Robert Kiyosaki calls them “doodads”. Vicki Robin calls them “Gazingus Pins”. Otherwise known as an unconscious spending weakness.
We all have them.
Be it books, journals, notebooks, scarves, shoes, bags, jewellery, makeup, watches (like my mum), toys for your kids, there will be SOMETHING you can’t resist spending money on.
For me its shoes.
Oh, and journals. I never seem to be able to resist a journal.
My biggest ever emotional purchase was on a pair of red-soled shoes by a certain Mr Louboutin. Don’t get me wrong – before this, I had NEVER spent more than £50 on a pair of heels, let alone the cost of these bad boys, nor have I since (but maybe this will change one day).
I had lusted after a pair for years, and promised myself that if I passed my horrendously difficult medical exams when I was doing obstetrics and gynaecology many years ago now, I would reward myself because I deserved them!
Now, in my world, there is nothing wrong with spending money on things we want.
I am ABSOLTELY all about rewarding yourself for a job well done or a goal reached. We celebrate people’s wins often in my community.
But what does cause problems is if this celebrating is done without thought or planning. In other words, when we allow our unconscious emotions to guide our spending.
In the case of my expensive shoes, did I think about how I was going to pay for them? Absolutely not. I used my credit card with no idea how I would pay for them later.
Ah, so maybe I was a savvy credit-card user and paid the bill off in full the next month?
Maybe the shoes earned me points that I later wisely used on flights around the world.
Erm, again, nope.
Do you know what I did? I left it on the card to accumulate interest, paid only minimum repayments, and added to my ever-increasing debt-hole (something I have vowed I will never do again).
Why did I do this? Because I didn’t know any better, and wanted them because I wanted them.
I can hear you giggling – please tell me I’m not the only one that does stuff like this?!
The income trap
“Oh but Nikki, you’re a doctor and earn loads of money, why did you get into debt?” I thought this too. I thought that because I’m a doctor, I’ll pay it off eventually because I’ll always have a good income. It’s a trap that a lot of high earners get themselves into.
Quite simply, I felt that I deserved them because I’d worked so hard. I wanted to feel rich and glamorous because life at the time felt anything but. I’d bought into the false assumption that because I earned a good income, in a job that was in demand, I was fully capable of paying this back one day. Instead of looking at my current financial status and emotional well-being I relied on my EMOTIONS to do my thinking and purchased them anyway.
I justified the purchase of the shoes in a number of ways:
“How amazing do I look in these shoes? My boyfriend will love them!”
“Everyone will be impressed and gives me loads of compliments”
“They’re an investment because so many outfits will look good with them”
“If I pick black I’ll wear them with everything, then it won’t be so bad”
There were definitely no savvy money-related thoughts going through my brain that day. I did have a lot of fun trying them on though and still absolutely love them (just sadly not wearing them as much right now!). So I suppose it could have been worse.
But what was I chasing at the time? Dopamine.
Self-Soothing With Spending
I wanted to feel some control in my life (because I didn’t at the time). I was stressed, anxious and burnt-out. Spending for me at the time was a balm to try and soothe the emotional pain I was in.
Since becoming a money coach, I’ve learned that this is a very common pattern. Spending money is one of a number of addictions that we use to try and make ourselves feel better. We “numb” the problem with the “high” of buying something new. Addictions flood our brains with fun hormones like dopamine which gives us a pleasurable feeling. Eating, drinking, exercise, sex and drugs all produce a similar effect.
The short-term dopamine hit feels great, but the crash that follows, not so much.
Have you ever regretted a purchase only to take it back later? That’s sign of emotional spending.
Where do you do this?
What is your emotional spending weakness?
- spend money you don’t have when going to the pub on a Saturday night, and buy everyone drinks when you know you have rent/mortgage money due soon, but do it anyway because you don’t want to feel like the tight-arse?
- overspend at the supermarket with little indulgences just because you’re tired, don’t want to cook, or feel like treating yourself for the end of a hard week?
- buy your partner, parents or kids presents because you’ve been working too hard and don’t see or speak to them much?
- pass by a certain shop on your way home from work and can’t resist stopping to make a cheeky purchase because it makes you feel good?
- buy the latest shade of lipstick even though you have SO MANY already?
- have a mountain of books or notebooks that haven’t ever been used?
If you’re not sure, take a look at your last few bank statements. What story does it give you? Which shop regularly pops up?
