FCYU102 cover image See all stories from issue #102, Fall, 2010

Big Spender
Why our emotions make us want to shop
Senora Clark

Have you ever bought something that you wanted on the spot without thinking about the consequences? Impulse buying is what gets me in trouble. The problem is that I don’t think about whether I could get a better bargain somewhere else, and whether that thing I’m buying is really worth it to me in the long run.

Spending on impulse gives me a rush. When I have money in my hand, I want everything I see. One time I cashed a check and bought clothes, accessories, and little foolish things I could have waited for or even gone without. But when I went to use the things I’d bought, it didn’t feel the same as I’d imagined when I was standing in the store. The things just weren’t as exciting, so they became less pleasing.

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Possessions as Feelings

When you’re in foster care, you are often missing a lot of things in life, both physical and emotional. So when we get to an age where we can control our own money, some of us try to fill that empty space with things.

If someone doesn’t have a lot of loving as a child, they may try to buy material things to make up for that lack. It’s a way of trying to gain acceptance. I might try to cover up my negative emotions with nice things to take my mind off my hurt and pain and feel more secure.

Having a lot of things sometimes makes me feel I’m worth something because I own something. I will buy things to take my mind off situations that get me down. For example, if I get into an argument with my mom, I sometimes spend as a way of comforting myself so that I’ll stop thinking about it. But is spending the best way to deal with emotional stress?

Emotional Spending

Other emotions can also make us want to spend to fulfill some need. When you’re happy, you may spend because you want to keep the happiness going.

image by YC-Art Dept

When you see somebody looking nice and you’re jealous of them, you buy things to make yourself look and feel better than the next person.

I remember there was a girl who dressed well and I wanted to out-dress her. So when allowance time came around, I spent my money on new outfits so I’d look better than she did. It made me feel better, but only temporarily. Soon there would be someone else coming along looking better than I did. Once again I would have to boost my self-confidence by buying even more clothes to compete with the next person.

No matter how much I’d spend, it wouldn’t make me feel better inside. It was a vicious cycle that led to me being broke. But it didn’t improve my self-confidence. It was a case of what I call emotional debt. If you keep on spending because you feel bad, sad, or depressed, you will find yourself in both financial debt and emotional debt. You feel even worse about spending money when you realize it hasn’t made you feel better, so you spend even more to try and fight that bad feeling.

Emotions that trigger spending aren’t always bad. Sometimes people spend out of love and wanting to be recognized for doing something good. If you love a person, you want to buy them something they might like. When you see their reaction, you feel good inside. But there are other ways to show affection.

Turning Point

Being broke was a big turning point for me because I couldn’t do anything. It kind of forced me to change the way I was dealing with my emotions. Now, instead of buying everything I see on the spot, I write poetry and draw. These things make me feel good about myself without having to go broke.

I am learning that there are ways to rebuild both your feelings and your bank account. This summer, I learned how important it is to start good saving habits when you’re young. You are never too young to start saving money little by little.

The future is very important and you have to be prepared for it. Saving is one way to do that. If you save even a little, you’ll have more money tomorrow than you did yesterday. Pretty soon, that feeling of accomplishment that comes with watching your money grow will be stronger than the need to spend. You’ll have more money and feel better about yourself if you break the cycle of emotional debt.

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