Ask the Readers: How Do You Manage Stress and Spending? (Your Chance to Win $10)

Photo: Greg Westfall

*** Congrats to our winners!***

I got a chance to test this out yesterday. It seems my new strategy for handling stress it to bake. I probably am someone who used to spend money, but that's just not an option right now and my priorities are different than they used to be (having a child will do that to you). So baking it is.


I 'window shop' online sites like Amazon, put items in basket, but don't check out. I've de-stressed but not spent the $$

Our good friend Trent at The Simple Dollar recently made a good observation about stress and spending. It seems that for many of us, being stressed out causes us to be less mindful about our purchases, which leads to more spending, which causes more stress. Thus, you have a cycle that is really hard to break. A very small number of people I know are almost paralyzed by spending. The stress of a mounting debt or the fear that they may "go crazy" keeps them out of stores and away from online deals.

What do you think about stress and spending? Are they closely related? Do you see one causing the other? Or are you in a place where you can manage stress and/or spending independently of one another?

We'd love to hear your tips for managing stress and spending. Together. Apart. One or the other. Just let us know what works for you! Share them here in our comment thread or on Twitter, and you'll be entered to win one of two $10 Amazon giveaways. It won't completely ease the stress of your bills (and hopefully it won't cause you to go into a downward spiral of buying much more than you need). It may, however, afford you a nice relaxing novel or a meditation CD. Dozens of readers have already won. You could be next!

Win a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate

We're doing two giveaways — one for random comments, and another one for a random tweets.

How to Enter:

  1. Post your answer in the comments below, or

  2. Tweet your answer. Include both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" in your tweet so we'll see it and count it.

If you're inspired to write a whole blog post, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

At the end of the drawing, we'll update this post to include (and link to) all of your helpful responses.

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Thursday, October 29th at 11:59 am CST. Winners will be announced after October 29th on the original post and via Twitter. Winners will also be contacted via email and Twitter Direct Message.

  • You can enter both drawings -- once by leaving a comment and once by tweeting.

  • Only tweets that contain both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" will be entered. (Otherwise, we won't see it.)

Good luck!

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Guest's picture

Stress and spending are definitely related. When I get stressed out, my apartment gets messy, and the mess leads to more stress. But since it's messy, I don't want to spend any time there, so I go out to eat or to get coffee or to the store. This past weekend I cleaned up the apartment and it's gorgeous once again, now all I want to do is sip my home-brewed coffee on the couch and enjoy it!

Guest's picture

I don't see stress and spending as necessarily connected. I watch my spending so I don't have to stress!

Guest's picture

I am well aware of the impact stress can have on the pocket book. One of the things I really regret is taking a good paying job that turned out to be extremely stressful. The result was a period of time when I spent a lot of money on stuff I now am trying to sell, for way less than I paid.

The fact that I can sell it means it really didn't matter much to me or that the stuff was not really needed. The act of shopping and acquiring gives a short term pleasurable feeling but in return it meant more credit card bills which meant it was harder to leave that good paying job.

I also have been involved in different types of collecting and I see the stress buying things causes in people. One is having too much and then trying to deal with it. Another is when there is competition for limited items. People do crazy things. And I see people buy things when they are going through bad times, only to turn around later to sell the item. So spending too much can cause stress, and stress can cause people to buy too much.

What I do now is I try to really think about buying something. No impulse buying. And I try to think about how the money should first go to paying credit cards and such. I also try to relieve my stress by thinking of ways to deal with whatever is stressing me. Instead of using something non-productive to relieve it. It's difficult at times, I need to find ways to pep talk myself. But the result is worth it I hope.

Guest's picture

I find that the biggest issue is time-management. When I am stressed out it is normally because I am pressed for time. This causes me to make rash decisions about a number of things I spend money on, but particularly on food. I most frequently find myself wanting to "just go out" instead of cooking something healthy at home.

The best cure I have for this is basic willpower. I always have something in my house that can be thrown together quickly, like spaghetti or something from the freezer. Even hitting up the grocery store for sandwiches or one of those frozen skillet meal things is a hell of a lot cheaper and mostly healthier than sitting down to fast food or a regular restaurant meal.

