Gentle pressure can stop the bleeding when you accidentally poke yourself with a knife while slicing a bagel. But it's not so easy to get your spending in line, particularly if you shop in reaction to stress.
Clinical studies support the idea that mood affects your shopping behavior. A graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University and her research team concluded that sad, self-focused people spend more. And respondents to a study by Clicktale said they'd shop in reaction to hunger, boredom, anxiety, and social awkwardness. Some 40% specifically said they'd shopped as a way to calm down during stressful circumstances.
When your shopping is mood-related, you need more than a solid budget to guide you -- you need real strategies to identify and manage the emotions before they drive you to reach for your wallet. Here are five of those strategies to try now.
1. Keep a spending diary
Apps can track what you spend, but they don't do a great job of tracking why you spend. Often, the $5 cup of coffee isn't just about your love for almond-milk lattes. Maybe you're buying those pricey drinks because you feel too rushed in the morning to make yourself breakfast. Once you realize what's driving the coffee habit, you can take steps to solve it. You might set your alarm earlier, stock up on premade breakfast foods, or buy a coffeepot with a timer and prep your coffee the night before.
Commit to taking notes on your discretionary purchases for two weeks. Jot down what you bought, how you were feeling at the time, and your top reason for making the purchase. Hopefully, you'll see patterns emerge. You might learn that you shop when you're bored, stressed, or lonely. Whatever insights pop up, address those directly. To address boredom, you could join a book club or a recreational sports team for the social interaction. To manage stress, you might try yoga or meditation.
2. Leave your wallet at home
You can also curb spending by leaving your walletful of cards at home. Invest in a smartphone case that has only three or four card slots. Use those for your identification, health and auto insurance cards, and a gas card. You can keep one credit card in the digital wallet on your phone, but reserve that for emergencies only.
If online spending is problematic for you, disable the browser features that store your credit card number. You could also try a browser extension like StayFocusd, which blocks you from visiting websites you specify.
3. Unsubscribe from those emails
Retailers put a lot of effort into convincing you to buy things you don't actually need. Lower your exposure to that messaging by unsubscribing from promotional emails and text alerts.
While you're at it, you can also keep retailer ads from popping up in your Facebook News Feed. To do so, tap the "..." in the top right corner of any ad. You should see an option labeled "Why am I seeing this?" Follow the prompts to hide ads from specific advertisers who may cause you trouble.
To limit the ads you see on social media and other websites, you could also install an ad-blocker extension like Adblock Plus.
4. Adopt new, low-cost hobbies
You can also adopt a low-cost hobby to fill up your spare time and provide an alternative activity to shopping. Amazon Prime members have access to thousands of free Kindle books -- and you don't need a Kindle device to read them; just download the free Kindle app for iOS, Android, Windows, or MacOS. If reading isn't your thing, you could try gardening, walking, blogging, drawing, or coloring. Or try learning a new skill online, like calligraphy or speaking French.
5. Get an accountability partner
An accountability partner is someone who's willing to give you tough love about your spending. The right person for this job will be objective, assertive, trustworthy, and knowledgeable with respect to your spending blind spots and your budget. Don't ask your spouse to fill this role if the two of you have a history of fighting about money. Instead, try a good friend or relative who doesn't live with you.
Make sure this partner can be available by phone or text on days when you're feeling particularly stressed out. Also plan regular meetings with your accountability partner once every few days, to review your spending and discuss what you've learned from your spending diary.
Stress shopping is manageable
Stress shopping is real, but manageable. The good news is, if you put in the legwork to develop new habits, your efforts will be handsomely rewarded. Once you learn the skill of sticking to your budget, you'll be the master of your finances -- keeping credit card debt under control, saving for your future, and reaching the financial goals you set.