Overspending comes with an emotional cost

I’m a thirtysomething-year-old woman with a spending problem. Even though I have debt accumulating, I can’t stop buying things or spending money on events and travel. When I’m honest with myself, I realize this has been a problem for many years. I’ve tried to scale back but it never seems to make much of a difference with my debt. This makes me feel worse, so I just want to spend more money. How can I break this cycle?


Retail therapy no more!

Break out your scissors and go cut your credit cards. All that consuming you’ve been doing is consuming you. This numbing with overspending is coming at too high an emotional cost. Your behaviors are impacting not only your finances but chipping away at your self-worth.

Although you may feel temporarily and superficially elevated or high when you buy, the crash inevitably comes in the form of guilt or shame. This becomes a cycle of trying to boost your self-image and mood, only to feel worse later.

People overspend compulsively to feel better about themselves or to feel more secure. The issue boils down to your identity, your image and your values. A compulsive spender is someone who is impulsive and preoccupied with purchasing things and experiences. This is all a technique to distract from uncomfortable feelings, an attempt to fit an image of who you wish you could be, a way to fill a void in your life or all of the above.

We are a materialistic, consumer-driven society. Advertisers tell us we are what we eat, wear and drive and that the stuff we own is a measure of our worth and success. This detracts from real sources of meaning and purpose in our life.

Resist societal pressure by turning off commercials and advertisements and avoiding materialistic people as best you can. I also recommend avoiding your danger zones, those places you are more likely to overspend. (Of course, this is now harder given the ease of shopping online.) Start observing your emotional triggers; do you spend more when you’re procrastinating or after you’ve had a fight with your partner?

Your desire to purchase could be due to your childhood. If your parents did not give you time, energy or love as a way to help you feel secure, valued and important, you may feel neglected and empty, filling that void with shopping and purchasing.

April Benson, the author of “To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Shop and How to Stop,” suggests the following questions as a way to become more self aware about your spending behaviors, in an effort to change it: How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for this? Where will I put it?

Putting the pause button on an impulse buy with these questions can shift you from your emotional mind to your practical mind. Like any addiction, this will take time and require support.

Your next step will be to learn how to get your finances in order. Set aside an afternoon and create a budget.

Notice the categories you spend money on that are mindless and unsatisfying. Notice what else in your life provides you with abundance. Is it time with family, friends or your pet? Is it being in the outdoors, engaging in a creative hobby, or helping a neighbor in need? This will connect you to what you value on a deeper level.

If you have to choose a category to indulge on, I would recommend experiences over stuff; a special vacation or dining out with someone you enjoy provides memories that will feed your soul more than another handbag.

They say “money talks.” Right now it’s telling you to ease up. Possessions are not the key to your happiness.

Choose a different way to meet material and emotional needs. Notice the support, love, strength and novelty that exists in your life, free of charge.