If your first instinct is to head to the mall for a little bit of retail therapy after a bad day, you’re not alone. According to one 2013 survey, nearly 52 percent of Americans admit to using shopping as a way to improve their mood.
While studies have linked spending to a temporary boost in happiness levels, the long-term effects aren’t always so uplifting. If you’re running up credit card debt as a way of coping with a divorce or you’re using a stressful situation at work to justify excessive purchases, you could be doing some serious damage to your finances.
Once the temporary pick-me-up associated with emotional spending passes, you and your wallet are usually no better off.
If you’re worried about how your shopping habits are impacting your bottom line, here are some things you can do to break the pattern.
1. Pinpoint your triggers
While major life events, such as a job loss or a death in the family can set off an emotional spending binge, it’s often the smaller things that cause the most trouble. According to trainer and consultant Christy Matta, M.A., something as simple as opening your bank statement, paying bills or saying no to a seemingly inconsequential luxury are enough to prompt an intense emotional reaction.
Keeping a journal is an easy way to record what you’re feeling day to day so you can spot potential triggers before they become a problem. Expressing your emotions on paper gives you a point of reference to work from and it can also help to alleviate some of the stress or anxiety you may be experiencing so you’re not as tempted to spend.
2. Identify your spending patterns
In addition to keeping a record of your moods and experiences, you should also be making note of where your money’s going. Being able to go back to a specific date and see what you spent as well as what was going on that day in general can be a real eye-opener in terms of helping you to identify your patterns.
Using an app like Mint is a hassle-free way to keep tabs on your cash. When you sign up for a Mint account, you can link up your bank accounts and credit cards so you can view all of your transactions in one place. You can also create budgets for different spending categories so you’ll be able to see at a glance how much you have left to spend or how much you’ve gone over for the month.
3. Leave the credit cards at home
Credit cards are great if you’re using them to earn free travel or cash back, but in the hands of an emotional spender, they can be more of a weapon than a tool. Time and again, research has shown that we spend more when we use credit and according to a Dun & Bradstreet report, the total bill usually ends up being between 12 and 18 percent higher.
If you’re tempted to whip out the plastic to pay for an emotional spending spree, switching to a cash-only system helps you to avoid adding to your debt and it can make you more conscious of just how much money you’re parting with.
Making a cash system work means having a budget for what’s coming in and going out each month. Figuring out how to create a workable budget usually involves some trial and error but it’s worth it if you’re committed to getting your spending under control.
4. Give your money a purpose
Building an emergency fund or saving for retirement are essentials for good financial health but they’re difficult to do if you’re constantly frittering money away on new clothes or the latest electronic gadget.
Setting goals is fairly easy but achieving them is a bigger challenge, especially when emotional spending is an issue. That’s where having a budget and keeping track of your expenses really comes in handy.
If you’ve never attempted to set goals for how you manage your money before, you want to make sure you’re realistic when you first start out. Saying you want to save $10,000 a year is great but if you end up falling short, the guilt you feel could send you over the spending edge. Deciding that you want to save $50 every paycheck, on the other hand, is more reasonable and you’re less likely to give yourself a hard time if you miss a week.
The most important thing when it comes to your goals is to monitor your progress. Apps like SavedPlus, goalGetter and SaveUp can help you stay on the right track and reach the finish line that much faster.
5. Seek alternative rewards
Treating yourself to something new after a major accomplishment may seem harmless enough but soon enough, that initial rush will wear off and you’ll be a little poorer for it. Looking for no-cost ways to give yourself a positive boost may prove to be more rewarding in the long run.
Taking a walk, playing with pets or volunteering your time can all provide that warm fuzzy feeling you’re after and it won’t cost you a dime. Finding an activity that eliminates the need to spend unnecessarily is the best way to generate the kind of emotional and financial payoff you’re looking for.