Guest's picture

The best way I have found to manage stress and spending is by planning. For example, in the mornings if I do not have a lunch ready to go I will either have to (a) make something (which stresses me out because I will be running late) or (b) I will get a frozen entrée or eat out (causing me to spend more money). When I plan the week well I can make healthy meals I know will have leftovers and put them in containers ready for lunch. I have found that when I plan, I can avoid stress and save money… it’s a win-win!

Guest's picture

I've found that it's best, when I'm stressed, to do what I can to freeze my spending as much as possible. I try to only buy what I absolutely need, not worry as much about trying to get the deals with the coupons and such.
Usually this works fairly well. I do end up buying a bit more convenience food at the grocery store, which pushes my food bill up a bit. But, overall, this seems to work for me.

Guest's picture

Try not to go out and shop when stressed. It is true you will spend more and think you need more when in reality you don't.

Guest's picture

I feel that stress and spending and definitely connected, or I guess I should say, correlated. When I am under a lot of stress, balancing the budget, sitting down to plan a week's worth of meals, or any other budget friendly activity just seems like one more thing on my plate. After a tough week, I'd much rather veg out on the couch and watch a movie with my husband than grocery shop and prepare meals for the week. However, if I tell myself that taking those couple of hours now will save me time and money during the week, it usually helps snap me out of it. I don't want to be spending money on fast food, plus it's unhealthy and not nearly as tasty as homemade! Sometimes I give myself a bribe; I'll say that if I get my butt off the couch and prepare for the week now, then I can go out for dinner the next weekend. We don't eat out that much, so it's enough incentive to snap out of a stress induced "frugal funk". (What I like to call it when other stress in our lives causes us to feel like all of our efforts to be frugal are just too much work and it's not worth it!)

Guest's picture

Stress and spending are connected.

When I get stressed out, I tend to fantasize about purchasing an iPhone or other types of consumer goods. I know this about myself, and rather than shopping I thinking about my simple living philosophy and how I truly want to spend my life energy.

Also, doing yoga, running or other types of physical activities help ease my stress levels and consumer wants.

I know shopping is not the answer to happiness. :)

Guest's picture

When I'm stressed, I'm more likely to eat out or buy expensive convenience foods. So I aways make sure I have the ingredients for my favorite meals at home.

Guest's picture

I have some money budgeted for "fun" each month so I don't feel deprived on the financial side to want to indulge for pleasure when I'm stressed. I also don't feel deprived with the foods I eat so I also don't tend to overeat when I'm stressed. I'd agree with the earlier poster that I tend more toward clutter when I'm stressed.

Guest's picture
carol l

When my husband suffered a Massive Stroke and I became a 24/7 caregiver, I now have 1 day a month (5 hrs.) respite care and I use this time to recharge til the next month. Lunch with friend, spa day, or movie and shopping. Daily stress buster is relaxation techiniques snd a glass of wine before bed.

Guest's picture

If I'm feeling particularly stressed, I'll allow myself a small treat (like a fancy coffee that I normally don't buy). Small treats every once in a while keep me sane and keep me from splurging. Don't let the little treats creep into habits though!

Guest's picture

when you're stressed, there's often this feeling that you don't have control over something in your life. You might be having a tough time at work, or you don't know what to do about a family issue, or you don't know how to fix a problem. These things all create stress.

But, buying something is something tangible that you can do that you have control over. You're making a decision to make a purchase... you're consciously bringing something into your life. And, whether it actually helps your problem or not (usually it doesn't) it at least gives you that feeling of control that you felt you were lacking.... and with that, a temporary stress relief.

Of course, in the long run, these kinds of impulsive purchases usually bring on more stress (especially if the stress in your life is related to your finances... like so many of us nowadays). So, it's important to be aware of how you deal with stress. Knowledge is power.

Guest's picture

I know I am a little backwards from most, but I tend to avoid spending when I am stressed. I do think it is a vicious cycle, because when I stress that there is no money, I mentally compose lists of money that "needs" to be spent, but I do not spend a dime. I drive by stores and wonder how anyone is able to spend money, but I do not stop. I avoid stores when I am stressed. It is after I am feeling like we will be okay with money that I start spending again. Once I know there is money, I feel okay about spending it, but the mental lists I was making when stressed? They go away. Those things seem very unimportant once I have a cushion again. I wonder why that is....

