How does shopping affect our emotions?
Psychologist and founder of the TARA (Therapeutic Addiction Recovery Assistance) Clinic, Tara Hurster, explains that shopping helps to release feel-good hormones, leading us to crave the boost it gives us.
“We learn that shopping helps us to survive because it releases dopamine – therefore we do it again and again to experience short-term relief,” she says.
Unfortunately, this reward system in our brain can leave us ripe for addiction.
“Addiction is a behavioural pattern of engaging in actions that offer short-term relief and either helps us to move away from a feeling we don’t want, or move towards a feeling we do want,” Hurster explains.
Dangers of pick-me-up purchases
The problem with emotional spending is that while it feels great in the moment, the issues that triggered the desire to spend haven’t gone away.
In fact, they’re still there, alongside a silk pillowslip, flapping fish cat toy, personalised phone case (and whatever else Instagram has targeted us with).
The second problem, of course, is the damage it can do to our savings account.
“If we’re not factoring these spends into our budget then often they can lead to absolute chaos for our larger finance goals,” says Victoria Devine, author of She’s on the Money.
“When we get too deep into emotional spending, it can lead to a reliance on buy now pay later services, which often open people up to late fees/buying more of what they can’t afford and further sabotaging their financial goals.”
Be mindful with money
Both Hurster and Devine advocate for putting some time between you and your desire for retail therapy.
“When you feel the pull to brighten your day with a purchase, hold off for at least 24 to 48 hours and see if you still want the item.
“Usually, the thrill will have worn off by then and you’ll realise you’re not so keen after all,” says Devine.
Hurster suggests reflecting on past purchases and looking for what the trigger may have been. This can be useful to identify the motives behind any unhealthy spending habits.
“If it’s because you saw something on Instagram and made an impulse purchase, then learning impulse control techniques will help you to pause and make [considered] decisions,” she says.
“If the driver was because you were feeling down and wanted a pick-me-up, then spending some time journalling around what is behind the low mood may help you to find a solution for the actual problem, rather than covering the symptoms with a bandaid.”
None of this means that you have to abandon the idea of buying things you want for yourself.
“Treating ourselves and enjoying our money helps keep us motivated to work hard and there is nothing wrong with taking pleasure in the finer things in life,” says Devine.
The secret is to be honest with yourself and acknowledge when you’re using a purchase as a quick emotional boost.
It also helps to keep an account of these spending habits in order to keep your finances on track.
“The key is to factor these spends into your budget so you’re not compromising your savings, going into debt or sabotaging other major finance goals,” Devine adds.
She suggests setting up a “treat yourself” account that you contribute to every pay cycle and use this money to purchase things you want rather than need.
“So long as it doesn’t impact on your bigger goals, treats here and there are a good way of reminding yourself that your hard work and discipline isn’t for nothing,” Devine points out.