How to stop Emotional Spending


A popular woman’s credit card advertising slogan proclaims – “The Men Don’t Get It!” Its billboard features a pretty young lady holding a pair of red designer heels – looking triumphant, as if she has just won the lottery.
I was taken aback by the sexist tone of the ad and what it suggests: that we women lack self control; that sexy heels are all we’ll ever need. Men don’t get it but that’s ok. We are women, therefore we must shop.

Much as I dislike the ad, there’s some truth behind it. We love retail therapy and we are emotional spenders. Especially when something catches our eye; when something is on Sale or when we’ve had a bad day! We want to believe that those shoes or that dress would make us feel more attractive and happier.

A search online shows that the credit card marketer knows all our hot buttons to push. They offer any woman earning $30,000 and above, the promise of a glamourous lifestyle. They can charge vacations, fine dining and luxury goods to their credit card. Payment can also be stretched out with 12 monthly installments. The installment plan however, comes with an upfront fee.

Even if you’re a woman who can afford everything, do you really need all the stuff that retailers and credit cards are urging you to buy?  I know from my past experience that I don’t.  For many years, I was a shopaholic who loved visiting designer sales events and factory outlets whenever I travelled overseas. I would fork out hundreds of dollars for clothes and shoes that I hardly wear – only to donate them to the Salvation Army as I clear space for more shopping ‘finds’.

Recently I opened my shoe closet and counted more than 20 pairs of shoes (this is a relatively modest number – there are women who dedicate an entire room to store hundreds of pairs of shoes) I had to discard most of them – especially the fashionable pointy ones – because I have a painful foot condition that makes wearing these shoes excruciating and unhealthy!

Clearing out my shoes made me recall why I bought them.  It was because they were ‘On Sale’. Sometimes I had a big occasion but ‘nothing to wear’. I recall the hours spent at the store trying them on, choosing them.  Yes, for a brief moment they made me happy and gave me a rush. But my love affair with those shoes would fade as quickly as they started.

Advertisers know this and don’t waste time. They go for the kill by capturing our attention and speaking to our vanity, our loneliness and our fears. We cave in, and usually end up buying too much stuff that we don’t need or use.

Emotional spending is usually triggered by the following

  • Boredom – Whenever you’re feeling low, shopping becomes a pick-me-up, an escape from problems that you’re avoiding.
  • Lack of purpose  – Shopping fills the void when you are directionless and don’t have other goals that you care deeply about. Powerful and purposeful women focus on much bigger goals than owning the latest handbag.

Love and Appreciation – Buying stuff to reward yourself is normal. You are telling yourself that you are worth the pampering. Indulging yourself occasionally is fine – as long as you don’t lose control. It’s like eating chocolate cake – eating too many slices will make you fat.

How does one snap out of emotional spending?

  • Keep your goals upfront –  Find a goal that’s far bigger and more meaningful to you than just buying more stuff. If you’ve set yourself the goal of climbing Everest, I guarantee that you won’t spend a minute on mindless retail therapy.
  • Develop a spending plan – Anticipate what you need to spend at the beginning of the month and allocate your money accordingly. This stops you from impulse shopping
  • Delay Gratification – If an item looks good but doesn’t match your goals or fall under your monthly spending plan, pause and don’t take out that credit card. If you must have it, put it on next month’s spending plan. Chances are, by the time next month rolls around, the item may be less desirable. If you buy it, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it is a planned and carefully considered purchase instead of an emotional one.
  • Be Creative – Instead of going to the mall, go for a walk or a run. Instead of buying something to feel better, spend time with your loved ones and spread a little love and happiness. Instead of fine dining in a restaurant, entertain at home and be your own Jamie Oliver.

These actions won’t endear us to retailers and credit card marketers because their business thrives on our emotional spending!  But it will help you save a whole lot of money and shift your focus to goals and relationships that bring greater value and joy to your life.