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Straight Talk – Shop Till You Drop

Straight Talk – Shop Till You Drop

Music pumping, heart racing, body moving and shaking in time to the beat.  Waiting for the ‘drop’; that deep bassline causing adrenaline to surge and hips to sway to the rhythm. A river of sweat trickles between the shoulder blades; like the Nile.  Weaving between people, ducking beneath racks and around the odd flashing sign, to grasp the ultimate prize. A night on the town? No! This is the dance of the bargain aficionado. Eyes on the prize, intent on the hunt for the ultimate item.  A sale: prices slashed, everything-must-go.  

I’ve enjoyed the odd spending spree in my time – a shopping frenzy with appropriate musical accompaniment – as if I needed the thump of the drums to encourage my spending!  There should be a warning disclaimer at the front door, “Enter here at your peril, we play music to get you in the mood to part with your hard-earned cash”. Imagine if that were a thing!

According to, people tend to spend more on impulse buys when good music is playing, and the type of music played can act as a trigger for different items.  Classical music, for example, seems to encourage spending on more expensive items, perhaps because it evokes feelings of high quality and elegance. Once or twice I’ve found the music in a store to be so ‘frantic’ that I’ve walked out, feeling overwhelmed.  Got to get that balance right!

mall retail centre shops

The dynamics behind how a shop gets a person to purchase interests me, and that’s partly because I’m a bit of an impulse buyer.  That, coupled with the tendency to be an emotional spender, means I’m often taking part in the ‘sales dance’. Not a great combination if you’re trying to watch the pennies.  I’ve racked up debt on clothing accounts, then managed to pay them off, then racked up more – a vicious cycle which has often been about filling that little emotional void that lurks beneath. 

The fact that spending on account or credit card disassociates my brain from the pain of spending cash is dangerous. A recipe for financial crisis. 

 Jenny Ives, a chartered financial planner, says,

“It has become so easy to go over our intended budget through frictionless spending. With Apple Pay, swipe cards and 1-click shopping there is no immediate pain barrier to buying. When we pay in cash or put in our pin, the mind registers the pain of loss associated with what we’ve bought. It serves as a micro sense check because we tend to be loss averse.”

In more recent years, I’ve consciously spent a large amount of time and energy trying to maintain a healthy relationship with money.  The relationship has had its ups and downs though, with me being a lot more ‘needy’ and my cash a lot less ‘giving’ than I would have liked.

In fact, as far as relationships go, one might consider ours to be a little one-sided, me the adoring romantic always looking for the ‘approval’ of my evasive finances, who are strict and unyielding; inflexible, one might say.  Oh, for instant gratification!

I’ve tried to find some practical tips that us ‘emo-spenders’ can use to circumnavigate away from the ‘dance’. Of course, everyone is different, so do what works for you and if anyone has found a ‘cure-all’, I’m all ears!

One of the first steps to curbing emotional spending habits, I’ve found, is to acknowledge and accept that it is ‘a thing’.  Although I’m a little ashamed to say it, there have been moments in my life when I’ve spent needlessly and wastefully. When I felt down, or bored, or a little low on self-esteem, I would shop until I dropped, buying clothes that sometimes, didn’t even see the light of day.  They just stayed at the bottom of my cupboard, labels still on, hidden; my guilty little secret.  

Jenny Ives advises,

“It’s imperative that we put our own brakes in place to overcome emotional spending. For example, if you are going for drinks, decide beforehand how much you can afford to spend. Take the exact amount of cash or a prepaid debit card with you and leave your credit cards at home.”  

It seems that taking responsibility for our spending habits takes conscious effort.  A turn around from the ‘unconscious-like’ spending on credit.

Trying to identify where the emotional need comes from, or even what triggers it, is also a solid place to begin.  Talking to a professional therapist or financial counsellor may be a positive way to get to the bottom of a situation; even talking to a friend or family member may help (as long as they are supportive). 