Guest's picture

I would have to say that the two are related. When I stress out, my mind tends to only reflect on what I am stressing over. So if I go out to the store, I might pick up something that catches my eye but not think about the fact that I don't need it. Then I make it back home and feel some buyers remorse.

Guest's picture

I allow myself small indulgences when I'm stressed---a chocolate nugget, or an ice cream cone here and there. It always helps me to take a deep breath and remind myself how fortunate I am. Sounds corny, but it works for me.

Guest's picture

Stress and spending are not connected for me, but stress and eating are! I try to find something to do with my hands r exercise to keep busy and reduce stress.

Guest's picture

Stress doesn't make me spend (I'm not an emotional shopper), but having spent too much definitely causes me stress! When I had a pretty large amount of credit card debt I had many stress-filled days and nights, scrambling to pay bills on time. It's a terrible way to live, always worrying about money and not having enough. Rather than go shopping if I'm stressed I like to go for walks or play with my dog, take a nap, take a bubble bath, read a good book/magazine, or watch a funny TV show/movie. Those things help me unwind without racking up any debt!

Guest's picture

they are absolutely related. you feel so much better when you go out and buy something. actually, it only helps if you buy a luxury item or something you don't really need. if you go out and buy groceries you don't really feel that much better.

Guest's picture

I think of some very cool Nuns I used to know. They were highly educated, rarely complained, lived in a small private room, and had two winter dresses and two summer dresses. The happiest people ever have less spending stress.

Guest's picture

Managing stress is easy: self-help tapes and whisky will see you through every time :)

Guest's picture
pam munro

When I get stressed out I try only to go for rock bottom bargains & only shop in bargain/discount/dollar stores and thrift shps - but it can be dangerous even there - So step #2 is to go on a $ diet and avoid any shopping AT ALL.

Guest's picture

When I get stressed out I take all the money out of my wallet and remove my debit card. I'm the type to buy "a little something" to make myself feel better, but I can't spend money if I don't have it on me.

Guest's picture

I recently had to pick up someone's hours at work along with my own, indefinitely, so I am finding myself in this stress-spending dilemma as well. One thing that is helping is excusing myself from housework. It can wait or hubby can do it. So it's imperfect, but I can put it out of my mind and relax, read, or take a nap. I've earned it anyway. If I find money burning a hole in my pocket, I use it for small treats: like the ingredients for a curry, or blueberry yogurt, or organic fruit. It's a healthier way to treat myself and it ends up saving money in the long run. Who has time to shop anyway? My real spending hazard is boredom and depression. When that happens I spend my retail therapy at thrift stores.

Guest's picture
Justin Liudvinaitis

Stress and Spending or even Spending and Stress can be one of the same things. Its must be a normal reaction to our daily lives. Knowing when enough is enough is where you can turn it all around. Ive got a couple of tricks that help me make stress and spending work for me. One is to take a deep breath and take a look around and look to see how many others may be in my same situation (perspective approach), sometimes is not that your spending its what your spending it on. Two is an easy rule to follow, try the 20/20 rule. If it costs more than 20 dollars and you've been thinking it for more than 20 days, go for it! This is kinda hard 5/5 is a little easier to manage. And three understand that it is normally a habit to stress and spend and everybody is doing it. I love my county deeply and I know that we are hungry and like to get stuff, I just need (and want) to be myself.
Oh and one other thing I've noticed that if you feel stuck in your life, try not spending and just save (besides bills) you really start down a road where you really feel better and can get out of a rut.

Guest's picture

I don't shop that much except for necessities. Most of the spending is done by my wife and for our kids. I still have the same shirts that I was wearing 3 years ago, maybe I should get a new one every now and then...When I do shop then I stress over if I really needed the item or just wanted it and have about a 50% return rate.

Guest's picture

They're definitely related, when you don't have a surplus of cash!

I manage to keep my stress levels at a minimum by not overcommitting myself, sleeping enough, and eating real food. Oh, and having a job I don't hate definitely helps.

My best tool for keeping my spending down is the library. If I have books to read, I'm much less likely to get bored and go shopping!

