Frugal Tip: Do Not Spend When You Are Sad


Today I read an eye opening article about the effect known as "misery is not miserly". Basically, a study was conducted on two groups of people. One group was shown a sad video about the death of a boy's mentor while the other was shown a random and emotionally neutral video about the Great Barrier Reef. Then each person was given $10 and asked to put an offer on a bottle of water. The group that was shown the sad video offered $2.11 on average, while the other group offered only $0.56 on average. Even though the first group offered nearly four times than that of the second group, they say that the video had no bearings on their decision. Thus the researchers say it is a phenomenon that happens without awareness, and that is frightening.

I can see how this effect can trap people into a vicious cycle of spending. When people are in debt they can be dragged down emotionally by all the bills they have to pay, and if they spend more to compensate for their emotions then they will pile on more debt. More debt means more frustration and sadness, and the expensive toys get charged once again. For these people, they really need to get rid of their emotions and focus on reducing their debt. Once they eliminate the root of their depression, they may naturally stop their overspending.

Personally, when I am sad I tend to spend more on food, and eat a lot more than I should. I also know a friend who would buy clothes that's much more expensive than what she usually wears when she is feeling down. After these frivolous purchases there is always a bit of pleasure, and then guilt soon follows. Now that I am aware that sadness induces extravagance, I can only hope that I will stop myself from spending money when I need a little pick me up. If I absolutely need to spend money I may need to let someone else buy the item for me.

This brings up another random thought, are funeral homes aware of this effect and do they take advantage of it?

How about you? Do you tend to spend more when you are sad and are you aware of it?


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Guest's picture

Think emotions/emotional states are a very important factor in managing of your finances.

At least for me, I tend to spend a lot more when I'm stressed, angry or even happy.

Guest's picture

I have to say I agree with this. When a boyfriend of mine broke up with me a few years back, I went out and purchased an expensive digital camera. I really couldn't afford it, but I didn't care, I 'needed it'.

Guest's picture

Perfect timing. I am sad - I got fired abruptly yesterday afternoon, after working less than a month. My boss said I was making too many mistakes. I was her FOURTH secretary - since October! I sense a pattern...

Great reminder not to spend when I'm sad, cause I sure am sad.

On the road again...

Guest's picture

BINGO. I can trace each of my budget busting purchases to feeling frustrated or sad.

Guest's picture

I tend to spend more when I'm at the extreme of any emotion - sadness all the way up to excitement. If I'm "caught up" in an idea, I run with it, no matter what I'm feeling.

Guest's picture
Funeral Celebrant

Funeral Homes are sensitive to this and caring for the grieving as a business is tricky.

Any Funeral Home will tell you that a grieving loved one is usually the one who pushes for the over-the-top items and services. On the other hand, the majority of people are too numb and in shock and denial to want to do anything, and that is simply not healthy. Grieving loved ones need to be able to show the significance of the one who is gone, and the loss that is felt. It doesn't matter if it is a parent, a child, a neighbour, a pet. Not being able to express the loss and not having someone hear the feelings of loss can result in unhealthy cycles that can last a lifetime. As a result, anyone who sells services and products to people in grief are concerned that those needs are met, and will encourage people to express and share and demonstrate their feelings of grief, and often that results in expenditure.

And, yes, there are the Funeral Homes who simply don't care and will try to milk families for a lot. But, honestly, although those businesses get all the attention, they really are in a small minority.

If you want to be able to balance being able to deal with a future loss, both emotionally and financially, you really need to do something that will feel depressing and awkward at first, but has tremendous positive effects; pre-plan your, or a loved-one's, funeral. Many services are available to pre-pay for funerals, and that has it's own pros and cons, but at the very least, figure out and write down how you would want to gather your friends and family and how you would all share the stories of the life that is no longer with you. There are many meaningful and cost-free ways to do all of that.

You can even do that for your own funeral and save your loved ones the financial burden of finding ways to express their grief and loss of you in their lives.

The worst thing you could do is to do nothing because you are too afraid to spend. Plan something ahead of time, put it with your will, or with the will of your loved one, and that way you can express your grief when the time comes, and keep spending under control.

I didn't mean to write my own post, but this is one issue that people get too frugal about at the wrong time, and I've seen the devastation.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Thank you for your comment Funeral Celebrant.  It is very educational.  I write a lot of posts just to see what other people think. 

Guest's picture

I got dumped a month ago and I've been doing A LOT of clothes shopping since. not a coincidence. (although i still maintain my shopping is better than going out and drinking too much or eating too much, which is what others told me i should do!)

Guest's picture
Minimum Wage

I am sad because I don't have money. Since I also do not have credit, spending is not an option. Problem solved.

