Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Weekly Column: The Emotional Reasons for Spending

The emotional reasons for spending

There are many reasons why people spend—or overspend—their money. We spend to celebrate, to fit in, to project an image of success and capability, to show our love. Beyond the responsibility of bills and life’s necessities, we are also subjected to a barrage of advertising that tells us our next purchase will make us fashionable, cool, respected, envied…. happy.

Often, people don’t question their impulse to buy more. We might need only a few things, yet consistently bring home extras we didn’t know we needed. This can be especially true when shopping online. Who hasn’t gone in search of a specific item only to end up down the rabbit hole with a shopping cart full of unexpected wants and “needs”? The question is, once you come up for air, do you pull the trigger on those purchases or do you sleep on it and reconsider the desire to spend more than you had planned?

Spending is an emotional process

It would be interesting to know what makes a person spend extra money on nonessentials, particularly when money is tight. In many cases, people are seeking to fill an emotional need they don’t realize they have. They might think “what’s the harm” in one or two nice things for themselves or their kids? After all, that $40, $60 or $100 isn’t going to do much to help their financial situation, right?

When feeling stressed, bored, underappreciated or unhappy, treating yourself to something new might not seem like the worst thing you could do. But over time, and unchecked, this emotional spending can make a bad situation much worse and add unnecessary stress to life and relationships—possibly triggering more spending and stress in the process.

The immediate personal gratification of buying yourself something new can be a feeling you want to repeat over and over. The thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction you feel at acquiring what you sought can overshadow the reality that you don’t need or can’t afford to be shopping. For many, the euphoria quickly fades, sometimes into feelings of guilt, and the stress lingers until the pursuit of something new begins again. It turns out that the emotional hole is one that cannot be filled with possessions, no matter how much time and money gets spent trying.

Question the need to shop

In a world that is quickly filling up with disposable toys, appliances, electronics and other garbage, there are a multitude of reasons to curb the consumerism our society promotes. Top among them is the possibility that all that spending and all that “stuff” is not actually bringing you want you want: acceptance and happiness. Often, the pressure to find a place for your new things, keep them clean, store them or dispose of them creates a sense of more to do in an already too-busy lifestyle. All-in-all, you might find yourself better off once you identify what is driving your need to shop.

Before allowing yourself to purchase something impulsively, ask yourself some questions. Will I use this? Do I actually need this? Will I still want this in five years? One year? If I leave it for now, would I bother to come back for it tomorrow? Quite often the answer will be no.

If the impulse to shop for unnecessary things persists, you might ask yourself a few more questions. Are you feeling unfulfilled in your career or relationship? Have you ceased to challenge yourself in other areas and are you in a rut that shopping can’t get you out of? Is it more serious than that? Have you suffered a loss and are you struggling to get back on your feet? Do you feel bad about yourself and have you stopped seeing the good in everyday life?

Nurture the spirit

There’s no amount of personal bling that can boost your spirits like having a real, genuine friend to talk to. Learning something new, challenging your body and mind, will invigorate you more than any object you could buy. Investing in your own personal development might not come for free but, in the end, you will have more to show for it (and hopefully be happier) than continuing the costly and self-destructive cycle of overspending on material things.

People have many reasons for spending their money the way that they do. They might be repeating the lifestyle they were raised in or maybe they’ve never thought of changing their ways. If they’re caught up on bills and have emergency funds and retirement money set aside, there is no real harm in indulging a few extravagant whims. But when people find themselves in a lifestyle they can’t sustain, maybe it’s time to stop seeking creature comforts and look within for the need you are trying fill.


  1. Oh good post! Really looking at why we purchase things in general, or specific items if you can identify a pattern, is important. And we should not just focus on whether we can afford an item but whether we need it and the why behind the purchase.

    I would also add that for some people shopping is a real addiction that should not be dismissed. Often these people may need to seek professional help.


    1. You're absolutely right, Pru! Something I need to explore in another column! Hope you're doing well :-)

    2. I hope you don't mind me adding my two cents, but I thought I would share this exchange is inspiring me to write a post from the viewpoint of someone who is struggling with recovery from a decade-long shopping addiction. The logic you shared here Jill resonates with me and always has, but the desire to shop has an uncanny ability to trump the logic, and there are very real emotional and even physical reactions that happen when struggling between the logic and the urge. Definitely on my "to think about/to write" list now. Thanks for the inspiration, ladies!

    3. So glad to have your point of view! I really look forward to reading a post about the "struggle between the logic and the urge". Such a great way to describe it. For me, though I've never struggled with a shopping addiction, I can see parallels with struggling with weight. It seems like it should be easy to do--exercise and eat right--but there are pitfalls around every corner and it's such an emotional, physical struggle. So much to think about here, thanks!

  2. So true. All of it. I remember a life coach friend sharing with me from a New Age book that I felt was a little too woo-woo for my taste, until she read something that really struck me. This author said that many problems in our personal lives comes down to one thing: not loving ourselves enough. When I think about it, it's true; whether it's staying in a job we feel undervalued at, in a relationship or friendship we feel we're being taken advantage of, or spending money we don't have or could allocate to more important things towards objects or fleeting wants instead, all these things can be made better by loving ourselves/taking care of ourselves more. True care, which is not splurging on an item for a temporary rush, but looking inwards to really make sure we're doing what it takes to feel fulfilled and happy with our lives.

    This post was a great reminder to ask ourselves, what are we really shopping for?

    1. FD, I think that's absolutely true. Before we do anything (jump into a commitment whether it be financial or personal) we should ask ourselves how we are really feeling about ourselves inside. I think it takes great self-awareness to be able to pinpoint our emotional needs on our own. And it takes great courage to seek out professional help for these questions. One thing about getting older, I am much more comfortable asking myself hard questions and answering them truthfully!