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How to Control Emotional Spending


It’s been a rough year for all of us. Instead of spending on travel and happy hours, we’ve been buying loungewear and home décor.

Sure, you might’ve really needed that 10th pair of sweatpants, but there’s also a chance it was an emotional purchase. Emotional or spontaneous purchases are unplanned purchases—maybe you prefer to think of it as retail therapy—brought on by feelings ranging from boredom to jealousy.

It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole with emotional spending. You get that immediate high of ordering or buying the thing. If it was an online purchase, you get that second bump from opening that beautiful, corrugated cardboard box. But when the withdrawal kicks in and the credit card bill arrives, you might think about detoxing. 

If your credit card debt has piled up and your credit isn’t in tip-top shape from emotional spending, you may want to consider ways to help you pay off your debt faster, like getting a debt consolidation loan for bad credit or negotiating with your creditor.

But that doesn’t get to the root of the problem, and odds are, you’re not going to get yourself out of the hole unless you address your emotional spending habits—in which case, we’ve got some tips for you. 

Four tips to keep emotional spending under control

1. Stay away from impulse purchases

The floor seats for Rihanna. The $75 worth of takeout sushi for one. The Lil Nas X Satan shoes. These would all fall under impulse buys.

Before you swipe your card or press that “complete order” button, take a step back and think about how you’re spending your hard-earned money. Do you really need the thing you’re buying? Can you eliminate the extra sashimi?

Some experts advise giving yourself a 24-hour waiting period before you make an unplanned purchase over a certain threshold, say $100. You may well change your mind.

2. Consult and stick to your budget

I’ll give you $5 if you’ve ever read a financial tips article that didn’t mention this in some capacity. (Just kidding—that’s not in my budget.)

It’s the tip as old as time, but for good reason. Budgeting helps you control your spending as it makes you really think about where your money’s going. Let’s say you spend $15 every workday on lunch out of habit. That’s $300+ a month, or $3,600+ a year. If you’re not accounting for that spending and just haphazardly throwing it on your credit card, you could easily fall into a cycle of debt.

I’m not saying don’t get your sweetgreen harvest bowl every day if that sparks joy. I’m just saying make sure you can afford it based on what you’re bringing home and how much you’re spending on other essentials. Try the 50/30/20 rule, the envelope system, or whatever budgeting method makes the most sense for you.

3. Watch out for targeted ads

We’ve all fallen victim to that unnecessary beauty product or weird looking thing that promises to eliminate back pain. (Just you wait, Gen Zers.) Ads are constantly in our face (or ears), whether they’re in the form of emails with promo codes from companies you often shop from, TV commercials, billboards, that painful Kars4Kids radio jingle, and of course, the dreaded targeted ads on social media.

It’s impossible to avoid all forms of advertising, but you can certainly cut back by unsubscribing to emails that tend to suck you in, limit your doom-scrolling on Instagram, and/or set up an ad blocker in your web browser.

4. Avoid temptations as much as possible

Think about the areas of spending where you’re most often tempted. Is it online shopping? Is it superfluous takeout orders? 

See if you can find ways to steer away from those temptations with other activities. If it’s online shopping, set time limits on your devices or try to cut back on screen time altogether with alternatives like reading a book, taking a walk, or picking up a new hobby.

If ordering takeout is your weakness, consider cutting back on the number of times you order out each week and do more home cooking instead. You can often save money, and hey, if both online shopping and takeout are problems for you, you’ll kill two birds with one stone: cut back on takeout spending and web browsing.


By Casey Musarra

Casey is a reformed sports journalist tackling a new game of financial services writing. Previous bylines include Newsday and Philly.com. Mike Francesa once called her a “great girl.”


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