Emotions are a tricky subject. What is an even trickier subject is the way that our emotions can guide our spending behavior.

In the last post on My Life Experiment we discussed the habits my family has been using to save our hard-earned cash. Now it is time to discuss a resistance to our cash saving habit development, emotional acting out.

Spending as Compulsion not Addiction.

With emotional spending I am not really talking about full-on addiction. That is its own beast. Though addiction of any sort is certainly fueled by an emotional driving force.

I am an addict in recovery that has been clean for 9 years. This experience has taught me a great deal about how triggered emotions can ignite an impulse to act out in ways I don’t even want.

Sometimes it can feel easier to spend some money, stuff my face with food, or stew in self-pity than to feel (Since I don’t use drugs anymore.)

When acting out emotionally, I am generally not eating because I am hungry. Not spending because I need the things, nor overthinking something because I desire to.

These behaviors are compulsive. Which to me means that I have a difficult or even impossible time, controlling the impulses to act.

When it comes to compulsive spending, some days are easier than others.  But generally, if I am feeling stressed, I am going to want to spend money on things I don’t really need.

In those times, my brain is looking for a fix. It will be a quick fix, and likely won’t be helpful, but my brain is doing its best.

Working Through the Problem.

When it comes to emotional spending, full on shopping addiction, or any other negative form of acting out. If I want to stop it, then I already know that I have a problem, but I also need to ADMIT that I do as well.

I, also need to MAKE THE DECISION to knock it off! Meaning that I commit to stop acting out on the damn problem! Then I can set up my PLAN OF ACTION to take back my life in this area that I feel out of control of.

Don’t worry, I am empathetic to the difficulty of controlling the impulse to act out. There are times where I have refused my impulse’s desires to pull into a drive through window or buy something I didn’t need. I have also felt the temper tantrum erupt inside of me! If you can relate, then I empathize with you.

I have come to realize that emotional acting out and emotional spending, is really about pain!

Thankfully I have been in recovery from addiction for 9 years! In this time I have learned essential steps for STOPPING BEHAVIOR, so I can get to the core of my emotional pain.

Over the last 9 years I have been able to stop engaging in many compulsive behaviors. These behaviors range from slightly irritating to excruciatingly painful.

Through my experience with stopping harmful behaviors, I have realized how important preparation is for setting myself up for success.


1. Be Present

Staying present in the moment is huge when it comes to stopping acting out. When I go on auto-pilot, I am more likely to act out in ways that I didn’t want to. The ways that I become present are by meditating or writing a gratitude list.

2. Reminder of Commitment

I have a bad memory when it comes to remembering what decisions I have made. I maintain the strength of my decisions by following them up with daily reminders of the commitment I have made. If I am holding off from spending money on fast food for a month, I need to keep myself in the loop on this! If it is a deeply entrenched pattern, then I might to remind myself MANY times a day!

3. Anticipate Possible Problem Areas

Give thought to what is coming up throughout the day. If I am seeking to spend less money, I need to spot areas where I might slip up. I, need to set myself up for success! If I feel the desire to go spend a bunch of money, then I can plan my day to avoid situations that will create added difficulty.

4. Avoid Testing Ourselves 

Intentionally driving by a restaurant just to see if I can stay away, doesn’t seem like a good idea. Just like walking around the mall just to see what is new. Dieticians might say don’t keep cookies in the house if you don’t want to eat them, it’s all the same principle. Quitting a behavior is difficult enough without added tests!

5. Maintain Emotional Support

Making changes in my life generally creates discomfort for me.  When I stop an entrenched behavior pattern, there will be pain that needs to be worked on. Dealing with emotions requires support, from myself, and others!

6. Put rewards in place

Rewards are crazy important when it comes to. When I quit smoking, thinking about what I would do with the money I was saving was huge in keeping me motivated! That $75 a week not being thrown away on unnecessary spending, we need to think about where that money will be spent in the future.

7. Do research

There is a ton of practical information on the internet or in the library about how to stop unwanted behaviors. Study up and learn how to take back control.

8. Be Firm but Kind

Stopping behaviors that are entrenched is difficult work! When I feel like acting out in a way I shouldn’t, I realize I may have pain going on. But that does not make it okay to act out. The most loving and productive route I can take is to ask myself what is wrong, and then work on what my body has to tell me. That is where the good stuff is!

As I said before, it can be difficult, and sometimes very painful to refrain from acting out emotionally. In the case of my financial life, the benefits of controlling my spending have far outweighed the difficulty. It may not always feel like it in the moment, but over time the benefits stack up!

These tips, are highly helpful in controlling unwanted spending. Using them to stop this spending and other unwanted behaviors is definitely in our best interests.

In general, if I desire success, then I need to set myself up for it. If I don’t take the time to set myself up to succeed, I generally sell myself short! And I am tired of selling myself short.

Thank you for stopping in to check out My Life Experiment! If you have any extra insights that you did not see here, then please do so in the comment section below.

Also feel free to share this on your social media! And if you would like to receive a copy of our free Therapeutic Writing Guide, then sign up for our email list!

I wish you the best of luck with any new changes you are making in your life.

Much Love,

Travis Hagen


*Note that the advice given in this article is not meant to be taken as a replacement for professional support. This is the writers own personal knowledge that has been accumulated from years of personal experience.

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