I’m not writing this to make you feel bad or judge you in any way. I am still guilty of emotional spending myself!
I also don’t want you to stop spending money on things that make you feel good.
I’m writing this to help you to bring awareness to your spending. Like emotional eating, emotional spending can be disastrous for your wealth. Without planning or accounting for your treats, you run the risk of running out of money every month and have no clue where it all went.
Cutting out lattes is NOT the key to wealth building (I’m so over that “millenial” sterotype), but if you’re buying things you don’t even want because you’re doing it on autopilot, then this can be a goldmine for finding savings to put towards things you actually want (like savings, investments and holidays!).
How To Break The Emotional Spending Addiction
The good news is that you are fully capable of doing something about it. Once you are aware, you can change your habits and stop resorting to emotional-spending (unconscious), and plan for it (conscious).
Find out what your gazingus pin is
Firstly, go through a few bank statements and look for patterns. Which shops pop up again and again and again? Can you remember what you purchased from these shops?
Add up how much you spend on it every month
How much do you spend on this (roughly) every month? Tally it all up. Many budgeting apps now do this for you. I will never forget the day that my app told me how much I spent on takeaways last year… answer: embarassingly too much.
Does it bring you joy?
If the thing you’re buying regularly brings you joy, then fab, keep doing it. But channel your inner Marie Kondo and ditch anything you spend money on that doesn’t any more.
Avoid the trigger
If you want to ditch a regular spend, find ways to avoid the trigger to do this. In my money planner, I get users to keep a record of unplanned spending and note how they were feeling at the time. If stress causes you to spend, what can you do differently to reduce your stress levels? No amount of unconscious spending will help to cure the root cause.
If a certain shop is triggering you, can you change your route? Unsubscibe from emails? Make it harder to spend by taking the options off of your phone? Have you noticed how everything is made so much easier to spend money with just a click now?
Work it into the budget
If you want to keep the spend, then add it into your monthly budget and go for it! I use the pots function in my monzo account and label them accordingly. Failing that, you could take a chunk of money out in cash to spend on what you enjoy so it keeps it away from money used for bills etc.
Have fun with your purchases and USE them. Don’t leave nice underwear for special occasions – every day is a special occasion!
Don’t go on a crash diet
It can be tempting to go the other way after discovering this information about your spending habits. I’ve seen so many people start “no spend” years this year, and I wonder how much of it comes from wanting to “repent” after overspending or getting into debt. The problem with being over restrictive is eventually you’ll be tempted to have a big blow-out and risk overspending. You don’t have to be restrictive, allow yourself a regular spending fix!
Spending money is not a problem when it is conscious. Spending money is allowed to be fun! Emotional spending or unconscious spending can be a problem if it is left unchecked, especially if you need the money elsewhere.
So don’t be afraid to look at what you’re doing. Check in with your emotions and find healthy outlets to release them. Set aside money to spend on your doodads without eating in to all the other things your money needs to take care of.
Now it’s your turn. Send me a comment below of some of the stupid stuff you’re done with your money!
I’m on facebook with a private free group you can join to discuss all things money with me – join in here. It helps to be surrounded by other like-minded friendly people to help you through.
That’s it from me.
Until next time,
3 thoughts on “A shoe isn’t “just a shoe” – the trap of emotional spending and how to break the addiction”
Pingback: 12 Small Steps I take To Save Up For The BIG Things I Want
Before I started working on my money stuff, I was a sucker for emotional spending. When I was younger, it was the ”cos I’m worth it’ rationale, on things for myself. When I became a consultant and had young children whom I either didn’t see or was too tired to enjoy their company it was on things for them to try to assuage my guilt. Since I took early retirement our household income has reduced but I make far fewer emotional purchases, because I realised that the time I spend with my family is priceless.
Thank you for visiting – I can’t tell you how much that means to me! 🙂
I love how you have really looked at where you were spending, and why. I completely understand where you’re coming from. I also love the fact that even though you now have less money coming into your life, you’re spending less too – I think that’s a common trap we can all easily get into. If we live beneath our means, and don’t spend excessively on non-essentials, then we can tolerate the ups and downs of our income. I strongly believe this would reduce the burden of many patients too – for example, maternity leave cut short due to financial stress or not being able to pay bills due to cancer/chronic illness. Sadly, its not something we’re used to doing – instead the “I’m worth it” mindset is much more widespread.
Thank you for taking the time to comment, I’ll keep at it! 🙂