Guest's picture

I actually don't have a connection problem between stress and spending. Mine is more between stress and eating and also between spending and then depression (about the spending). I'm sure there are areas of overlap, tho :) Mostly I try to stay focused and not let myself get stressed out about things like I used to. It helps that my focus can be on reducing spending and meal planning, all things that help me avoid pitfalls.

Guest's picture

They are definitely connected for me. I am way more likely to spend $$$ when I am stressed.

Guest's picture

Depending on the source of my stress, I may either spend some or not.

I sometimes spend to buy myself something to make me feel better or to cheer myself up. This is usually the case when it's work/school/etc that's got me down.

Or, I'll just hoard all I can into savings. If I stress about spending money, this is what I'll often do. If I feel worse about keeping the money than spending it on an item, then I figure that it's important enough for me to buy and I'll buy it. (Very little buyer's remorse here!)

Guest's picture

I manage stress by setting time aside to relax with friends and family and watch movies I like on weekends. I manage spending by not going to places I am tempted to spend money.

Guest's picture

... to breathe in and out slowly ... pray if you have one to pray to; or, meditate and think of a wonderful and peaceful place to go for a minute or two ...

remember that "things" are not "who" you are... breathe ... relax ... just for a minute or two ... and remember who you are ... and how strong you are...

Eventually you can go back and seize the day. Godspeed!

Sierra Black's picture

Stress drives spending up for me in three ways:

1. I tend to spend more on comfort and convenience when I'm stressed. Maybe that means I buy an indulgence for myself or the kids, like a vintage coat or a pricey box of cereal. Maybe it means I cave and we order take-out. When I'm stressed, I often try to buy my way towards feeling better.

2. Stressful events tend to be expensive. Last month, a good friend's baby was in the NICU. Being there to support her meant a lot of expensive hospital parking fees, tolls, and meals.

3. When I'm stressed, my focus is not on my money. When my friend's baby was sick, I wasn't closely monitoring my spending and tracking my dining out budget. During daily life, I have little routines and habits that keep spending in check, but under stress my attention just goes elsewhere.

The best way I've found for dealing with it is just to stay far, far away from my wallet at times of stress.


Sierra Black - embracing the wild heart of parenting at

Guest's picture

I have to say that stress really (in my opinion)can be closely related to spending as a whole particularly in it's addictive style. I have seen many people who simply cannot afford to buy things because of a job loss or previous mounting debts that they have said where out of hand and yet they were charging up sometimes what seemed useless items. This has left me to think that because of the stress in their life spending seems to be almost like a medicine at that moment because all seems okay when they walk away with whatever was bought. Yet it all is a vicious cycle with one relapse after another.
I think stress just shows itself in many forms and spending is definitively for some a momentary relief.

Guest's picture

I think this may be like how some people react to stress (or full-blown clinical depression) by eating more, and some people react by eating less. One of my biggest sources of stress is time pressure, and when I'm overburdened with work and other commitments, I don't have much time to think about spending on non-essentials!

Several people have mentioned spending on eating out when faced with time-pressure stress. For us, it would take 20+ minutes and 20+ bucks to pick up dinner at a drive-thru if we were running short on time. By making sure my grocery list includes some quick frozen fixes to see us through those days (frozen pizzas, frozen burger patties, frozen fries, etc.) we can have dinner on the table in less time, at half the cost.

Guest's picture

I have been thinking about the connection- perversely, I spend foolishly when I'm stressed out about debt. I mentally throw up my hands and find myself spending money I don't have on things I think I may case of absolute financial disaster! For instance, I'll pass on the single roll of 39 cent Walgreens toilet paper in favor of a 12-roll pack, even if I only have 39 cents in my wallet. Or I'll fill up the gas tank and overdraw my account to do so- or kite a check to make sure the refrigerator is stocked. It's clearly a fear-based reaction to living paycheck to paycheck in an uncertain time, but it winds up costing a lot in overdraft fees and the like. It doesn't make any sense! However, writing down everything I spend (per my new budget counselor) and "white-knuckling" it through the lean times is helping mightily.

Guest's picture

I get on the internet and shop and pick out all the things I want, to make myself feel better. I have a 48 hour rule. If I am still thinking about it two days later, I check to see if there is money in the budget, if so, I buy it. 99% of the time, I have totally forgotten what I was or that I wanted it by the next day.

