25. How to Stop Emotional Spending

June 16, 2022

The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn't cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don't personally use or believe in.

The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn’t cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don’t personally use or believe in.

My best advice to overspenders?

You DON’T have to stop spending money…

You just have to stop spending money on shit you don’t care about.

Sounds easier than it is, we know. Being an emotional spender is incredibly common, and it shows up even in small ways. The extra items you don’t really need at Target, a late-night Amazon shopping spree, tickets to events you don’t really care about but just can’t stand being in your house anymore.

The good news is that you don’t have to stop spending, and there are some simple steps you can take to make sure that you’re making purchases with a clear head. 

In this episode, Tori walks you through how she evaluates her purchases to make sure she’s not spending with her emotions –– and instead, making purchases that bring value to your life in more ways than one.

Want more on emotional spending? Check out the curb emotional spending webinar for free.


Our HYSA recommendation

Take the FREE money personality quiz for tailored resources for your money personality

Debt Defeater

Back to Basics

Follow Financial Feminist on Instagram


Tori Dunlap (00:18):

Hello. Hello, Financial Feminist. So good to see you yet again. I hope you are enjoying all of the new episodes of this season. I was scrolling back a couple days ago and I was like, gosh, we got some big hitters. We got some great… I mean, obviously I’m biased, but like we got some good shit and it makes me really excited. It’s been really thrilling to see you all respond positively to the episodes and to also be able to use the learnings in your own life. It makes me very happy.

Tori Dunlap (00:47):

I have a fun personal story, because currently the world is burning, and so we could use a bit of just ridiculous things that don’t matter. I’m as much telling this to Kristen, my podcast producer, as I am to you all. Today, as you all know, I am still in New York. I have about a week left, actually exactly a week left, of my stay in Brooklyn. I was meeting one of my favorite photographers for a photo shoot today. I got on the subway and the subway was packed this morning.

Tori Dunlap (01:18):

I was getting on the C train going in to… Technically going into the city, but we were stopping in Dumbo to do the photo shoot. Train’s packed and this nice guy next to me, who is probably around my age, looks at me. I have my headphones in, so I don’t fully hear what he says, but he does the motion of like, do you want my seat, which was so kind. He’s like, “Do you want my seat?” And I’m like, “No. Don’t worry. I’m good.” I stand there for a stop. A bunch of people get off, so then a seat opens up on the other side of the subway.

Tori Dunlap (01:45):

I crossed the other side. I sit down. I look up and I see the guy who offered me a seat. This man is gorgeous. This man is beautiful. He has like bright green eyes and just gorgeous skin and wearing like a suit. Now, we’re all wearing masks, right? And if anybody who has been single during all or part of the pandemic knows, masks, it’s very hard. You can’t see the person’s face. You don’t know what they’re looking. It’s just very difficult, right? But I’m looking at this guy and I’m like, “Holy shit. This guy is beautiful.”

Tori Dunlap (02:25):

We make eye contact. My brain does the thing, as all brains do, where it goes, “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t look at him. Look away.” I forced myself to not look away. We’re doing for like six subway stops the cat and mouse thing of look at each other, look away, look at each other, look away. At one point, he gives me the look that we’ve all gotten, hopefully at least once in our life, which is like, “Yeah, you’re hot. Clearly you think I’m hot because you haven’t stopped looking at me.” This is happening on the subway.

Tori Dunlap (02:55):

I’m already sweaty because it’s about to thunderstorm. My adrenaline’s going and I’m like, what is this? Is this the meet cute that everybody has talked about? Is this what’s about to happen? It is a stop away from my stop. I make a deal with myself that if the subway opens on the side he is on, I am going to hand him my phone with the new contact app open so he can type in his number. I’m going to do it. I’ve made a deal to myself. We’re getting closer. We’re getting closer. I stand up.

