While credit cards can be great financial tools, the reality is that they can also lead you into financial bondage. Because they are so convenient, and because they allow for instant gratification, it's all too easy to make a few purchases that are beyond your means.

One of the biggest problems you are likely to run into has to do with emotional spending. Emotional spending is especially dangerous when you have access to a credit card. Because it's so easy to simply swipe your card, your vulnerable state of mind can lead to financial vulnerability.

What Emotions Can Lead to Overspending?

There are a number of different emotions that can lead you to overspend. Some of the common emotional triggers for spending include:

  • Sadness: When you are sad, shopping can help you feel a short-term lift. It feels good to spend, buying something new or going to a favorite restaurant. It's a form of escapism. If you are struggling in certain areas of your life, spending can be a temporary relief.
  • Anxiety: If you are anxious, or feeling out of control, spending can help you regain a sense of control. You are able to determine how you are using your money, and the result can be a temporary feeling that you are in charge. One of the biggest problems with this approach, though, is that you might feel anxious about money. You feel good while you are shopping, but once you see the credit card bill, the anxiety returns.
  • Exuberance: It's not just negative emotions that can lead to overspending. Sometimes, excessive enthusiasm can lead to a great deal of shopping. If you feel confident about your situation, or happy about where you are, you might get carried away with your spending. Too often, feelings of happiness and confidence lead you to overestimate what you can actually afford. This leads to overspending -- and you can find your enthusiasm crushed when you see the cost.

There are other emotional states that can lead to overspending as well. No matter the situation, there is a chance that getting too involved emotionally, or using your credit card spending as a response to emotions, can lead to crippling debt.

How to Overcome Emotional Spending

If you want to overcome emotional spending, you need to first acknowledge the problem. Honestly evaluate the situation, and pinpoint the emotions that trigger a spending spree. When you feel those emotions coming on, you can take steps to avoid responding to them. Often, simply realizing that you have an emotional trigger can help you notice the situation and avoid overspending.

Another thing you can do is keep money in an account designed for emotional spending or splurging. You can get a low-fee prepaid debit card, or you can even get a credit card with a purposely low limit that is easy to pay off. When you feel the emotional urge to spend, you can use these limited funds. That way, you aren't putting your finances in danger.

It's also possible to shift your focus.

Look for things you can do to alleviate your emotional situation. Exercise, spending time outdoors, practicing a musical instrument, reading a favorite book, playing a videogame, or just talking to a good friend can all help you shift your focus until the urge to spend passes.

Look for ways to feel fulfilled that don't involve spending money. Make these your go-to activities when emotion threatens to overwhelm you.

Finally, if you need help, get it.

There's nothing wrong with seeking professional help if you can't get a handle on your emotions and spending on your own.


Miranda Marquit, Guest Personal Finance Expert and blogger for leading provider of debt relief, CareOne Services, Inc. Miranda Marquit

Miranda is a freelance writer and professional blogger, specializing in topics related to personal finance and business. Her work has appeared in, and been linked to from, a variety of publications, online and offline. Miranda blogs for a number of web sites, and has her own personal finance blog, Planting Money Seeds