Spending money is often linked to our emotions, and how we are feeling. These emotional triggers are what make us feel compelled to spend. In order to stop spending it is important that we recognise why we are spending money on things that we do not need. What are our emotional triggers? The advertising industry preys on these emotions to tempt us to spend. The main emotions that they target are excitement, sadness and stress, according to research. Below are 4 emotional blocks that I had to over come in order to stop spending without thought, and before I could become a more intentional consumer.
Short term gratification
Our moods and how we are feeling about ourselves means that we often spend money for short term gratification. Buying something new can often give us a buzz and feel exciting, but unfortunately when the credit card bill hits the mat, or you realise how low your bank balance is, that feeling quickly disappears. At times in my life I would buy myself clothes I didn’t need to help me feel better about myself, and treat myself to try and raise my self esteem, or because I felt down and depressed. Despite being on a good wage I was still living pay cheque to pay cheque. It wasn’t until I started to set myself long term goals, for example saving to retire, paying off the mortgage, saving money to travel, or saving a deposit for a house, that I started to move forward again with my financial situation. Having a long term financial goal and a reason ‘ why’ really motivated me not to waste money on things that I did not need. The gratification of watching my mortgage go down, or my savings increase gave me as much of a buzz as buying something would have done.
Habits and historical behaviour
Up until recently we were all living in a time of plenty. It was easy to get credit and we could more or less have any thing that we pleased, and then worry about paying for it later. The old stigma of being in debt that was there in my younger days, was gone. I did not realise how bad my habits had become, and how much money I was wasting, until I hit a crisis in 2010, and I was forced to assess my financial situation.
I realised from looking through my bank accounts that every time I went to fill my car with petrol I would buy a chocolate bar. Every time I went to the supermarket I would buy magazines and snacks that I did not need. My wardrobe was full of clothes I had hardly worn, and I ate out regularly and had got into the habit of grabbing snacks as I thought that I did not have time to make a meal for myself. All these habits of buying things on my credit cards, and spending money unintentionally, were preventing me from thriving. I was surviving and living pay cheque to pay cheque even though at that time I was earning a decent wage. None of my spending was intentional as I was stressed from my job and shopping felt like a release.
It was not easy to break these habits. As well as working on myself to reduce my feelings of stress and depression (life coaching, time in nature, journaling etc), I had to implement strategies to change the habits. This included leaving my credit cards at home and only spending cash, setting a low supermarket budget so that there was nothing left for magazines and other things I did not need. I even took some one with me when I filled the car, and their job was to remind me not to buy a chocolate bar. I also implemented new habits to take the old habit’s place. I would walk along the canal to the supermarket as I felt happy being out in nature, and I could not carry a lot if I did not have the car and so I was more mindful about what I was buying. I started keeping receipts and writing them up in a book to see how much I had spent each day. This made me realise the amount I was wasting and was a way of keeping a check on myself. I got a star in my diary against the days when I had not spent anything. It took a few months but those new habits became my new normal behaviour.
Our emotional reactions and impulses work a lot faster than our rational thoughts and so it is important to ingrain these new habits into every day life.
Work became my life at one time. It filled the gap when the children got their own lives. and then left. I found myself without many friends as I had dedicated my life to bringing up the children on my own and improving my career to be able to provide a good life for them. It is not as easy at that stage of life to make friends.
I was lonely living on my own, and felt constantly sad, and going to the shops was a way of being amongst people and a kind of self soothing. They even call it retail therapy. To change this habit I joined a local friendship group, an online friendship group, and later took in a friend who became my lodger. I made some lovely friends this way, many of whom are still in my life now. This filled the gap and I no longer felt lonely. My spending reduced. I also started to enjoy my own company the more I got used to it. Once the trigger of feeling lonely was reduced, I no longer felt that I had to go out as often. Some people that live with people can still feel lonely, or go out to the shops or the pub to get away from a situation. Finding a way to reduce the loneliness really changed my spending habits.
Some times our lives can seem so mundane. It can feel like it is all work, housework, looking after kids, and sleep. We just want to escape and so we spend money to help us do that. I remember in mid life thinking “is this all there is to life?”. I would booked expensive holidays to try to escape the mundane routine. Some people buy status symbols like cars to make their life feel more exciting.
Shopping became a leisure activity to fill time and I would arrange to meet my daughter and we would spend a day shopping, needing very little of what we had bought. It was a way of spending time together. We have now developed hobbies and other ways of spending time together, or on our own. Often we will go for a walk in nature or visit historic buildings with out National Trust cards. We have even started to garden and cook together. I also have my on line group and website to keep me busy now. It is important to find something that you enjoy doing to pass the time, be it crafts, reading, or what ever you love doing. For me it was writing and helping other people. My children and I all avoid shopping centres now, and never shop together, unless we really need something and need some one else’s opinion. This has helped us all reach our financial goals.
What are your emotional triggers? Finding new ways to deal with your emotions is as important in reducing spending as making a budget. It will help you stick to your financial goals and reduce overspending on things that you do not really need.