Why Do I Overspend When I Have No Money?

I’m going through a quiet patch at work at the moment. It’s always like this in July, presumably because of the end of financial year. But it makes me a bit panicky – part of me thinks the slow pace will never pick up.

Yet I’m noticing a tendency to spend as if the quiet patch wasn’t happening. On a logical level this doesn’t make sense. If there is less money coming in, it should be easy to spend less, right?

Wrong. Humans are emotional creatures, and it’s for emotional reasons that we overspend. I was curious as to where my own urge to keep spending came from, and came up with a few theories. Along the way, I thought of some other motivations that can lead to overspending just at the very moment when you should be pinching your pennies. I’ve listed them below.

Once you know what’s really going on, you don’t have to beat yourself up about spending. Instead you can deal with the source of the problem, not just the symptom. For this reason I’ve provided some suggested solutions to the different reasons for spending when money is tight.

Scarcity – If you’re telling yourself you don’t have any money, that alerts your brain to a fear that you won’t have enough. Your unconscious may decide that it’s better to spend what you’ve got, and to ‘stock up’ on consumer goods because there’s no more money coming in.

Solution: Sooth yourself. Tell yourself that you’re in charge, and that you’ll do your best to spend wisely the money you have access to, even if it’s limited.

Giving up – if you’re already in debt then it’s easy to think ‘one more little thing won’t make any difference’. Your financial situation feels so hopeless that you may as well spend that little bit extra.

Solution: Start a budget, so that you know where your money is going. Keep checking it, and try to stick to it; if you go off track, simply adjust the budget and get back on the wagon again.

Treating yourself – If there’s not much work coming in and you’re worried about the situation, it’s tempting to spend in order to feel better and give yourself a mood boost.

Solution: Treat yourself with things that don’t cost anything, like a nice warm bath, a walk in the park, a nap on the couch, or just sleeping in on the weekend.

Boredom – If there’s not much work coming in, or you’re simply at home a lot, life gets boring. You may find yourself browsing your favourite shopping sites, or going to the mall, seeking visual stimulation; the human need for novelty is a classic reason why people shop.

Solution: Plan your time so that it’s quite structured. Include activities that are mentally stimulating and challenging. Seek visual stimulation in ways other than shopping, like going to a gallery or listening to some music.

Guilt – if you’ve been an overspender for a while, it’s easy to slip into a vicious circle. You feel guilty for overspending, and the guilt makes you feel bad about yourself – so you go out and spend in order to feel better.

Solution: Practise self-love, even if you don’t believe you’re worth it (you are!). Seek the support of a self-help group for overspenders or a therapist who specialises in spending issues.

Power – Not having much money can make you feel powerless. In contrast, finding a bargain, or choosing a tasteful bag, can make you feel very powerful. Ironically, this kind of spending is also disempowering because it’s preventing you taking control of your finances.

Solution: Look at ways you feel disempowered in your own life, and fix them. Work on your budget, and look at any issues you are having with self-discipline, motivation and changing habits. Learn assertion skills to use at work and in your personal life. Join a community group that works on a social issue you’d like to change.

Drop us a line!
I hope this helps. I’d love to hear of any experiences you have of overspending when you’re broke, and how you keep your spending in line. Meanwhile here’s a couple of resources if you have serious spending problems.

Help for overspending
Online discussion group: Shopping Addicts Support

Debtors Anonymous

Until next time!

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Chong said...
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