Within the past 4 months, I spent over $450 at the convenience store. All for things I didn’t even want. It was literally all on junk food.
Actually every time I went to spend the money, I was mad I was even at the store in the first place. I was frustrated, then regretted it every time I ate that chocolate bar or can of soda I got.
And yes, those sugar highs led to crashing and burning near the end of my work day. Then I’d go home and complain.
And the next day, I’d do it again.
Why? Because I was frustrated over certain situations at work that were very toxic.
In fact, any time I was frustrated about it, I didn’t want to be there. So what did I do? I left the premises. I was a bit embarrassed at not wanting to be there (yes, weird, I know), so I used getting a snack as an excuse to go across the street. It got to the point where it was a daily occurrence.
At the time, I had no idea that this was a spending trigger, until I looked at my monthly spreadsheets and noticed how much I was spending. And as soon as I noticed a pattern, I stopped it.
What is a Spending Trigger?
A spending trigger is something that happens that gets you to spend money. For example, if you’re thirsty, you’d go and buy a bottle of water.
Triggers usually happen because of the emotions you’re experiencing. Unfortunately, these are usually negative ones, like shame, anger or even frustration. Instead of dealing with whatever it is you’re feeling head on, you turn to spending money in order to mask it.
For me, the emotion I was trying to not deal with was my frustration at my day job. Not feeling like I had an outlet , I thought the best way was to physically leave my workplace. Except my mind kept thinking “I could really use a cup of coffee.” or “I’m craving chocolate.”
I will say that I’m grateful that my spending habits these last few months didn’t affect my finances that much. I can afford it and I had a lot of buffer room n my budget for it, so in the end it was trying to align my spending with my values (which obviously wasn’t junk food, haha).
But what if my vices were more expensive? Or more often? If I continued that way, I could have easily overspent and gone into debt.
Yes, folks, other than student loans, mortgages and other types of financial emergencies, people go into debt because of unrecognized spending triggers.
Don’t believe me? Read my consumer debt story. Classic case of a spending trigger.
What Can I do About it?
Well the good news is that if you want to do something about it, you’re off on the right foot. The main reason why people continue to spend money is they’re avoiding something. So if you recognize that something is wrong, you’re at least not avoiding it.
To stop the spending trigger, replace it with something positive that directly deals with the emotions or situation that led to the spending trigger in the first place.
This technique is simple, but not easy. Mine was a simple $5 daily habit, but it took three weeks to kick it to the curb. So be patient with yourself because the last thing you want to be is frustrated, and spend even more money.
Write Down The Days or Times When You Spend Money
You don’t have to go as far as creating a spending journal, but it can help. You can even think back to the times when you think the spending trigger happens and write how you felt. Do this for at least a week.
Pretty soon, you’ll notice a pattern. It could be a time of day, a certain place, or even with a certain person.
Now is the time to dig and think about how you felt during those times. Did you feel pressured to spend? Did you want to show someone how “successful” you are by spending money? Were you stressed? Write all those down.
Don’t stop there. Keep digging. Ask yourself “why?” at least 3 times to get to the core of it. For me, it all boiled down to being stressed around certain people and wanting to physically be away from them. I would have never known this if I didn’t keep asking questions and assessing my emotions.
Brainstorm Ideas to Release Emotions in a Healthy Way
Let me be clear: this doesn’t mean you to replace your spending trigger with something that’s free. The point is to create a more positive habit. And if that means spending a few dollars here and there for your emotional sanity, so be it. That being said, make sure you can afford it!
So now that you’ve figured out what your spending trigger is and the emotions that come into play, jot down any ideas you can think of that can replace it.
Think about any happy memories you’ve had, and what activities you can replicate to help you feel happy again. Or are there other little things you want to try?
The key here is to make the new habit something small and achievable. Most importantly, it has to relate to the emotions you’re dealing with. Again, if you’re stressed, you need to find a solution that will help you de-stress.
For me, one of my greatest pleasures in life is drinking a cup of good chai. It makes me stop and savor that cup of goodness and physically puts a smile on my face. I also love listening to podcasts and really helps with my motivation.
So I decided to use both of these to replace my habit of buying junk food at the convenience store.
Why was it so effective? For one, when I listen to a podcast, it was a signal to my coworkers that I was busy. Sometimes I put in my headphones to really drive home the point. The people I tried to avoid then would usually not bother me. Secondly, drinking a cup of chai forces me to calm down, breathe and focus on the good things in my life.
I also put my headphones and mug near a photo of my son, triggering even more happy thoughts.
Yes, I do spend money on making the chai at work, but it’s way less than my crazy convenience store habit and I’m not as frustrated anymore.
If there are areas in your life you want to spend less money, I highly encourage you to take a few moments and assess your emotions and how it can trigger spending decisions.
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