Understanding Emotional Spending

Young girl hiding the right hand side of her face with her hand

Ever asked yourself why you just can’t seem to save money? Wonder why you compulsively spend and sabotage your efforts? For some of us, money is emotional and spending is temporarily therapeutic. Figuring out why we spend and ultimately work against our own best self interests is important. In understanding emotional spending, we can recognize these situations, stop them in their tracks and at the very least, minimize the damage.  Awareness incites change. It is a process and doesn’t happen overnight but we can get there.


Money. It fills in the holes and pads the gaps in different parts of our lives. It’s not something that gets a lot of thought. It just happens. There are 5 ways that we use money to fill emotional needs:

Emotional Needs

Love/belonging – buying things can fill that need for love and belonging that we aren’t finding through legitimately fulfilling connection with the people in our lives.

Play – living a life filled to the brim with big toys and expensive trips can be a substitute for a balanced work/home life. Workaholics are particularly susceptible because their lives are constructed in such a way that it is literally all work and no play.

Sadness – spending can fill the emptiness in our lives. People that experience a lot of ongoing sadness spend up to 30% more than those that don’t experience chronic ‘lows’.

Freedom – the feeling of being trapped can be temporarily lifted because you have control and choice. Where they often feel that there is no choice in work, relationships or other areas of life, they will spend and often overspend.

Personal Power – when life is out of control and the responsibility for it lays at the feet of others.  It may provide an opportunity to get revenge or show control.


What Emotional Spending Looks Like

Over-spenders tend to fall into one or more of the following categories. Recognizing any of these behaviours in yourself is a sign that you need to examine your money habits on a closer level.

Image –  If you spend it like it grows on trees or believe that the image of success or wealth is paramount then you could be an image spender. If you are constantly picking up the tab, driving prestigious vehicles, wearing designer clothes and racking up large debt to do so then this may be you.

Compulsive – compulsive spending with the thought that every purchase has some unique ability to change your life and the way the world perceives you. This can often lead to having bags of goods that still have the tags on them or remain unused. It is a distraction from negative feelings however, that good feeling never lasts for long.

Co-Dependent – you buy love and approval from others because you feel like you’re not enough to be loved and appreciated on your own. Behaviour is often hidden in gift giving and providing excessively for family and friends.

Bulimic – spending everything in time for the next paycheque deposit. Often high earners, they are more comfortable being broke. There is shame when they look back at their spending habits but can not help but repeating the cycle.


There are ways to make improvements and it all starts from an awareness of why we spend. Changing our ingrained behaviours comes from work on the inside. There are three components of behaviour: thoughts, feelings and actions. In addition, there are some strategies to support the necessary changes:

  • Identify the triggers and acknowledge the feelings that come with them. We need to accept how we feel and know that we are ultimately responsible for how we process those feelings.
  • Find support. Retail therapy is NOT therapy.
  • Shop with cash only. Leave the credit and debit cards at home.
  • Don’t save your credit card information on websites.
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists.
  • Create a small cash fund for impulse purchases.

In the end, the first step is recognizing when you are emotionally triggered to spend. With this in mind, do you know what kind of situations make you reach for your wallet in an effort to feel better?


At PYLO Finance Inc., we believe that financial health is within the reach of everyone. Our team is available for any questions.

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Disclaimer: This Blog/Web Site is made available by PYLO Finance Inc. for general educational purposes only and you should seek appropriate counsel for your specific situation. This Bog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for competent advice from licensed professionals and councilors in your province.

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