Are you an emotional spender? Most of us would like to answer “no” outright to that question. However, the more honest response is likely to be at least a tentative “yes.” According to a recent study there are many different types of emotions that can trigger a desire to spend money. However, the top four are boredom, sadness, stress or when you’re celebrating. So, it’s not just negative moods that can get us into trouble with our cash but upbeat moments too.
Which emotions leave us the most vulnerable?
According to a study conducted by MoneySuperMarket partnered with consumer behaviour experts MindLab, stress is the most expensive of our emotions. It’s the feeling that leaves us the most open to impulse buying. If you’re feeling stressed when you go shopping then the study found that you’re likely to spend 15% more than a happy shopper. We all have our own individual reasons for making impulse purchases when emotions are running high – these could include buying items that you wouldn’t normally buy because they feel like a treat or are comforting. So, unsurprisingly, food and drink are very popular stress impulse buying purchases, as are sweets, chocolate, shoes and clothes.
Other studies have identified reasons why specific emotions – other than stress – could trigger emotional spending, including:
Anger – angry people tend to take more risks and to be willing to do reckless things like purchasing an item they can’t afford.
Sadness – when we feel sad we might be more willing to give up a part of our future (i.e. money saved for something else or debt that will need to be paid off) to feel better now.
Guilt – feeling guilty can lead to purchases for others to feel better about ourselves.
On the whole we are all likely to spend more – and more often – if using credit cards as opposed to cash. A study that monitored supermarket spending over the course of a year found that those spending cash tended to spend less. There is something about paying with credit cards that makes the transaction feel less real. It’s much easier for us to respond to an emotionally driven desire to buy if we’re doing that with a credit card to hand. Cash, on the other hand, might make us think twice.
Online and ads
There’s no doubt that the online world has made it easier to impulse buy in some ways – online shops are always open and the advertising is inescapable. However, evidence suggests that we are starting to not respond to online advertising – a number of studies have found that people actually look away from ads designed to lure them into impulse purchases. And when it comes to an impulse purchase, being in a shop will always been more tempting in terms of being able to enjoy or consume a purchase as soon as you’ve paid for it. At least until instant delivery arrives in the UK…
Under 35s are the most likely to be emotional spenders and there are multiple explanations for this. Some attribute it to a lack of experience with money while others see the cause linked to the fact that young people today are more dissatisfied with their appearance than ever before. That’s one negative emotion for which the beauty and fashion industries provide a wealth of impulse buying opportunities.
Can impulse spending ever help negative emotions?
The pleasure receptors in the brain do light up in the moments before we make a purchase. So, some experts have suggested that there is definitely a feel good factor that is associated with buying. The secret is to activate that good feeling with a purchase that you can actually afford, as opposed to one that leaves you feeling guilty or wishing you hadn’t done it. However, overall there is very little evidence that buying goods ever helps us to feel better, according to the experts. If you want to buy something then purchasing an experience – as opposed to a ‘thing’ – could actually make a difference to how you feel. That’s especially the case if the experience is one that you’ll do with other people.
For most of us, the secret to controlling emotional spending is recognising the triggers that could lead us to it and that impulse buying is an issue that might need tackling. It doesn’t have to be a problem that gets completely out of control – the key, according to the experts, is to try to stay within the limits of what you can afford.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley