Most of the time we don’t buy things just to have “stuff”. We buy because of how it makes us feel. For some people it is the “stuff” that they have that gives them that adrenaline rush, for others it is the actual act of shopping that does it. If you find Emotional Spendingyourself in money troubles but can’t seem to follow a budget or plan without having your emotions take over and start grabbing the credit card, you may be struggling with emotional spending.

I recently listened to an archived show on Hay House Radio of Michael Neill’s “You Can Have What You Want” episode entitled “Overcoming Emotional Spending”. (Note: To access the archive, you just have to sign up, it is free and well worth the trouble. I personally am a regular listener to several shows and automatically download them to my iPod.) In this episode Michael leads people on a discovery about why they overspend. Unlike most “money diet” type approaches, he instead asked callers to identify the rush they get from spending.

Using a scale of 1 (doesn’t matter) to 10 (I’ll die if I can’t have it/go to the sale) he helped people see the emotions behind the act. For instance, once woman was addicted to going to big store sales. He asked her how she would feel if she knew there was a big blowout sale at her favorite store but couldn’t go. She said it’d be around a 9 or 10 on this scale. That helped her uncover the fact that it wasn’t the “stuff” or even the “buying” that was driving her spending, but rather her addiction to the feeling of “saving money” by going to these sales.

This awareness is key for nipping any unconscious spending in the bud. It’s not about the “stuff”; it is about how you are feeling. Many people get into the mall and shopping habit because it allows them to bury their feelings. They rationalize it as “I deserve it.”. And, indeed we all deserve to have what we want. Yet, if you are buying to bury feelings or avoid someone/something else you not only don’t get any true joy out of your hard earned dollars but instead end up struggling to pay the debit you’ve created and thus perpetuating and magnifying these unpleasant feelings. It can indeed be an addiction — feel bad, spend and get a rush, crash, repeat. Even the futile game of trying to keep up with the Joneses is rooted in attempting to satisfy an unmet need. You want to feel “good enough” so you figure if you can compare and compete with someone else you see (that you equate with “good enough”) somehow that will make you feel happier. Most likely it will just make you feel like a hamster on a wheel who is digging a hole of debt.

So, how do you get a handle on emotional spending? Well there are tons of articles and books written on it. Broken down in its simplest form, though you need to :

  1. Become aware of what is fueling your actions (try using that 1 to 10 scale I mentioned earlier).
  2. Create a time gap between your impulse and actions. For instance, if you’re in a store and see something “you just gotta have”, leave and come back. Even leaving for a short walk around the parking lot creates some space in which you can more objectively decide if you should make the purchase.
  3. Get neutral. Use some sort of technique to work on your emotions related to spending. Some ways you can learn great techniques are by working with a coach, exploring Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), or hypnosis.
  4. Work on the underlying issue. What are the feelings that are going unfelt? What parts of your life aren’t working? What needs are going unmet? Again, working with a coach can help you identify what’s really going on and support you in doing the work of creating a plan to address these underlying causes of your spending.
  5. Get real. Don’t let shame or avoidance keep you stuck in a pattern that doesn’t work for you.

We all make some emotional purchases now and then and that is ok. We’re all human. Emotional spending only becomes a problem if it is habitual and leaves you feeling money woes. Even if you’re not sure if emotional spending is at play, following the steps above can be helpful for anyone, anytime.