Emotional spending occurs when you buy something you don't need and, in some cases, don't even really want, as a result of feeling stressed out, bored, under-appreciated, incompetent, unhappy or any number of other emotions.

While avoiding emotional spending completely is probably not a realistic goal for most people, there are some steps you can take to decrease the damage it does to your wallet.

  1. Avoid Impulse Buys: One way to cut down on emotional spending is to avoid making impulse purchases - and that doesn't just mean you should avoid buying gum in the checkout line at the grocery store. Whenever you're shopping - whether at a brick-and-mortar store or online - and you find yourself wanting to buy something you didn't already want before you start shopping, don't buy it. Make yourself wait at least 24 hours, if not longer, before making a decision about whether to buy the item.
  2. Keep the Ad Man at Bay: Take steps to intentionally limit your exposure to advertising. The less you are aware of what's available for you to buy, the less likely you are to develop a sudden "need" for that item. Unsubscribe to the product catalogs that arrive in your mailbox and the promotional emails your favorite stores are always sending you. To further avoid internet advertising, download a program that blocks ads and prevents them from appearing on your screen.
  3. Limit Temptation: The next step is to limit your exposure to the situations that tempt you to spend. If it's the mall, plan to visit only a couple times a year, or try shopping online instead. If online shopping is the problem, find other, non-shopping websites to occupy your time, or replace some of your internet time with another activity.
  4. Make Yourself Accountable: Another helpful strategy is to find ways to hold yourself accountable for your spending. The people you live with or spend the most time with can be your best defense. Tell them that you're trying to spend less and that you want them to give you a hard time when they see you making an unnecessary purchase.
  5. Find Alternative Activities: If you frequently use shopping as a form of entertainment or as a distraction, try to identify what you're feeling when you want to buy something and choose a more constructive behavior that will help you deal with that emotion. For example, if you've had a bad day at work and want to treat yourself to something nice, call a friend or two. If you're feeling stressed out, get some exercise. If you really just have to buy something, make it something simple and inexpensive, like a book or a small bouquet of flowers - but don't do this every time, because those small purchases really do add up!

The simple steps discussed here may not be enough to address the most extreme cases of emotional spending. For some people, shopping is much more than a pastime - it's actually an addiction called oniomania. While it may not seem like a dangerous addiction, many of the psychological characteristics of compulsive shopping are identical to those of chemical dependency. Be sure to read this article for more information about the possible consequences of severe overspending.