Temptation Triggers: 5 Ways To Avoid Emotional Spending When You're In Debt

You've heard of emotional eating, but what about emotional spending? In 2012, nearly 60% of Canadians admitted they shop to improve their mood. If you're caught in this cycle, use the following tips to avoid accumulating more debt.

1. Set a Delay Threshold

Impulse spending is unplanned. It could be as small as a candy bar snagged off the display in the supermarket checkout line or as big as a 60-inch television you didn't know you needed until you saw it on the shelf.

As an emotional spender, your motivation for impulse purchases is to make yourself feel better. To combat this tendency, set a delay threshold that forces you to wait before you make a purchase.

For example, if an item costs more than $50, you force yourself to wait 24 hours before buy it, but if it costs more than $200, you have to wait a week. After time passes, you'll often realize you don't need (or even want) that item as much as you thought.

2. Make a List

Before you get in your car for a shopping trip, make a list of all the items you need. This might sound tedious and boring, but it curbs emotional spending because you're shopping with a plan rather than wandering aimlessly through a store.

A list doesn't eliminate the potential for emotional spending, but it reduces your risk. To stick to your list:

  • Set a time limit for each store
  • Organize your list by department so you're not zig-zagging through the store
  • Carry a pen to write down the name of an item you might want to buy later (but won't pick up today)
  • Never substitute one item for another

3. Know Your Weaknesses

Maybe you're a self-employed professional with a penchant for office supplies or an avid gamer who grabs every title as soon as it's released. Knowing your emotional spending weaknesses will help you avoid this trap.

If your weaknesses are related to a specific store, such as a coffee shop or clothing boutique, avoid those places as much as possible. If, on the other hand, you can find your weakness in any big box store, learn where they are shelved. Avoid that aisle whenever you shop.

4. Know Your Triggers

Your emotional spending is triggered by a particular feeling or event. You might notice that you are more likely to overspend when you:

  • Have a bad day or a very good day
  • Mourn a defeat or celebrate a victory
  • Want to impress others
  • Feel the need to compete with peers

You might have noticed from the above list that negative emotions aren't the only triggers. You might find your emotional spending occurs most often when you're feeling great, in which case you're trying to extend or enhance that feeling.

Pay attention to your spending habits to determine your triggers. Keep a shopping journal or track your purchases in your checking account register. When you experience one of your triggers, reach out to a loved one or engage yourself in an activity that doesn't involve shopping.

5. Shop with a Friend

Another way to avoid emotional spending is to avoid shopping alone. Appoint a friend or loved one as your accountability partner in shopping so he or she can help keep your spending urges in check.

This person isn't your personal police officer or warden. He or she can't kidnap your checkbook or remove you forcibly from the store. Instead, rely on this individual as the voice of reason as you shop—and decide in advance that you'll listen to his or her counsel.

When you're struggling to get out of debt, emotional spending will produce the opposite result. Consult with a debt consolidation expert and financial counselor to help you make smart choices when it comes to finances.