My grandmother used to do this, only she didnt have the internet, she called it "window shopping"

Guest's picture

I feel much more tired when under heavy stress, so I don't have the energy to hit the department stores for "shopping therapy." But I will be more open to spending money for quick, convenient food if I am too tired to cook. My method of combating stress food spending is to cook and freeze batches of food over the weekend that I can reheat for dinner during the week. I also cook a lot of rice so there's always the option of making quick fried rice from it, eggs and whatever leftovers or frozen vegs are at hand.

I just try to tell myself that, in the time it takes me to drive to the fast food store, order, wait, and drive home, I coudl have gone home and prepared a meal.

Guest's picture

When I am stressed I try to avoid temptations to spend money needlessly. My husband and I also have an "allowance" that we are free to spend on ourselves however we choose each month. This helps with feeling like the other one is spending too much on personal stuff and it also means that if I want to buy a new outfit to help my stress level I know whether I can fit it into my allowance or not.

Guest's picture
Mariel Martinez

If you go out, you see advertising telling you how to fell, what to do, etc.
When you were a kid, nobody ever told you how to be happy, yet you most likely were, because you lived in the moment, and you have small quantity of external stimulus.
Now it is different, and when you start acting upon the external stimulus, you forget the internal part, and when you remember it, then you stress out...
So, stop the external stimulus, and act on your internal mind, which very likely will tell you that family and friends are the important part of your life... Everything else can be obtained thru faith in the universe. Someone will help you, someone will tell you the right direction to solve some of your problems, someone will remind you of your inner child, and when that happens, you will feel complete and things will flow your way...

Guest's picture

They are very connected for me. I try my best to be mindful of purchases during those times - I don't mind paying for convenience but I want to make sure that I pay attention and really need or want what I am buying.

Guest's picture

A written spending plan or spreadsheet keeps the urge to spend at bay. If I stay with the pre-determined "plan"; it takes away the stress. (especially for Christmas Shopping)

Guest's picture

i'm self-employed (barely employed based on my recent income) and i know how spending can be self-medication and a temporary stress reliever. i broke the cycle by backing out of the weird consumer-driven lifestyle (as much as possible) and embracing simplicity: home-cooked meals from natural foods (cheap in the bulk section!), walking to work (reduces stress and saves money), and realizing that i just don't need all that 'stuff' that i've been told i need.

my 'wallet' is my driver's license and a little cash (for unexpected needs, e.g. bus fare home, etc.). my debit and credit cards stay home so i'm not tempted by unplanned purchases.

and lastly, nothing creates stress like the unknown, so i stay on top on my finances (or lack of) by using quicken. i know how much/little money i have, and where it needs to go.

Guest's picture

Stress and spending are an angel/devil kind of thing with me: angel wins: I exercise; devil wins: I buy junk food.

Guest's picture

I don't let myself shop online when I'm stressed. It's so easy to do, it's where I will do the most damage. If I notice I am browsing things more often (or buying them more often!), I just don't buy anything at all online - the urge passes.

Guest's picture
Becky M

Usually, its my time that's in short supply, so I buy more expensive things to compensate, i.e. ready-to-eat meals or take out as opposed to cooking from scratch. Or, if the place is messy, because I haven't had time to clean, it seems more fun to go out & invaribly I end up spending. And then I do feel stressed because the bills are high, and I feel the need to spend more time working to make more money. So, what I do is I take my take home pay (after retirement, taxes, etc are subtracted), divide by a 40 hour work week & get an actual hourly rate for what I earn. Then I decide if whatever I'm going to buy is worth X number of hours at work of my time. It takes me 40 hours/month to pay for the house--one week a month to pay for something I live in 100% of the time--that's reasonable. 40 hours for some gadget that I'll lose interest in after a year or so? 3 hours to pay for a fancy dinner that lasts 1 hr? Nah, not so appealing now. 30 minutes or less to pay for a 2 hour movie? Sounds good!

With the actual $/hr rate, I don't stress over smaller items & it makes it clear on larger items if its worth the costs.

Guest's picture

when I'm stressed I eat, when I'm depressed I feel the need to shop. Avoiding shopping is MUCH easier than avoiding the desire to nibble.

