All throughout the month of April, personal-finance guru Ginger Dean, the creative force behind Girls Just Wanna Have Funds, will help you balance your checkbook (and emotions to boot)— exclusively on ELLE.com.
Who hasn’t indulged in a little retail therapy at some point? I’ll be the first to admit that buying myself new clothes, jewelry, or a handbag can serve as a nice pick-me-up when I’m feeling down. (And getting that “fix” is easier than ever these days; if you’re not into the hustle and bustle of your local mall, Amazon Prime now offers same-day delivery. Yikes.)
But the emotions that cause us to splurge go beyond just the negative ones: We may spend because we’re happy (let’s celebrate!), bored (nothing better to do), insecure (keeping up with the Joneses), excited (I totally earned this!), or anxious (if nothing else, at least I’ll look good!).
In moderation, treating yourself every now and then really can be therapeutic. However, when the rush comes from the act of spending itself rather than the item you purchased— especially if you’re spending beyond your means or spending in order to avoid an issue—there may be a problem.
But how do you know if you are a chronic emotional spender? Here are some potential signs:
- You frequently feel depressed or anxious after spending.
- You return more items than you keep.
- You find yourself continually trying to justify your purchases to yourself or your spouse.
- You hide evidence of your spending (receipts, tags, bags, etc.) from your spouse or roommate.
- You have things you have never worn or used that you forgot you bought.
If more than one of these describes fits your habits, it looks like your emotional spending needs to be nipped in the bud before you cause further damage to your bank account. After all, any money wasted on frivolous expenditures is less money that can go toward bills, savings, or other things of higher priority. Here are some tried-and-true techniques to minimize emotional spending:
- Unsubscribe from both print and digital mailing lists. The idea here is to get temptation out of your face (and it’s similar to my tactic of not having sweets in the house–if I can’t see it, I can’t eat it!)
- Ask your spouse, family, and friends to help keep you accountable.
- Identify your triggers and come up with alternative methods to deal with those emotions when they crop up (this, of course, may necessitate a therapist to help you go deeper into these issues).
- Have a budget and give yourself a regular spending allowance that will allow to you treat yourself in a controlled manner.
- Leave credit cards at home when you shop. You’re lesslikely to spend if you must withdraw cash.
- Don’t save your credit card info on shopping sites. You’re more likely to spend if it only takes one click.
To further diffuse potential spending situations, ask yourself the following four questions before making a purchase:
- Did I intend to buy this particular item when I entered this store or clicked onto this website?
- Would I still buy this if I had to pay cash (and not use a credit card) to buy it?
- Would I have a hard time justifying this purchase to my spouse?
- Is this worth delaying the attainment of my goal (new car, vacation, etc.)?
And if all else fails, employ the 24 hour rule: Ask yourself, after waiting a full day, do I still reallywant this item?
Practice makes perfect, of course, but when consistently employed, these mechanisms should become second nature. Once your discipline is honed, start putting every amount you’re tempted to spend into a savings account. Trust me when I tell you that the thrill of attaining your long-term goals is far more gratifying than buying another pair of shoes!