How to Stop Your ‘Emotional Spending’


Do you sometimes spend money when you’re feeling stressed, depressed, excited, or bored? This “emotional spending” is often impulsive and doesn’t align with your financial goals.

Instead of pushing these feelings down or living in denial, financial therapist Lindsay Bryan-Podvin believes it’s much wiser to recognize these underlying emotions, get comfortable with them, and find other ways to address those emotional needs.

How to stop your emotional spending

Bryan-Podvin tackles it from a clinical perspective. She says there are four main “happy hormones”  that get released when we shop: Oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Therefore, if you struggle with emotional spending, it may help to think about how else you can satisfy the needs currently being provided by spending money.

For instance, let’s take a look at oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Maybe you turn to shopping when you feel lonely. But how else could you meet your need for connection? Before you start throwing your money at material things, consider calling a loved one. Or if available to you, physical touch is a surefire way to get a boost of oxytocin, according to Harvard Medical School. Taking a yoga class, getting a massage, and spending quality time with a pet are all good ideas. Bryan-Podvin says you could even scroll through old pictures on Instagram—we’re not saying this is always healthy, but at least it’s free.

Now, turning to serotonin, your mood stabilizer. Serotonin is all about wellbeing and happiness. If you’re feeling down, shaky, and off-balance, what other things could help you feel steady? Some ideas from Bryan-Podvin as well as the Cleveland Clinic include going for a walk, cooking, meditating, or rewatching one of your comfort shows.

Dopamine is the pleasure hormone, with a motivational role in the brain’s reward system. If you’re in the market for something shiny and new, consider taking on a new hobby or going somewhere you’ve never been with a friend. Similar to the examples above, think about what gives you a rush of pleasure: A good meal? Getting a massage? People watching in the park? There are plenty of things to try before you immediately turn to retail therapy.

Finally, endorphins primarily help deal with stress and reduce feelings of pain. You get these from feeling a sense of accomplishment. Exercise is probably the most well-cited shortcut to get some endorphins flowing. So instead of buying yet another motivation bullet journal, consider going for a longer walk or run than you usually do—anything to push yourself, even a a little. 

The bottom line

The takeaway here is not a science lesson, but to actively notice the emotions you’re feeling. When you do so, you can make a conscientious decision about whether or not spending will actually fill that void. (Hint: It probably won’t.)

Stay self-aware and proactive to break the emotional spending cycle. Refocus on activities and goals that truly build long-term happiness and financial health. Your wallet and overall wellbeing will thank you.

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