Guest's picture

I am one of those who is actually stressed out by spending money at all. I used to stress-spend, after I got my first job but before I had to worry about things like rent, car insurance, or student loans. Now that I do have all those things to worry about, my budget is much tighter, so I keep careful track of my money with a spreadsheet; whenever I'm at the store I have to actually tell myself that it's OK to spend money sometimes, even if I'm only buying necessities at the time.

I am, however, an emotional eater, so I definitely understand how stress can bring on the urge to spend money, which then creates a vicious stress-cycle.

Guest's picture

The relationship of stress and spending is called my therapist, for some reason the more stressed the higher the bill. I think it has something to do with the broken furniture I find myself replacing, and for her own therapy bill. Jeans and shoes are my xanax... I find the sound of plastic being dragged through a machine very soothing. ATM button beeps? Could lull me to sleep. I spend much more when I'm stressed. I always tip more too, people who don't even need it. When I'm stressed and I tip I always feel like I just made that persons day...which usually makes me feel better. And finally Starbucks! Starbucks is legal crack for those of us who go through 9-5s like zombies. I'm a junkie and when I'm stressed I stop eating, I replace real food with somewhat-dessertlike-extremelybadforyou-butalwaysmakesyoufeelsupperior-venti cinno. Why the hell not? So yes when I'm stressed I spend what most people spend on college tuition on things I don't need. Bad? Maybe. Connection? Def!

Guest's picture

The relationship of stress and spending is called my therapist, for some reason the more stressed the higher the bill. I think it has something to do with the broken furniture I find myself replacing, and for her own therapy bill. Jeans and shoes are my xanax... I find the sound of plastic being dragged through a machine very soothing. ATM button beeps? Could lull me to sleep. I spend much more when I'm stressed. I always tip more too, people who don't even need it. When I'm stressed and I tip I always feel like I just made that persons day...which usually makes me feel better. And finally Starbucks! Starbucks is legal crack for those of us who go through 9-5s like zombies. I'm a junkie and when I'm stressed I stop eating, I replace real food with somewhat-dessertlike-extremelybadforyou-butalwaysmakesyoufeelsupperior-venti cinno. Why the hell not? So yes when I'm stressed I spend what most people spend on college tuition on things I don't need. Bad? Maybe. Connection? Def!

Guest's picture

I got a chance to test this out yesterday. It seems my new strategy for handling stress it to bake. I probably am someone who used to spend money, but that's just not an option right now and my priorities are different than they used to be (having a child will do that to you). So baking it is.

Guest's picture

stress causes impulse buying in my opinion.

Guest's picture

Stress and spending are directly proportional in my opinion! A good plan/time management is a great way to fight against it....I am still working on this skill for myself! =)

Guest's picture

If you feel you must spend to relieve stress then buy for someone else. The gratitude you have for that good deed will out weigh the stress you will have for spending money you didn't have. Be good to yourself, you deserve the Praise.

Oh, Yea! I believe stress attacks in some form or other. I am not shopper so, I don't go out and shop. What I do is smother the ones I love. I will bake cookies from scratch in the middle of the week or create fabulous meal. My relief for stress is cooking. My children think they did something wonderful because they get special treats or unique food. The reward is my family praises me and tells me how marvelous everything was or is. This is relief. I am receiving praise and gratitude for something I couldn't control - stress. So, I say find an outlet for your stress and make sure it gives back. Your emotions will appreciate the gratitude and the praise you receive from doing something for someone else.
After years of doing the cooking stress relief, my children have finally caught on that Mom is freaked out about something and they come in and talk to me about everything.

Guest's picture
Patricia Bustamante

My experiences are that when I am stressed out I want to spend...particularly on anything that will bring me comfort in the moment, which is usually associated with anything that will help me get my mind off the most troubling issue I am faced with at the particular moment. However, this only causes me more stress in the future. The best thing one can do in those moments is remember that by doing this, you are deferring additional worries for the near future...which causes more stress, which may in turn result in more immediate spending...we are creating a cycle for our selves... a bad one.

Guest's picture
Patricia Bustamante

The thing that i have done that helps me immensely when I am stressed out is to "walk". By "walking" in a nice park, around a lake, with music, etc... I am distracting myself from whatever it was that was overwhelming to me in the moment and helping me relax so I don't find comfort and relaxation in any spending related activity or any so called relaxing situation I am looking for by spending...