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?