Tori Dunlap (03:31):

I put my jacket back on. We’re approaching my stop. I discover, of course, that the subway opens on my side and not his. He sees that I’m going to get up. He sees that I am going to leave the subway, and we do the thing where we look at e
ach other and he goes and tries to hand me his phone. I hand him my phone instead, because it’s already ready. He tries to hand me his phone back to him. I’m like, no, we only need one number. One of us just need…

Tori Dunlap (04:03):

You either need to give me your number, or I need to give you mine very quickly. Because again, the doors have opened. It’s my stop. He is like frantically typing in his number. I’m like, oh my god. Very quickly, right before the doors closed, he hands me back his phone. I smirk at him. I leave the train. What? What? And then I spend the entire time… The adrenaline, like my heart is going da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. I am heightened because I have just had to like gird my loins to do this, right?

Tori Dunlap (04:34):

Best feeling in the world. I get off the train. I am giggling. People who are walking in front of me are turning back to look at me like, “Who is this crazy fucking woman who’s just laughing to herself?” It’s me, because I asked a man out kind of, sort of. To be continued. I doubt it’s a love match, you all. However, you’ve heard me talk about it on TikTok before, if you are a female identifying, woman identifying person, regardless of your preference of gender, please ask people out.

Tori Dunlap (05:05):

And especially if you are into men, ask men out. It is my fucking favorite thing. It’s so fun. It’s also just… You never feel more confident. Even if they tell you no, even if they’re like, “I have a girlfriend,” it is just the experience of putting yourself out there and doing something scary. You win when you put yourself out there. You don’t win if they say yes. But I had the cutest little meet cute on the New York subway today and I just had to tell you all about it. It made me very, very happy.

Tori Dunlap (05:38):

Not related to today’s topic at all, but Kristen, that was for you and for the rest of the pod squad. All right. Let’s transition, team, into the content of the episode. First thing, if you haven’t listened to our back catalog of episodes, if you are new to Financial Feminist, if you just joined us when we’ve started releasing these new episodes recently, you might not have a feel for how these mini episodes go yet.

Tori Dunlap (06:07):

These mini episodes with me are not only packed with me talking about my dating campaigns, but also are packed with actionable guidance. They’re perfect to give your financial life the little kick in the ass that it needs. There are several amazing episodes from season one. Our most popular and probably the place to start other than episode one is episode five, the financial game plan episode. It’s also called where do I start?

Tori Dunlap (06:31):

If you haven’t listened to that episode and you’re like listening to the rest of the episodes, please go back to that one. If you have listened to that episode maybe like a year ago and you need a refresher, if you’re wondering, “Should I be paying off debt first? Should I be saving an emergency fund? Should I be paying off student loans or credit cards? When should I be investing?” All of those answers are in episode five. Probably 85% of the questions we get are answered in episode five.

Tori Dunlap (06:56):

Please go listen to that one. If you’re loving the show, make sure you’re subscribed and have left us a review. We get to do amazing things like bring you six episodes a month because of your response to the show. Continuing to do these episodes is reliant on you all’s support. Share with your friends and family. Tag Her First $100K and Financial Feminist Podcast on Instagram. If you’re not sure what to say in your review, maybe tell us the weirdest way you’ve made money.

Tori Dunlap (07:21):

If it’s not safe for work, maybe call yourself an accountant or something. I love that, so that Apple doesn’t flag it. Today’s episode is about a topic we get emails on pretty much weekly at this point, emotional spending. Let’s define emotional spending first. What do we consider to be emotional spending? It should be pretty obvious, but emotional spending is any kind of spending money that is spurred by an emotional state. This can be “positive” or “negative.”

Tori Dunlap (07:51):

Typically, it’s like sadness or anxiety or stress. It’s a form of a coping mechanism, and usually it results in buying things that you don’t really need. Speaking of emotional spending, before we dive into today’s episode, you’ve asked for it time and time again, so we built what is probably the most requested resource for the Her First $100K community, introducing Debt Defeater. Exactly how to understand, make a plan, and pay off your debt once and for all without shame or judgment.

Tori Dunlap (08:21):

This is one of our most affordable courses, which was important to us because we know that if you’re looking for this information, t
he last thing you want to do is spend a ton of money on a course. When I tell you that this resource is packed, I mean it. We’re covering topics like how to smash your debt in five steps, how to negotiate your interest rates, why credit cards are important and how to use them responsibly. We’re talking student loan refinancing and more.

