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Look back to a time when you experienced a significant disappointment, like being passed over for a promotion or enduring a breakup, and felt the urge to spend on expensive gadgets or designer clothes to feel better. These purchases may temporarily lift your spirits, but the financial burden they create can make the initial disappointment worse.
Indulging in impulsive purchases as a response to negative emotions such as stress, sadness or anger is called revenge spending. It often occurs after a relationship ending, job loss, the death of a loved one or another emotionally challenging situation.
While revenge spending might provide temporary relief or distraction from emotional distress, it can lead to long-term financial repercussions, creating debt buildup and hindering progress toward financial goals. To help you avoid this cycle, here are some practical tips to prevent revenge spending.
1. Review your budget
Keeping in mind where you want your money to go and what your financial priorities are can help you remind yourself of what purchases truly matter to you. If you don’t already have a record of previous spending, many online bank accounts now offer advanced expense-tracking tools that you can use to evaluate your spending habits and see where adjustments can be made.
“It’s always a good idea to review transactions and examine trends in spending habits,” says Katie Horton, CFP, CPA, founder of Texas-based Financial Cairn. “Spending shines a light on what priorities actually are, rather than what we say they are.”
2. Set aside a ‘fun fund’
While it’s important to stick to a budget and be mindful of essential expenses, it’s equally necessary to create room for enjoyment and reward yourself along the way.
Horton recommends what she calls a “fun fund,” which is a stash of cash for fun activities that are not included in monthly expenses.
“Allocate how much of your savings you’d like to spend on each activity or item,” Horton says. “Then, when that killer travel deal comes along, go for it. Just don’t spend more than your allocation unless you are willing to give in another place.”
When it comes time to dip into your fun fund for a well-deserved purchase, the goal is to do so without falling into the trap of revenge spending. Consider whether the purchase is simply a response to negative feelings or if it genuinely brings you fulfillment.
3. Plan travel destinations ahead of time
Speaking of those killer travel deals, you can expect a tidal wave of incentives to inspire you to pack your bags. Your inbox — and all those lists for last-minute flight deals — is a route that might get you to spend on going places you otherwise would have skipped. Instead of waiting for those deals to arrive, start thinking about where you want to go and how much you are willing to pay to get there now.
Aim to avoid the mistake of spending too much on that getaway, too. Inflation — though cooling — has still put constraints on consumers’ wallets. Over half (58 percent) of those who are unlikely to take a vacation say it’s because they can’t afford it, according to a Bankrate survey.
Booking flights and accommodations ahead of time can not only help to curb spending impulsively on travel, it also can get you better vacation deals and more affordable prices.
4. Put spending limits on your tickets
One common area where revenge spending can manifest is in tickets for entertainment events. The allure of attending exciting and memorable events, like concerts, sporting events or festivals, can lead to impulsive and excessive spending. But those tickets can be a big expense, so it’s important to set limits.
For a ticket to a show in one of the top 100 North American tours last year, buyers paid around $111 on average — up over $20 from 2018, according to Pollstar. To see the most popular artists, it’s not uncommon to pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket.
Instead of immediately opting for an expensive ticket, explore more affordable alternatives. Look for discounted tickets through pre-sales, group discounts or smaller-scale events that might be more budget-friendly.
Use ticket apps and websites to compare prices across different platforms and find any special discounts. Some apps even allow you to set price alerts, notifying you when ticket prices drop to a more affordable range.
To stay within your ticket spending limit, narrow down your choices. Consider what events are most important to you and skip those that might be more financially devastating than they are meaningful in the long run.
5. Stay in touch with your emotions
In addition to carving out long-term strategies for the road ahead, it’s important to recognize that revenge spending can rear its head at any given time. You will need to be disciplined and remind yourself to press pause when thinking about spending.
“If you are tempted to revenge spend, take a moment to check in with your emotions,” Horton says. “You are likely trying to fill some sort of need. Maybe you really want time with good friends. So have a girls’ night out instead of a weekend trip. See if there is a cheaper or free alternative that will fill the same desire that is urging the revenge spending.”
What you might need more than a certain expensive item is emotional support from people around you. Reach out to friends, family members or even a counselor to confide in and seek guidance from.
Revenge spending can become a harmful habit, hindering your financial well-being and exacerbating distress. Have a clear idea of your financial priorities and budget so you can make reasonable choices about your spending. Instead of resorting to impulse buys, explore alternative coping mechanisms, such as journaling or spending time with loved ones, or reach out to a counselor to develop healthy strategies.
– David McMillin contributed to a previous version of this story.