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Ever get a couple of days into the month and wonder where your money has gone? Most of us spend money unconsciously to gratify our immediate needs, without thinking of the consequences. Take Yonela. She’s in her late 20s, works at a busy communications agency, lives in Cape Town, is single and has a very busy social life. We decided to analyse her Instagram habits for a week to reveal the story of how her emotions are affecting her spending and getting her into debt, without her realising it.

Monday: Yonela is Feeling Stressed


"Stayed awake late last night working on a presentation for our top client, which I have to deliver at lunch. Eeeeek! Only way to survive the morning? A double shot flat white. #CaffeineFix"

The link between stress and spending is well known. People tend to splurge as a short-term solution to cope. And we make poor decisions about our finances when under pressure. Yonela figures that buying a coffee for R25 will keep her energy up at her fast-paced job and so she starts the week off on a bad note.

Tuesday: Yonela is Feeling Down


"Really not in the mood for yoga today but I decided to buy new tights – already feeling more motivated! I love them! #YogaLove"

The Journal of Economic Psychology published an article about the link between low self-esteem and spending. When you’re feeling down and your self-esteem is low, it’s natural to want to buy things to lift your mood. It’s escapism at its best. Yonela will get "likes" on her post of her new leggings, which will make her feel better about herself.

Wednesday: Yonela is Feeling Happy


"It’s the bestie’s birthday. I’m so excited I decided we had to order some treats to celebrate! #BirthdayCake"

Researchers at the University of Cambridge found a definite link between spending and happiness. And it turns out that spending cash on others also makes us smile. We are also willing to sacrifice important resources to secure social bonds. Yonela is in a celebratory mood, which makes her want to be generous and maintain her close relationships.

Thursday: Yonela is Feeling Grumpy


"When you’re just not in the mood to deal with people – treat yourself to a movie. Can’t wait to watch this one! #Romcom"

When we are grumpy and feel low, we are unable to delay gratification. We are likely to give up a long-term future benefit like saving or sticking to our budget for a short-term one. Yonela feels she needs something to make her feel better, so instead of going home after work, she goes to a movie and buys popcorn, chocolates and a drink on top of the ticket — expenses that she didn’t budget for.

Friday: Yonela is Feeling Bored


"Bought the cutest heels online – because it’s Friday and nobody feels like working. #OnlineShopping"

When we are bored, it’s easy to go online and find distractions like online shopping. Also feeling stagnant in your job or life could be a trigger for compulsive shopping. Unfortunately, Yonela’s new shoes will not fix the bigger problem, which could be that she needs a new challenge.

Saturday: Yonela is Feeling Lonely


"No boyfriend, no worries… more time to read and plan my outfits for next week. #Magazines"

Insecurity can manifest in different ways. People spend in order to feel like they are in control of what is an uncertain future. Yonela finds that shopping and buying things to help her plan and escape from reality provides a relief from the emotions she cannot control.

Sunday: Yonela is Feeling Lazy


"Too tired to cook for the family who are coming over! Spicy food for the win! #Noodles #Wontons #Springrolls"

Feeling overwhelmed and being fatigued can lead to you making poor decisions. Yonela knows cooking for her family would have been a lot cheaper than ordering takeout, but can’t see the long-term benefits of her choices because of her emotional state.

How to overcome this? Change your behaviour.
Expert tips from clinical psychologist, Belinda Train.

For many people, any intense emotional state — high or low — can result in spending. Spending money can neutralise emotional states, thus bringing about self-regulation. This ability to regulate emotions is crucial for our physical and mental wellbeing.

People adopt a variety of ways of regulating intense emotional states — some are healthy and others less so. Healthy self-regulation helps us feel in touch with our inner world, builds a sense of competence, and creates a positive feedback loop that reinforces our self-esteem. Unhealthy means of self-regulating can result in further negative emotions such as regret, fear, guilt and shame. This then sets up a negative feedback loop that has on-going negative effects on, in the case of spending, one’s finances in the long-term.

Essential to all healthy ways of regulating emotions is the ability to tune in to your inner world and notice your feelings without judgement: to feel these feelings and tolerate them rather than reacting impulsively to avoid them, as Yonela is doing.

You might want to think about a few alternatives to spending in advance so that you are prepared when such difficult feelings come up. For some, it might be reading inspirational material, doing something creative, getting out in nature, taking a walk, or doing some other form of exercise. For others, it might be making meaningful social contact.

You may want to identify your particular spending triggers:

  • Wanting to cheer yourself up, if something bad or upsetting happens.
  • Generally feeling down.
  • Feeling you need to spend to impress others.
  • Wanting to treat others.
  • Compensatory, making up for something missing in your life or filling a void.
  • Feeling good.
  • Feeling bored.

Things to practice:

  • Set clear intentions regarding spending and savings.
  • Create rules for yourself like never buying anything on impulse — you can always go back if you still want it 24 hours later; avoid advertising, and limit temptation by not hanging out in places you'll be tempted to spend, whether in malls or online.
  • When the impulse to spend on something non-essential that you haven't budgeted for comes up, notice the feelings and remind yourself you don't have to act on them.
  • If you find yourself making one of those unintended spends, it’s better to be compassionate with yourself rather than beating yourself up, which will just set you back into a negative feedback loop. Simply recommit yourself to your intentions.



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