Tori Dunlap (08:45):

We’ve also built a brand new bundle that includes Debt Defeater and our best selling course Back to Basics, because we know that getting out of debt is only one step in your financial journey. Head to herfirst100k.com/debtdefeatercourse to grab the course or the Back to Basics bundle. That’s herfirst100k.com/debtdefeatercourse. We’ll also link it in the show notes. And as a special offer to Financial Feminist listeners, take 10% off Debt Defeater with code FFDEBT.

Tori Dunlap (09:12):

That’s F-F-D-E-B-T. Okay, back to the show. Is emotional spending bad? No, it’s not. If you need that tub of Ben and Jerry’s after a hard week, or a morning latte when you’re not feeling great and just trying to get some energy in the morning, the last thing I’m going to tell you to do is deprive yourself. I am never going to tell you to not buy something. We know that the reason you’re not rich is not the avocado toast or the lattes. It’s the systemic oppression. Deprivation is never the answer.

Tori Dunlap (09:43):

99% of diets fail because the more you tell me, “I can’t have fried chicken,” the more I want fried chicken. It’s not willpower. Go back to Victoria Garrick’s amazing episode on diet culture. Diet culture thrives on deprivation. When we view our spending in terms of diet culture, it’s very similar, right? Deprivation. Stop spending money on everything. I don’t need you to stop spending money. I just need you to stop spending money on shit that you don’t care about. I’m going to say that for you one more time.

Tori Dunlap (10:13):

I don’t need you to stop spending money. I don’t want you to stop spending money. Money is meant to be enjoyed. I just need you to stop spending money on shit that you don’t care about or shit that isn’t mindful. Because when it comes down to it, our money is there to bring us joy. Because if emotional spending is a thing and we have all of these “negative emotions” like stress or anxiety, we also can have all of these positive emotions like joy and ease and hope. Our spending can give us all of those things.

Tori Dunlap (10:43):

You work super, super hard for your money. You work very, very hard for your money. I would really love for your spending to reflect that. I would love for you to take the dollars that you worked hard for and have them be spent on things that you absolutely love. Wouldn’t that be a great feeling to take the money that you work day in and day out for and actually see the return on that money? The like joy return on investment? I’m never going to tell you that you’re not rich because you spend money on something you like.

Tori Dunlap (11:17):

Not only does that math not work, but statements like this are shaming, judgmental, and they don’t acknowledge systemic oppression. I want you to spend money because that’s what it’s there for. But really, again, I want you to spend money on things that you actually like and things that bring you joy. I am not the financial expert who’s going to come and take away your coffee because that’s just bullshit. If coffee is what you love to spend your money on, amazing. Great.

Tori Dunlap (11:40):

The world’s so god damn hard already. Spend $7 on a coffee. Great. Great. I’m here to advocate for you so you can feel confident in saving and spending money on the things that you love. Money should bring you joy. It is meant to be saved. It’s meant to be invested. It’s meant to be used as a tool to help you build the life that you want. The whole point of this episode is to help you take control of your money and love your purchases again, while still being able to save for the future.

Tori Dunlap (12:11):

Emotional spending becomes a problem when it’s, one, consistent. It’s happening a lot. It’s happening very frequently. It’s not just a one-off purchase to make yourself feel better. I bought a $75 pregnancy pillow at the beginning of the pandemic. I am not pregnant, nor planning on becoming pregnant. I just needed to feel something. But if I was buying the equivalent of the $75 pregnancy pillow every other week, or maybe every week, or maybe every day, probably a problem because it’s consistent.

Tori Dunlap (12:39):

The other way it can become a problem is if your emotional spending results in some sort of financial distress or mismanagement, as if you are significantly sacrificing your financial goals because you’re emotionally spending. Or if you look at your bank account every month and you’re like, “Where the hell did my money go?” Or you look at your credit card statement and you’re like, “I don’t even fucking remember making that purchase. What did I buy?”

