a mood or bad moment happens.
Retail therapy is no therapy at all. Say no!
Ever have a friend say, “I desperately need some retail therapy, let’s go shopping!” Retail therapy is not therapy, it’s destructive. It does nothing but reinforce not facing your feelings. Instead, you make the problem worse by creating a happy/guilty complex. Happy when you buy something, extreme guilt when you see the bill and your debt. And the cycle starts all over again. So if a friend wants to go for some retail therapy, kindly decline and tell them you can’t afford it. If they push and say, “we can just window shop” politely decline again. Window shopping does not help when you’re trying to get over an addiction or bad habit.
Drunk shopping is a very bad idea.
This is right up there with heading out for some retail therapy with friends. We all know it – get a few glasses of wine going and the inhibitions go out the door. Before you know it, you’ve purchased a $5000 trip to Paris that’s non-refundable. No joke, that was me. When you’re drinking, it stops you from doing a reality check, and it stops you from questioning your purchases. Instead, you’ll gleefully shop to your heart’s content thinking you need everything you see. If you’ve had a drink or two, stay off the internet and hide your wallet.
Find your tribe, your support group.
Another trick that has worked for me is immersing myself in other people’s stories. Since I’m an emotional creature, I relate easily to others and their situations. When you’re at a shopaholic low point, it’s great to listen or watch someone else’s story of their struggles and how they overcame them. Not only will it help you realize you’re not alone in your struggle, you may even realize that’s someone’s got it harder than you do. And if they can overcome, so can you!
Here are a few of my faves:
The perfect time for podcasts is when you’re commuting or working out. It stops you from thinking about stuff you don’t need but think you do. The added bonus is your mindset will start changing to more money related topics from all the expert talk you’re listening to.
Take shopping bans slowly.
The worst thing I did was trying to get on the shopping ban bandwagon. I thought that going cold turkey from all shopping would solve everything. It didn’t. Instead, it made it much worse. Being so cut off from normal behaviour had me rebounding back into bad behaviour times ten. If you still want to do a shopping ban, great! But take it slowly. Try it for a week and see how things go. And before you get started, figure out first why you want to do one in the first place. You need ammunition to throw at every purse, shoe, dress, and fancy vacation that comes your way. For example, see a purse you absolutely have to have? You need to be able to say to yourself, “I want to be debt free in 1 year, this purchase won’t get me there.” or, “I want to quit my job and become a freelancer, this purchase won’t help me squirrel away money.” You get the idea.
Do a reality check.
When you’re at your emotional worst and ready to click the purchase button, take a moment to do a reality check. If you find yourself facing an imminent purchase, ask yourself:
- Does this match my style and/or life philosophy?
- Do I really need this item to survive?
- Why do I feel I need this?
- Is it filling an emotional need (fitting in, overweight, tired, stressed) or an actual gap in your closet, kitchen, or life?
- Will I use this for years?
- Am I having a keeping up with the Joneses moment? (yes, it happens to the best of us on occasion)
- What’s the reason behind me wanting this? (ie bad day, you had to deal with your ex, you lost your job)
Final words of wisdom for emotional spenders and shopaholics:
- Do not do a yearlong shopping ban unless you truly believe you can do it. It takes a lot of commitment. Do start small. Try one month first. Breaking years of bad habits and mindless spending takes time and discipline.
- Don’t think you can stop buying? Give yourself a small amount of wiggle room each month. Instead of the hundreds you may have been spending, give yourself a budget of $25-$50. When you do this, you won’t feel you’ve failed at your budget if you buy a piece of clothing.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Meaning, don’t start a budget, start a shopping ban and start being frugal all in one month. Your mind and body will rebel against all those habits at once. Again, start small. Choose the most important habit change, do it for 30 days religiously, then add on another and repeat. Every 30 days, add on a new habit. Before you know it, you’ll have changed your financial habits!
- Avoid the shopping malls. If you have to go, go with a plan. Know what you need and get out!
- Cancel all promotional emails from online retailers you used to shop at. I mean it. CANCEL ALL OF THEM SPENDERELLA! No more temptation.
- Shopping is NOT therapy, it’s a sure way to go insane and be locked in a padded room. And be broke.