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Alternatives to Emotional Spending

As a spendaholic in remission, I have to be very careful not to return to my old ways. More specifically, I have to plan for those times (rare these days) when I just really want to buy something. Because no matter how well I behave with my finances, there are still moments when the debit card beckons.

I take a lot of steps to ensure that I don’t go crazy and spend every dime I’ve got. I keep my wallet in my car most of the time, for example, since I’m usually too lazy to go all the way to the garage to get it. I don’t let online retailers save my debit or credit card information. I wait 30 days before making any purchase over $100 (unless it’s preplanned or a true emergency) and I use a decision tree for many smaller purchases. Despite all that, though, there are times – such as when I’m hungry, angry, lonely, or tired – that I have to actively distract myself.

Over the weekend I think I hit every possible emotional extreme. I’ve been running behind on work for most of the month, and I was determined to organize some of the backlog in preparation for this week. When I work like that, I forget to do normal human things like eat and sleep. A friend also canceled some plans that have been in place for awhile, which made me frustrated and probably a little overdramatic.

In other words, I was a ticking time bomb for spending money I didn’t need to spend.

For years, my reaction to any negative feeling was to cheer myself up with something new. (Which is completely unhealthy and a sign of out-of-control finances.) I’ve told all kinds of stories about the stupid things I’ve bought and the damage I’ve done to my credit rating. And I swear, I think it’s a miracle that I’m not telling another one of those stories right now.

Here’s what helped me get through the weekend without spending:

Thinking about the expenses I have coming up. August is always a horrible month for me. My son turns 14 and starts high school in the same week, which means birthday gifts, school supplies, and school clothes. I’m also going to Denver in September for FINCON12. And, on a sillier note, the new operating system update for Mac should be released this week, so I placated myself with the idea of getting to spend $20 on that.

Reminding myself of the new things I’ve already gotten this month. Sometimes it’s easy to forget what I have when I desperately want to buy something else. Just a few weeks ago, I got a new iPad case (free) to review. I also had my landscaping redone. I bought a few books for Kindle and several apps. Remembering those things took away my brain’s excuse, “But we deserve something new!”

Staying busy. I have no business surfing the internet for things to buy when my house is a wreck and I have so much work to do. I won’t lie – it’s not like I busted my butt cleaning all weekend. But I did organize some stuff that’s been on my nerves, and I got several things accomplished for work that needed to be done ASAP.

Allowing a small, controlled purchase. Saturday night I decided to do something I haven’t done in ages – I took Jayden out to eat. I knew exactly how much it would cost, and I could justify a meal out a lot easier than than that same amount spent on junk. Plus he shocked me by saying he had a lot of fun! By spending a small amount of money on an experience, I distracted myself from the urge to buy things I didn’t need.

What I Learned This Weekend

Just like a drug addict or alcoholic in recovery, a spendaholic like me will always have moments of weakness. But that doesn’t mean I have to give in. Some days and weeks are just going to suck more than others, and it’s essential that I keep searching for ways to get through those times without overspending.

What do you do to stop yourself when you feel the urge to spend unnecessarily? What stress relief methods work best for you?

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About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. My one solution to not over spending is to not go to places I tend to over spend. Or if I am there, I don't go into the departments I tend to over spend.

    Now, online is a bit more difficult. However, I have to want something for at least a month before I can purchase it. Plus, there must be a practical reason for the purchase, too. 🙂

  2. Good job! I usually get things at Goodwill when I have the urge for something new.

  3. While it stinks you have to have so many lines of defense it is great you know your habits and actually have set up those lines of defense to protect yourself. I normally wait on larger purchases or ask what my readers would do on my blog. For smaller purchases I just try to avoid the places I would buy things at like slurpees at the gas station.

  4. If we want to buy something that is not a necessity, we try to sell stuff either on ebay or the consignment shop to pay for it. Either we really want it and stick with this plan or decide it really isn't worth the effort. Going out to eat works too!

  5. I hit up the library when I am tempted to spend money. I feel like I'm getting something without spending any money!

  6. seedebtrun says

    good tips, andrea.. and that is a super wicked awesome graphic! 🙂

    i find that having an app like on my cell phone can help me to curb spending.. if i have ready access to my account balances at my fingertips.. i can easily see how much money i have available.

  7. Keep spending on the experiences and you'll go a long ways. Way to keep it together!

  8. bogofdebt says

    Okay you can laugh but lately I've been saying "do you want Andrea to redo your website? NO? Okay go spend that money." And then I don't. Because I do want you to redo my website! Same thing for wedding fund-I'll guilt myself into not buying something because that money could help out my wedding fund. And I still make myself wait for the most part to get something unless it was planned. Tha way I can really figure out if I need something or not. And sometimes it works out in my favor–I waited to get a straightner and got one for free!

  9. I definitely find that keeping busy is a good way to help me avoid spending money. When I'm too busy working or doing chores, I don't have any time or energy left to go shopping, and most of the time I'm making money instead of spending it. I also find that window shopping online is just as good. I love to just look online at pretty things but close the window before I actually buy anything.

  10. August is such an expensive time for moms. With all of the kids needing school supplies, last year I was so overwhelmed. Each of the three kids was trying to get my attention and shoving things into the cart all at the same time. Plus, we waited until August, which means we had to run all over town to get everything on the list. This year, I have taken each of the kids separately, and treated them to a $1 milkshake afterward. It was much more calm, so I could make better decisions about what they needed versus what they "wanted" and the stores are still well-stocked. After all the spending I've done in the last two weeks, I can't even think about spending another dime on an impulse buy. (Also, I know all the student fees and extracurricular fees will be due in a few short weeks.)

  11. I find its especially hard to control the spending during the summer. Vacations, patio outings, BBQs, weddings, all those other wedding events. I also try to forecast my spending for the month. Sometimes I think in my head, do I really, really, really need it? I’ve survived without it for this long….

  12. Teinegurl says

    Ok did you just say you haven't gone out to eat in a while? YAY! how awesome!

    • Nope! I've gone through a drive thru a handful of times since I started cooking real food, but we haven't actually gone out for dinner in probably 2-3 months. 😀

  13. spaarolifantje says

    Is it smart to keep your wallet in our car? Do you know whether it will be insured when someone steals your car or breaks into it (in your garage)? I would find that out first. Plus, recently, after losing my wallet, I've reduced the number of cards in it to a more manageable minimum. If it happens again, I'll "only" have to replace one debit card, one travel card and a health insurance card. Much better than what I had to replace this time (ouch).

    • Well, if someone is going to go through the trouble of breaking into the garage attached to my house, I have a feeling they would probably just open the door and come in to steal from the house as well. So my wallet wouldn't be safe in that situation anyway.

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