Tori Dunlap (13:03):

You’re spending money either consistently or on things that are resulting in some sort of financial distress. We’re going to walk through an exercise in this episode that will help you curb your emotional spending. It will help you make decisions that align with your values and budget. And fun fact, it is directly from the pages of my upcoming book, Financial Feminist.

Tori Dunlap (13:25):

To combat these emotional spending tendencies that we all have, I made it a practice to ask a few questions of myself, if I’m about to spend money, or have my clients ask themselves before making any sort of spending decision. If you are in your car, if you are somewhere where you can’t take notes, maybe either just reflect on these questions or write them down. We also have had people literally make these like their phone background.

Tori Dunlap (13:53):

I know one person actually took these questions, printed them out and put them on the back of their credit card, which was like next level. But like if that’s you, go for it. Question number one, what is my current head space or emotional state? We’ve talked about how big of an impact our emotions and head space have on our money, but this becomes even more obvious when we’re asking ourselves, what kind of emotional state are we in when we’re making this purchase?

Tori Dunlap (14:22):

Just encouraging ourselves to be mindful. It’s not just desperation or anxiety or stress that causes you to overspend. I’ve also overspent when I’ve been feeling really good, right? It’s also when I’ve been out on a Friday night and I’m loving my life and my beautiful friends, and I’ve had maybe one too many drinks. And in this heightened, emotional state, where, by the way, again, I’m feeling very, very good, I’ve moved on to the $20 cocktails and I’ve ordered some chicken tenders that I’m not hungry for.

Tori Dunlap (14:52):

And also, I bought the entire group multiple rounds without even thinking. In this way, spending can become a vice. It’s really, really easy to try altering our mood with our purchases. We all know that there are certain things that can bring us a lot of joy, but there’s also a lot of things that we can buy that only feel good in that moment, and then really don’t bring us anything. In this question about what is my current head space or emotional state, we’re going to dig a little deeper.

Tori Dunlap (15:20):

We’re also going to ask ourselves, am I buying this thing to fill some sort of void in my life? Even if that’s just minor. Will this purchase give me more than just a brief reprieve from that thing? Am I emotionally heightened and therefore more tempted to be careless? It’s good to ask yourself this question to at least be aware. Again, we’re trying to be mindful. We’re not looking to judge ourselves. This shit happens to everybody. I’m a mother fucking financial experts.

Tori Dunlap (15:49):

This shit still happens to me. I need you to not delude yourself though into thinking it’s not happening to you. It is okay if this purchase you’re making is to emotionally cope with life, because sometimes life is fucking hard. But if you’re constantly, again, making purchases to emotionally cope, that is an issue, and it’s not just for your bank account. If, for example, every time your boss is mean, so you buy something, you’re not fixing the fundamental issue, which is your bad work environment, right, or leaving your bad work environment.

Tori Dunlap (16:18):

The emotional spend is a temporary solution that doesn’t ultimately work to make your life actually better. I don’t want you relying on this bandaid solution that would distract you from a longer term fix of getting real with yourself and asking again, will this actually help me cope and with what issue? Let’s move on to question number two. How many taco dollars does it cost? You probably heard me say that and you’re like, “I’m confused.”

Tori Dunlap (16:44):

This blog post came out a few years ago and it changed the game for me when I read it. It was from the blog Science Finance and the author loved tacos, like more than anything. When she would go to buy something that wasn’t tacos, she would think to herself, “Okay, but how many tacos is this thing worth? How much is this thing in taco dollars?” For example, this jacket is $50, a taco costs $5, so this is 10 taco dollars. I could either buy this jacket, or I could get 10 tacos. You need to decide what your taco dollars are.

Tori Dunlap (17:14):

My personal taco dollars are travel dollars. I love to travel. When I think of my purchases in terms of like where could this get me in the world, it helps reframe it. If it’s $100 jacket, I go, okay, this could get me from Seattle to LA, or this could get me one night in an Italian Airbnb somewhere. You’re going to discover through doing this that sometimes the purchase is worth it and sometimes it’s ju
st not.

