Do You Let Your Emotions Fill Your Shopping Bag?

3 Minute Read

Girl loves boy. Boy breaks up with girl. Girl spends way too much on shoes during a session of retail therapy.

You’ve seen it on TV a thousand times. Yes, it’s a ridiculous stereotype, but it happens—to women and men.

We buy something to cheer ourselves up when we’re stressed, anxious, sad or afraid. It’s called retail therapy, and we’ve all experienced it in one way or another.


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This "harmless" fun can lead to a budgeting headache when the excitement fades. (Why did I buy that gold-plated tissue box again?) Retail therapy is just a short-term fix for a bigger problem. And it’s not the most effective coping method for whatever ails you.

Retail therapy is just a short-term fix for a bigger problem.

Next time, have a better plan. Here’s how to keep your emotions away from your shopping cart:

Is Retail Therapy in the Budget?

While you can’t predict when something difficult will happen, you can be prepared for it when it does. A good budget can help control your emotional spending.

Before the month begins, decide how much of your income will go toward your essentials (like rent and utilities) and how much will go toward your money goals (like paying off debt or building your emergency fund).

Then divide the rest of your income and put it toward anything else you want or need. As long as your budget equals zero at the end of the month, your plan is set!

Related: Need help with budgeting? Check out our free budget software, EveryDollar.

How to Prevent Emotional Spending

Now, it’s time for the hard part—sticking to the plan. When you’re too tired or stressed to think rationally about your spending, stop! Then ask yourself three questions:

  1. Why do I want this item? Did you find yourself driving to the store five minutes ago with no idea of what you were looking for? Impulse alert! When you’re feeling down in the dumps, skip the window-shopping and opt for a Redbox cryfest instead. Cheaper and more therapeutic.
  2. Will I really use it? Is that cat hat you’re buying for Mr. Whiskers really going to serve you (or him) in the long run? How about those cast-iron bacon bowls? Can’t you just eat your meat next to your eggs? Ask yourself how often you’re going to use whatever it is you want. If it’s a buy-it-and-forget-it purchase, go ahead and forget it now.
  3. Does it fit within my budget? Let’s say you started saving for a new grill this month. But you had a particularly exhausting week at work and decided you want to buy it pronto. The only problem is you don’t have the cash you need. Think about it like this: Those burgers will taste way better on a debt-free grill than on a financed one. Way better.

Don’t buy things based on how you feel. Buy things based on your budget. That may mean waiting on certain purchases until your head clears and life settles down again.

Don’t buy things based on how you feel. Buy things based on your budget.

And if you still want it after that (and you have room in your budget), buy your fancy shoes or your gas grill! Just wait until the moment’s right.

Use the envelope system to help you when retail therapy rears its ugly head. When the cash is gone, it’s gone. No overspending and no regrets.

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