No matter how sensible with money you usually are, there are times when your budget is at risk of getting hijacked. “Emotionally charged circumstances make us prone to overspending,” says financial psychologist Brad Klontz, managing principal of Your Mental Wealth Advisors. “If we’re rationally challenged, we’re financially challenged.”
Here’s how it works: The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that deals with logical thought, including planning, impulse control…and budgeting. But when we’re in a heated situation, the amygdala (the brain’s emotional center), kicks into gear and overrides the prefrontal cortex. As a result, reason flies out the window, our feelings take over and we can end up making poor monetary decisions. Here’s how to protect yourself against the nine biggest overspending danger zones.
THE TRIGGER: YOU’RE IN A BAD MOOD
There’s a good reason why 62 percent of people get spend-happy when they need a boost: It works. A study from the University of Michigan found that participants who made a purchase after viewing a movie clip portraying a bullying incident felt significantly happier than those who abstained. Researchers suggest that making buying decisions helps shoppers restore a mood-improving sense of self-control. “Handling money has also been shown to increase endorphins,” adds Klontz. The problem? Even if you get a rush of satisfaction immediately afterward, that high will wear off. “You’ll start crashing, and shame and guilt for having blown your budget will make you feel even worse,” Klontz says.
Shut It Down: Replace shopping with another joy-inducing activity: going for a jog, doing yoga, listening to music — whatever helps you feel more upbeat. “You need some kind of outlet,” says Maggie Baker, a psychologist specializing in money issues and author of “Crazy About Money.” “Also, try writing in a journal or talking to a friend. Verbalizing your feelings can help you figure out what you’re sad about and how to get yourself in better shape.”
THE TRIGGER: YOU’RE ON VACATION
When you’re on a trip, you feel like you’re on a holiday from real life, so you aren’t as practical about finances as usual. Add to that the fact that you’re surrounded by overpriced tourist traps, and you have the makings of the perfect, budget-sabotaging storm. “Being on vacation gives you a license to relax — physically, mentally and financially,” says Baker. “It’s easy to get carried away with that feeling.”
Shut It Down: You should be able to indulge a bit more than usual on a holiday…while keeping some restraints in place. “Budget an extra 10 percent or so to spend,” suggests Baker. (That may mean cutting back in the weeks leading up to the trip or funneling a portion of your savings into a dedicated vacation fund.) Once you’ve figured out a reasonable amount of “mad money” to use each day, you can splurge on that $19 glass of super Tuscan without giving yourself a guilt trip — yet you’re not going to go off the rails whipping out your credit card like a Kardashian all week. If you still find yourself overdoing it, “consider an all-expenses paid trip to protect yourself from bad financial decisions,” says Baker.