Tori Dunlap (17:36):

Whether that’s taco dollars or airplane dollars or skincare dollars or plant dollars, that’s probably my secondary currency is plant dollars, you’re viewing your purchases through the lens of what’s really important to you and not to someone else. My lovely friend, Paula Pant, who’s another financial expert, says, “You can afford almost anything. You just can’t afford everything. You get to prioritize where your money goes, because you can’t just go out and purchase everything you want in this world.”

Tori Dunlap (18:01):

You’re reframing your purchases through the lens of the thing you actually want. That simple reframe of taking your favorite thing and then juxtaposing it with the thing that you’re about to buy is going to allow you to discover just how much worth that thing has and whether buying that thing is worth giving up something that you know that you’ll truly value. Our third and final question, number three, am I accurately evaluating the worth of this purchase? When I say something’s worth, I mean it on a couple different levels.

Tori Dunlap (18:34):

These are like questions within questions. First, is this thing actually worth the price tag? Is it actually worth what they’re asking me to pay? Is the quality of this item worth the price tag? The second thing is like, am I going to glean a lot of value from this thing? Is it something that is actually valuable to me? The third and most important for someone who loves a good sale like I do is, is it actually worth the money, or am I buying this thing just because it’s on sale? We have all been here, right?

Tori Dunlap (19:07):

We see it’s on sale, and suddenly we convince ourselves to buy it because, “Oh, it’s on sale.” I’m so guilty of doing this. I’m more likely to buy it because I feel like it’s a steal, right? I’m like, “Ooh, I got to bargain today.” But if the original price of something was $100 and now it’s 70% off, you’re still spending $30, right? If it’s something you were planning on buying before, amazing. Cool. You did just get a deal. But if you’re buying something that’s on sale just because it was on sale, well, we still lost money.

Tori Dunlap (19:36):

We still spent $30 that we weren’t planning on spending on something that we probably don’t really like that much. I also like considering the most important thing for me, which is like the cost of use of an item. The cost of use is exactly what it sounds like. How many times you’re going to use this and what is the cost for every time you use it? If we divide the cost of an item by the number of times you anticipate using it, you can get a pretty good idea on whether or not the purchase is a good buy.

Tori Dunlap (20:07):

For instance, if you have fallen in love with smoothies, me like every day for the last five years, I don’t think I’ve gone through a god damn day and not drink some sort of smoothie, and maybe you want to make them at home to save money as opposed to going to, I don’t know, your local smoothie mart and buying a $12 smoothie, you can divide a $60 Nutribullet by 261, which is the number of working days in the year. You’re like, “Ooh, this blender is expensive,” but maybe you’re going to use it every weekday.

Tori Dunlap (20:38):

Maybe even every day. Maybe you’re also going to use it occasionally to make soup. That’s the fun thing about the Nutribullet is sometimes you can make soup with it. This isn’t sponsored. I just have a Nutribullet and I love it. If we take the $60 Nutribullet and divide it by the number of working days in the year, our cost per use is 23 cents. I’m good spending 23 cents every time I use this thing.

Tori Dunlap (21:01):

Me, personally, I’ve gotten much more intentional about the clothing I purchase now because I’m in the privileged place where I can afford clothing that’s a little more expensive, right? I’m not shopping as much at H&M anymore, both because they’re kind of environmentally disgusting, but also because like I can figure out, “Oh, this pair of shoes at H&M is going to fall apart pretty quick as opposed to this pair shoes that I might spend more money on, but they will last me longer.”

Tori Dunlap (21:30):

They end up being significant like investments for me. If I’m buying a coat that costs me $500, but I know I’m going to wear it constantly and it’s good quality and this will last me for years, that’s a good purchase for me because the cost of use is very low. My first ever designer purchase was last year I was in Paris and I really wanted a pair of designer sunglasses. I thought to myself… Actually, let me even go back. I wanted something… I knew I really wanted to make my first designer purchase.

Tori Dunlap (21:59):

I was trying to figure out what that would be. Something that would always fit me. Something
that was timeless that I could wear over and over again. Potentially pass on to somebody else maybe after 40 years. I thought to myself, well, it probably needs to be an accessory. I purchased a pair of sunglasses. I purchased a pair of Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses. I love them and I wear them all the time. That felt like a really good purchase to me, both because I made a memory, right?

