How Emotions Can Affect Your Spending

Ever had a bad week and thought the only cure was retail therapy? Have you shown up at a restaurant starving, ordered way too much food, and realized halfway through the meal that your eyes were bigger than your stomach? Or maybe you bought four dozen donuts for the office just because it was Friday and you were ready to celebrate the weekend?

Emotions and moods have a way of directing our spending behavior. Since we can’t always predict our future emotions while making our budgets, how do we prevent retail therapy or a hankering for donuts from throwing a wrench into things later in the month?

You can avoid emotional spending by having a plan. Here are seven of those feelings that can tempt you to spend, plus some strategies for thinking clearly while you’re in the middle of them.


No one wants to turn down that Girl Scout who comes to your front door asking you to buy cookies. You look at that sweet face, feel a tinge of guilt, and decide that your pantry could use a few boxes of Thin Mints and Samoas. It’s easier than just saying no, right?

Spending Solution: If you make your budget before the month begins, that gives you a perfect reason to resist spending money out of guilt—you simply say, “It’s not in the budget.” And if you plan ahead of time, Girl Scout cookies can get their own budget! That really is easier than just saying no.


This is the emotion that makes you want to keep up with the Joneses. When someone talks about their nice vacation or new car, you may have the urge to buy something or go somewhere too. Your emotion will tell you yes while your bank account will say, “Uh, maybe later.”

Spending Solution: Let the moment pass. Take some time and breathe. Once you’re past the initial rush, you won’t be as tempted to spend. If you wait and still find yourself wanting a certain item, start saving for it! Just don’t go crazy buying things because someone else has something you’d like to have.


We’ve all been there. You have a bad day or are upset about something and you spend money to feel better. But your problem doesn’t disappear when you spend this way—only your money does. And that can make you feel even worse. Retail therapy can do more harm than good.

Spending Solution: Just like with jealousy, take time and breathe. Find something fun to distract you, like reading a book or taking a stroll in the park. The sadness will pass.


How tough is it to resist spending when you’re celebrating? If someone in your family graduates, announces their engagement, or does something else that’s worthy of a toast, you want to celebrate with dinner or a gift. But we all know how quickly money can disappear when celebrating takes over.

Spending Solution: Check your calendar so you can see the special occasions to budget for. If you love to celebrate and want to be ready for the surprises that you don’t see coming, set aside $50–100 in a Celebration fund so if there’s partying to be done, you’re prepared.


Some people are scared by news reports about the stock market being down. They buy gold as a “safe” investment because they think the economy will collapse. Fear can also cause you to buy overpriced and gimmicky insurance policies.  

Spending Solution: Step back and take a look at your situation. Deal with areas like insurance and retirement by addressing your needs. If someone tries to sell you a product or service with a scare tactic, that’s a red flag.


Nothing—and we mean nothing—can make you go overboard at the grocery store like hunger. Even paper towels can look delicious. But if you’re not careful, that $100 shopping list can grow to $150—and that will definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Spending Solution: Eat before you go to the store. Stick to your grocery list. Don’t be tempted by the sweet scents of the bakery if you have no items to buy from there. That is the simplest and easiest way to not overspend at the store.

Related: 10 Tricks That Will Save You Money at the Grocery Store

Season Fever 

The desire to spend for the current season is a strong one. You might want to buy Christmas decorations for the house, purchase Easter outfits for the kids, or go all fall with leaves, wreathes and hay bales. There’s nothing wrong with that . . . as long as you meet these two conditions.

Spending Solution: Have the money and have the need. If your old trees and garlands had their heyday back in the ’80s, it’s fine to replace them if you’ve budgeted for Christmas décor. Just don’t get so wowed by mall store displays that you overspend in the name of holiday cheer.

The best way to overcome these emotional spending scenarios is to make a budget before each month that reflects your values, and make it at a scheduled time when you are thinking clearly about your money goals. That way, you have something to guide you and your spending, whether you feel over the moon or . . . not so over the moon. You’ll be focused on your goals, and you’ll be more likely to reach them because you, not your emotions, control your spending.

Get started with a free EveryDollar budget today!