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Money Mastery Series – Understanding Emotional Spending

By Sheila Hill

PUBLISHED June 13, 2019 • 4 min read

Have you ever thought about why you spend money the way you do? Ever considered the thoughts and motives behind certain spending patterns? If you’re having trouble reigning in your spending, it might be that your habits are rooted in something much deeper than money.

In this Money Mastery Series edition, life coach and spiritual guide Sheila Hill shares how understanding the emotional motivations behind spending habits may help manage over-spending tendencies, and take control of your money.

Q: Sheila, you have compared a person’s financial position to a tire. Can you elaborate?

Hill: Imagine your financial situation is a tire. Now what if I told you that most people’s financial tires have a leak they don’t even realize is there? Many people don’t consider their emotional state when spending, and this is where the leak comes in. They aren’t aware that they are spending emotionally.

Q: What are some of the more common emotional spending patterns?

Hill: The first is the “Autopilot Spender.” This is someone who spends their way through the day without any real awareness of the money they are spending. They’re operating on autopilot — going through the morning drive thru, grabbing a mid-morning snack, then getting takeout lunch and dinner. They’re often buying the same stuff from the same stores — whether it’s clothing, accessories or household items — not because this brings them joy, but because it’s easy, comfortable and familiar.

Then there is the “Rebellion Spender.” This kind of spender is typically quite savvy with their finances until something comes up in life that makes them feel they need some “retail therapy.” It might be buying something as a treat because their partner let them down, or they’re tired or bored and impulsively buy something luxurious. For whatever reason, there is a certain amount of entitlement driving the spending behavior.

The third common type is the “Keeping up with the Jones’ Spender.” This spender buys things — experiences and gifts for themselves and others — to keep up appearances. For these individuals, having the “right” car, the “right” clothes and the “got-it- all-together” look is of utmost importance — at any cost.

Q: What is the impact of emotional spending?

Hill: All of these spending behaviors are rooted in issues that run considerably deeper than money, and spending more won’t solve them. They are leaks in that financial tire that mask personal thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that may require a different kind of attention. Left unattended, the leak may continue until the financial tire is flat.

Q: How can people make the adjustments needed to reverse the leak?

Hill: It varies depending on the type of spender you are.

Because an Autopilot Spender, for example, spends automatically, bringing awareness to the “why,” “when” and on “what” they spend is the key to shifting this autopilot behaviour. Bring a mindfulness to spending and measure the spending against the amount of joy it brings. What if you realized that you actually didn’t need a second cup of coffee in the morning? Perhaps it had just become a habit that can be easily dropped.

When it comes to a Rebellion Spender, it’s a little trickier to nail down to just one solution. Often we spend to mask other, more deeply rooted emotions such as feeling dishonoured in a relationship, not having enough time for self-care, or living in scarcity and lack most of the time. When someone recognizes this type of spending, often it means they need to begin to bring in more purposeful tools into their daily life, such as self care practices, open and honest conversations, and healthy boundaries. If the purchase is rooted in a feeling of, “I deserve it,” I would have to ask if there are any self-care/self-love practices happening outside of the spending.

Last but not least is the Keeping up with the Jones’ Spender. When a priority is made — at any cost — to keep up appearances for others, a lack of self esteem may be the cause. This type of spending often comes from a place of feeling inadequate — people seek validation and recognition through buying gifts and making everything look on point.

Feeling like you are enough is an inside job — not one that comes from spending, and it’s not a job many people are taught to do. Conquering these feelings begins with knowing yourself, accepting yourself and maintaining healthy boundaries with others.

Q: So what is the outcome if we address these issues?

Hill: Addressing these issues may result in a more conscious way of living — not only about money. These types of spending patterns tend originate in deeper places. Addressing them can help people have a better grasp on their finances and even lead to more self-confidence and better relationships.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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