Why I’m an Emotional Spender (and How You Can Avoid Being One)

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Cashmere Sweaters

The colors! The cashmere! No good can come of this.

It’s easy to get caught up in the math of money, but there’s a side to spending that can’t be quantified numerically. We spend (or don’t spend) for the emotional payoff, not the actual dollars and cents.


I owe my success in debt repayment and saving to constant vigilance against the emotional traps of spending. However, I readily fall victim to those traps whenever I let my guard down. Here are three reasons why.

I Am Easily Tricked

At any given moment, all kinds of sights, sounds, and smells entice us to buy. From the music playing in a store, to the arrangement of the aisles, to the placement of products, everything is strategically assembled to encourage customers to stay longer and spend more.

To add insult to injury, once you buy one thing, it’s easier to buy more. This could be as minor as one iTunes download leading to six or as major as a trip to the mall for a pair of jeans turning into a complete wardrobe overhaul.

How to stop it: The best defense is a strong offense, so if you don’t need to set foot in a store today, don’t. Corporate marketing can only find you if you let it, so hide as best you can.

I Think More Is Better

If I find something I love, I become convinced I need to purchase a full collection in order to be happy. I am certain buying every hue of a single T-shirt will add an equal amount of joy to my closet and life—but it turns out that more really isn’t better.

According to the law of diminishing returns, our first acquisition of an object we desire begets a huge emotional pay off, but each subsequent success is less fulfilling. So even if I think I need six tees to fill my newfound emotional void, psychology says one will probably suffice.

How to stop it: Once you get what you want, bask in the glow of your success. Hug your new leather boots to your chest, read that new novel cover to cover on a luxurious Sunday afternoon, or sip your favorite latte in a slow, appreciative silence. After all, you’re a connoisseur of quality, not quantity.

I Get Bored Fast

On a similar note, our appreciation for our purchases wanes as time passes. A few months ago, I splurged on a cashmere sweater. The first few wears, I adhered to strict dry-clean only rules and always returned it safely to my closet. Six months later, it’s not uncommon for me to discard the sweater into a laundry pile on the floor.

I haven’t forgotten how much I spent on it, so why does it matter less now? Nearly everything loses its luster in everyday familiarity.

How to stop it: Research shows that one thing we spend our money on that stands the test of time is our experiences. Our memories are less vulnerable to progressive disinterest, so spending your money on a concert ticket or a trip abroad will get you the most bang for your buck.

Be wary of emotional spending traps, shoppers. Stay strong, shop with a list, and always, always follow the how-to-wash instructions on a garment tag.

Have a tip for avoiding emotional spending? Share it in the comments.

(Photo: colros)

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  1. Aaron Weber January 30, 2013 / 11:29 am

    That part about how one purchase leads to another really resonated for me. I definitely get a shopping momentum going, and once I’ve bought some shoes it’s easier to buy some pants, and if you spend $100 on item A, $50 on item B seems like nothing, regardless of whether it’s a good deal, and the next thing you know…

  2. Glenn Hall January 30, 2013 / 12:34 pm

    We are all easily tricked. Check out the “15 ways supermarkets make you spend more money”.


    The way to beat their game is to make a list of exactly what you need and stick to it. When you get to the store ignore the music (enticing you to buy), ignore the displays at the end of the aisle (enticing you to buy), and especially ignore the items at the checkout (enticing you to buy at huge markups).

    this way, when you get home and you are emptying your shopping bags, you won’t be thinking, “why on earth did I buy this!”.

  3. Ryan Lane January 30, 2013 / 12:50 pm

    Hah! I’m a 100% eye-level shopper no matter where I go.

  4. Faith February 1, 2013 / 1:48 pm

    I heard about the law of diminishing returns in a book called “Made To Stick.” The example they used was popcorn at the movie theater. You don’t need a large even though it comes with free refills because you probably won’t get a refill and if you do…you won’t enjoy it nearly as much.

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