Spending Triggers

Sue BerginSue Bergin

One of the first steps to losing weight is to identify your eating triggers.  Hunger, boredom, sadness, anxiety, and habit are all called trigger feelings.  They are the emotions that set off overeating.

Certain environments also stimulate overeating.  These are specific social situations that lead to overindulgences.  For example, you’ve been getting popcorn at the movies since you were 10 years old.  You don’t even think about it.  You probably don’t even like it.  Yet, you do it each and every time.

By tuning into triggers, you can avert derailment. You can avoid the trigger or engage in a substitute substance or activity that won’t have a negative impact.

The same principles apply to over-spending.

Whether trying to reduce debt, save for the future, or live responsibly within your means, it is important to identify spending triggers.

spending trigger Converted

Like hunger is to eating, necessity is the purest motivation for spending.  Most of us, however, indulge in items and activities that far exceed necessity.

As I wrote about in my, “Impatience and Sadness: Two Costly Emotions,” post, people who are sad seek immediate gratification and are more prone to self-defeating financial decisions.

Pain can also lead to overindulgent expenditures.  As reported in a recent study, people perceive pain as a form of punishment.[1]  A typical response is to give oneself permission to indulge in a guilty pleasure.

While evaluating the connecting between pain and indulgence, a research team from the University of Queensland in Australia found that people who had to submerse their hands in ice water later took 73% more pieces of candy than those who hadn’t.

73% more candy is likely to impact the waistband more than the wallet; however, the concept holds.  We treat ourselves.  M&M’s probably won’t harm the wallet, but if a shopping spree is the salve of choice, there might be a problem.

We also spend more than is financially healthy out of a sense of entitlement, or we give in to peer pressure.  Sometimes a purchase sets off a ripple effect which some have dubbed the,  “I Got This So I Need That” conundrum.   For example, a luxury car often leads to higher maintenance costs, a more substantial tax liability and increased insurance premiums.

As with overeating, the key to controlling overspending is to recognize triggers for what they are and strategize ways to prevent them from allowing them to cause financial harm.


[1] Bastian, B., Jetten, J., & Stewart, E. (2012). Physical Pain and Guilty Pleasures Social Psychological and Personality Science

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