Take The Emotion Out Of Money

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Table of Contents  
  1. Stress
  2. Anger
  3. Boredom
  4. Happiness
  5. Fear


Are you an emotional spender? Letting good or bad emotions drive your spending can be disastrous. Take the emotion out of money.

Many people will admit to emotional eating. Stressed, bored, happy, sad? Food will fix that, temporarily at least. But after your feast or binge, you feel bad, sick, maybe even guilty. Eating this way can play havoc with your weight and your health.

Some of us spend money this way too but fewer of us realize it. And the effects can be just as bad. But instead of showing up in our pants size and lab work, it shows up in our bank balances.

Realizing the problem is the first step as they say so figure out what emotions may trigger your financial decisions so you can stop that Amazon binge before it starts.


Stress is a fact of life for all of us and depending on how you deal with it, can be powerfully destructive. Some of us deal with it through healthy means, exercising, socializing, speaking with a therapist. And some of us deal with it through harmful means, drinking too much, eating too much or spending too much.

“Treating yourself” is a handy excuse when you’ve had a bad day. You work hard, you put up with endless crap from your family, co-workers, idiots on the subway with no concept of personal space. You deserve a treat! And you absolutely do. I agree, people are exhausting and surely resisting the urge day after day to stab them with the nearest pointy implement is worthy of a little retail therapy.

And our good friend science is here to back us up. Shopping does relive stress. Who wants to sit around chanting “Ohm” when you could be parading up and down 5th Avenue, credit card at the ready?

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.

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Buying things can make you feel powerful. Had a fight with your partner? Defying them by spending money can feel like rebalancing the power. Well, they aren’t the boss of you! They’ll be furious when they find out how much you spent. So you have that little “in your face” buzz of doing something to make them angry. Like a toddler painting the walls with Nutella.

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Ugh, this one is a personal bugaboo of mine. I’m too vain and protective of my gainz to eat out of boredom but spending money is a handy substitute. I’m a minimalist because I want to become a vagabond so I don’t want to be buying stuff I either have to drag with me or pay to store. But I have a Kindle!

It is the most dangerous thing I have ever bought. I was a late adopter because I did, and still do, love physical books. But they are heavy and cumbersome. Digital books are the answer. And because you don’t have anything to bring home from the (quickly dwindling) bookstore or even an Amazon package awaiting you, buying digital books hardly seems like spending money at all.

Shopping is also a great boredom slayer when you work from home as I do. No one available to meet for lunch at 1:00 on a week day? That’s okay, a shopping trip will relieve the boredom and does not require company.

Even shopping for groceries can be a fun antidote to boredom. NYC has oodles of specialty food stores where you can drop serious coin for mere grams of cheese or whatever artisanal bullshit you are into.


Ah, the celebratory spend. This one is the hardest to hate on. It’s your birthday, you got a promotion, a raise, accepted into grad school, lost the last ten pounds. Life’s little victories are meant to be celebrated. And what’s more American than spending money to celebrate said victory?

It’s healthy, and indeed human nature to celebrate things. Especially if you are coming out of a down turn and the thing you want to celebrate has been a long time coming.


Fear doesn’t so much induce you to spend as it holds some people back from investing. Our go to quote here at LMM is the old chestnut from Warren Buffett, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

But for some people, the fear prevents them from getting into investing at all. You have to trust LMM on this. You have nothing to fear. The damage you are doing by being to afraid to wade into the market is infinitely greater than any long term losses you will incur.

We did an episode for the skittish among us to help assuage those fears.

Getting Over The Fear of Investing

Getting Over The Fear of Investing

If you want to grow your wealth, retire early, look after your family, you must take the plunge. The sub 1% interest your money is gaining (actually losing as inflation is generally around 2%) is doing you, your goals, and your family no favors.

If you know nothing about the stock market, Betterment is your answer. You don’t have to know anything, you just have to set up the account, set up auto deposit, and watch it grow.

Do you see yourself in any of these? Spending money you either don’t have or that could be better spent elsewhere is the answer to none of your problems. Want to delve a bit deeper into the psychology? Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy will flesh the matter out for you.

Spending money under all of these emotional influences can only make the underlying problem worse depending on how carried away you get. If you set up your budget, which you should be doing in Mint, and make some room for small indulgences, that’s okay. That’s how personal finance works.

I’m not advocating a monk in a hair shirt existence. Sometimes life sucks and sometimes life is great. Spending money wisely can make things better and enhance what is already good. But spending can also make an already bad situation worse. Always remember, don’t give what you want most for what you want now.

You are a fully fledged adult. You can find better, less destructive ways to deal with life’s lows than spending money and you can find better ways to celebrate life’s highs than increasing your credit card debt. You’re better and more deserving than that.

Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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