Money Wellness
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calendar icon16 Jun 2023

Mental health and emotional spending

Mental health and emotional spending 

Living with a mental health problem can lead to unhealthy spending habits. We’ve looked at the different ways you may be affected and steps you can take to combat emotional spending.

Five ways poor mental health can affect your spending 

Impulsive or compulsive spending

Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or bipolar can lead to impulsive or compulsive spending. You might find you buy things you really don’t need or make impulsive purchases to cope with negative feelings or to fill an emotional void.

Retail therapy 

You might turn to shopping as a form of self-soothing or a temporary escape from a mental health challenge. Retail therapy might provide a brief sense of pleasure or distraction but usually leads to excessive spending and, in the most serious cases, can lead to problem debt.

Emotional spending 

Poor mental health may make you more vulnerable to emotional triggers, such as stress, sadness or loneliness. You may spend to get temporary relief from your problems or boost your mood. This can result in irrational or impulsive purchases.

Neglecting financial responsibilities 

Mental health issues can make it difficult for you to handle financial responsibilities. Bills may be overlooked or you might fail to budget properly, leading to extravagant spending patterns and debt problems.

Self-destructive behaviours 

Certain mental health conditions, such as addiction or self-esteem issues, can drive you to self-destructive behaviour. Excessive spending is an example of self-destructive behaviour. Regularly overspending can lead to serious debt issues.


Eight ways to combat emotional spending

Know your emotional spending triggers 

The first step to curbing unhealthy shopping habits is understanding what drives you to overspend. What moods or events tempt you to make unplanned purchases? If you know your spending triggers, it may be easier to find ways to reduce overspending.

Monitor your spending to spot emotional purchases 

The only way to understand your emotional spending habits is to monitor what you buy. You can easily track spending by keeping all your receipts to audit later in apps such as Snoop, Emma, Money Dashboard or Curve. You might notice you’re more likely to spend on items you don’t need at certain times of the day or certain days of the week. You’ll also be able to see how the cost of all those unnecessary little purchases soon add up.

Use the 48-hour rule 

One way to reduce emotional spending is by using the 48-hour rule. This is a simple but effective way to deal with spending temptations. Instead of buying there and then, add it to your basket and come back 48 hours later to see if you still want it.

This gives you breathing space to think about each purchase and its impact on your monthly budget. Use this time to ask yourself if you really need the item. The 48-hour rule may help you to be more objective about what you’re buying.

Delete spending apps and unsubscribe to emails  

Remove temptation! Deleting shopping apps and unsubscribing to emails will stop you being inundated with prompts to buy.

Make a budget

Budgeting is a proven way to reduce overspending. You could use the envelope method - putting your spending money for the week in an envelope and only using this cash - to reduce the amount you spend on food, entertainment and shopping. 

Get support from family or a friend when you feel tempted  

Do you have a family member or friend who can help keep you on track? Just having someone to talk to when you feel tempted to overspend (especially on days you’re feeling down) can be helpful. Make sure they understand your reason for not wanting to spend so they are really motivated to help you stick to your goals.

Treat yourself from time to time within your budget

Create a ‘fun budget’ that allows you to make guilt-free purchases from time to time. There’s nothing wrong with emotional spending if it’s part of a budget and you can afford it. Issues only arise when spending results in problem debt.


If your mental health has affected your spending resulting in problem debt, there’s lots of free help available to you. We can work with you to find the best solution to deal with your debts and also put you in touch with organisations, such as samaritans.og and too if you need more specialist help with your metal health.

Working together, we can help to get you on the right path to a better future.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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