Tori Dunlap (22:23):

I was in Paris with my best friend buying my first designer thing, but also because I knew I’d wear it a lot. I knew it would look good for a very long time. It would last me a long time. It wouldn’t randomly fall apart the fourth time I put them on. The cost per use was low, even if the upfront first time investment was higher. These are just half the questions I encourage people to ask when they are about to make a purchase.

Tori Dunlap (22:49):

It’s not like you have to sit here at the register and be like, “What are the six questions? Let me go look. Let me ask myself all six,” right? It’s more just the thought and the exercise of being a mindful spender, of just taking a pause and evaluating something before you spend money on it. Again, I don’t want you to walk away from this episode thinking, “She is telling me to evaluate all my purchases and the evaluation is going to be I can’t buy it.” That’s not it. That’s not it.

Tori Dunlap (23:17):

Sometimes it will be it, right? Sometimes that’s the takeaway. And other times, yeah, if you’ve thought about this purchase and it aligns with your values and it’s something you really love and it aligns with your taco dollars, yeah, spend money. I want you to spend money. We talk even more in-depth about the psychological side of money. We spend a whole chapter of my book, Financial Feminist, talking about the psychology of money and about how to spend in a very mindful way.

Tori Dunlap (23:47):

That, again, not only is focused on bringing yourself joy through your money, making sure that your hard earned money is spent thoughtfully, but also gives you room to continue saving money and investing and paying off debt. There is a balance that we find between our spending, our current spending, and our financial goals. You’re going to hear me talk about this book so much in the coming months, because this has been a four year process and I’ve worked so hard on it.

Tori Dunlap (24:16):

It is being released in December. However, we start pre-orders. You can pre-order the book here very, very shortly. If you want to be one of the first people to hear when a copy of Financial Feminist is available to you, there is a lovely link in our show notes for you to sign up. I would love for you to support this book. You’ll hear a lot more about it in the coming months. We have all of the questions that we encourage you to ask in order to be a mindful spender included within the pages of Financial Feminist.

Tori Dunlap (24:43):

As always, team, we appreciate you being here. If you loved this episode, please tag us, tell a friend, write the emotional spending questions on the back of your phone in Sharpie. I mean, maybe do that. I don’t know. Do whatever… It’s your phone. You can do whatever you want. As always, tag us @herfirst100K, tag us @financialfeministpodcast. If you aren’t already subscribed to our YouTube, we also release clips and sometimes up to like 10 minutes of our interview episodes, the video of our interview episodes.

Tori Dunlap (25:12):

If you’d rather hear the words actually coming out of my face hole, you can do that in YouTube. Team, can’t wait to see how your purchases start getting a little more mindful with these questions, with these reflections from this episode. I will leave you with, you don’t have to stop spending money. You just need to stop spending money on shit that you don’t care about. Have a great rest of your day. I’ll see you next week. Thanks for being Financial Feminists and I’ll catch you later.

Tori Dunlap (25:41):

Thank you for listening to Financial Feminist at Her First $100K Podcast. Financial Feminist is hosted by me, Tori Dunlap. Produced by Kristen Fields. Marketing and administration by Karina Patel, Olivia Coning, Cherise Wade, Alina Helzer, Paulina Isaac, Sophia Cohen, Valerie Oresko, Jack Coning, and Ana Alexandria. Researched by Ariel Johnson. Audio engineering by Austin Fields. Promotional graphics by Mary Stratton. Photography by Sarah Wolfe and theme music by Jonah Cohen Sound.

Tori Dunlap (26:11):

A huge thanks to the entire Her First $100K team and community for supporting the show. For more information about Financial Feminist, Her First $100K, our guests, and episode show notes, visit financialfeministpodcast.com.

Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap is an internationally-recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. She has helped over one million women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

Tori’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, BuzzFeed, and more.

With a dedicated following of almost 250,000 on Instagram and more than 1.6 million on TikTok —and multiple instances of her story going viral—Tori’s unique take on financial advice has made her the go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. CNBC called Tori “the voice of financial confidence for women.”

An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.

Facebook Group