I realised that my emotional void was brought on in my teens by feelings of insecurity; the need to fit in.  I was the ‘new girl’ having moved to a different country and having had to start at a new high school when I was 16.  That, coupled with my shyness, was a mitigating factor in me trying to fill ‘a hole’ and feel good by buying things. I had started a part-time job, in my last year of high school, and had a compulsive urge to spend every penny that I earned on something, anything! When my dad said that I should save some, I thought, ‘For what?’  Talk about ‘burning a hole’.

Keeping track of emotional triggers, remaining mindful of them is immensely positive. Family conflict, stress or insecurities, the need to feel in control, anything which sparks off the urge to splurge.  I’ve found that keeping busy and distracting myself helps – getting lost in a good book or exercising to release those feel-good endorphins.  

Trying to avoid unnecessary spending on sales items or things not really needed, also helps.  Impulse spending is one of my worst spending habits – there’s a reason that some shops call the items close to the checkout ‘impulse buys’.  The number of clothes that I’ve bought, half price, that I’ve ended up donating to charity or worse (the bin) because they just didn’t do anything for me!  What a waste! Especially as our planet is under such strain from pollution and the clothing and fashion industries are major contributors to that. Stepping away and waiting for 24 hours has often resulted in me never thinking about the item again.  

Managing or getting rid of credit cards altogether and when spending, using cash, is a good habit to get into.  A difficult one, as ‘buying now and paying later’ has been such a crutch throughout my adult life. But who wants to be a prisoner to their debt?  My parents are fine examples of living within one’s means. They manage to save, even though they are both pensioners, often go away on little holidays, and are constantly blessing the family with a few pounds here or there. Ah, love them! 

Creating a mindset where we aren’t too frugal or too free with money, finding the balance between both may help in creating a healthy relationship with our finances.  It gives us the freedom to have fun, after all, we all need enjoyment. Who wants to work all their life without blowing the cobwebs out from time to time? We can still do so by living within our means.  Enter the dreaded ‘B’ word: Budget. A way to learn what those ‘means’ are. 

Budget, the drain of delight, I used to think; making me face a reality that was just, well, dull.  But I have ‘grown up’ a little now and realise that living without a budget is like driving with your eyes closed.  We are never going to accurately navigate our way along life’s financial highway without looking where we are going.

Running out of ideas on how to stop a spending spree, I popped onto, for a few more.  Here’s what they recommended:

Make a list before going to the shop and stick to it.  I have a natural aversion to making shopping lists, there’s a surprise!

Shop with a supportive partner who will hold you accountable. When it comes to clothes shopping, it would have to be my husband.  He helps prune down my choices to items that look great and that I need.

Avoid shops, websites or places that add to the temptation of spending. There are a few!

Block internet shopping sites, email subscriptions, TV shopping channels. 

I’m not quite there yet, but I have managed to improve my relationship with money, to the point where it glances in my direction these days.  Seriously though, I have learnt to recognise the signs and more often than not, will walk away from an emotional spend. 

 I try not to enter a clothing store if they are having a sale and I hear the ‘beating drum of temptation’ pounding through their speaker system; not unless I have the need and the means, of course. I am, admittedly, a WIP (work-in-progress).

One last confession, though:  That fluffy sheep ornament that I recently bought while on holiday in Cornwall is looking mighty fine on my shelf.  It was an emotional and whimsical spend; I bought it from a little gift shop at Land’s End, on a beautiful summer’s day.

The trip was the highlight of my holiday, there is something raw and beautiful about the place and it felt magical to me.  The ocean, the rocks, the blue sky and the fact that I was at the very edge of the land; that made me feel such a sense of well-being.  So, I’ll let myself off on that one, he wasn’t expensive and is a memory-maker for hubby and me – fabulous-together-downtime. Not ‘baa’d’ looking either (hubby and sheep!).
Corny jokes aside, if you feel overwhelmed and in need of help, do reach out to a professional.  There are many support groups and therapists online, professionals who will be glad to help.

Written by Stella Nicholls
Photos sourced via Unsplash

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