Guest's picture

According to a research study by Stony Brook University School of Medicine Professor and Vice-Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry Arthur Stone, Princeton economist Alan Krueger, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, and other colleagues, once you reach a certain income level, more money does not contribute significantly to well-being and may actually result in more stress and less bliss.

Guest's picture

According to a study published this month by the National Academy of Sciences, the more we believe an item is worth, the happier we are with it, at least for a while. Even if the object is cheap and worthless, if we believe that it’s expensive, it makes us happy. See:

Guest's picture

When my baby died, I wasn't thinking too much either. I was looking at expensive urns, trying to figure out which was The Right One for his ashes...

The director suggested that the default urn was actually quite lovely, and might be the right choice for us. He could have made more money, but he made the effort to guide us in a reasonable direction. He was correct; the sweet white urn with a cluster of flowers on top was pleasing and does its job just right.

If I ever need to plan another funeral, I'll be back there. Here's hoping there are many more years before then...

Guest's picture

I'm really learning how to settle myself and ask the Lord to show me what I need to do in regards to my manging my emotions and plan my impulses, as well as to help me to deal with time poverty situations, and I've discovered for myself that He will answer me and grant me the courage to say no to the little girl on the inside of me so I can be the the kind of woman that I'm called to be: Just like Him.

Guest's picture

I always come to wise bread to take a break from studying my endless sociology lessons. (so, very, sleepy).

I recently lost two very dear people to me- and I realized I was overspending, but I couldn't stop. It felt like the only thing I could do to bring something new and happy in my life- it almost represented "hope" for something better. For shame.

I went online, and though I didn't buy anything I couldn't use, I realized what I was doing afterwards. I never would have bought everything all at once like that, but realized that I had this urgency to my purchases.

While I realized that I was just spending in grief of my loved ones, I didn't want to stop. I am still fighting the urge to go online and buy stuff- but at least now I REALIZE what I'm doing and can take a step back to think about it.

It amazes me what we don't really "know" we're doing! Thanks for posting this!

Guest's picture

Could it be possible that the video about a large, plentiful body of water influenced their willingness to spend less?

Guest's picture

My grandmother, mother, and a dear friend all died recently. I took time off of work and found that I was spending a lot of time shopping. Whole days, in fact. I counted this as progress, because I was up, out of the house, and "getting things done". Eventually, it all added up to over $3000 of (mostly) junk purchases. Sometimes I shopped for distraction or for the "thrill of the hunt". But more often, I shopped at stores my Mom and I had fun going to together, just to feel close to her, to feel like she could still be just one aisle over. Sometimes it was a nesting impulse- no price felt too high when it came to showing my love for my remaining family through making our home nicer, or buying them expensive gifts to celebrate small occasions. Life seemed so fragile, and money seemed so inconsequential. It truly felt like we could all die at any moment, and I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything to the max to take advantage of simply being alive. One day I was walking through Target. I had gone there to get just some detergent or something and I was deeply sad. I got this feeling that the day would be well-spent if I could "be productive through shopping", and get rid of the yucky old shower curtain in my bathroom, and maybe pick up some other bath accessories. Once I had picked those out, I started thinking how good it would feel to give our bedroom a makeover and surprise my boyfriend with some cool new linens. He was taking such good care of me, and I wanted to do something in return, to take good care of him. After a few minutes, I had completely brainwashed myself into believing that everything would be ok, if only I could get my home in perfect order. Soon my cart was full of the makings of a new and better life, even though I knew I didn't have enough money to pay for even half of them. I looked at the cart and it hit me that I would never be able to buy my way out of the emptiness inside of me. I called my boyfriend and told him that I was out of control with spending and needed help, and I needed to come home right away. I put everything back from the cart and walked out of the store empty-handed. Later, when I totaled up how much I had spent over the months, I was positively mortified. I showed my boyfriend my credit card bills and abjectly apologized for spending what for me is a month and a half of income. This 3-month spending spree had completely negated all the progress I had made repaying my credit card debt, something he had asked me to seriously work on so that we could afford to start a family. He was understanding, kind and forgiving. He said that he was complicit, because he had loved the people we lost, and was sad and didn't do anything to stop me spending our money- especially when it was on gifts for him. It scares me that when I look at the purchases one-by-one today, I feel like each one was justified. With just a little push over the edge, I would probably buy most of those things again. But that is not a worthy memorial to the three important women I lost. And it won't bring them back. And in the long run, it makes everything much worse. At this point, I have paid off all of my credit card debt through an inheritance, and I returned some of the items I bought. I am trying to deal with my grief in constructive ways now- you can't permanently buy your way out of sadness this deep. But at the time, it seemed like there was no alternative. I just didn't have much capacity to stop and think about what I was doing. Thank goodness I stopped before it got any worse.

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