Stress Spending

I recently read something interesting on a blog that I follow entitled “Get Rich Slowly”. The author revealed that his mother has been having some severe health problems and lately he has found himself what he calls “stress spending.” I started thinking about that because all of us have something that we turn to when we are stressed.

Many of us go automatically to food. You have a hard day and feel overwhelmed, and all of a sudden you don’t care about your diet, you are going to have chocolate! But alas, there is no chocolate in the house, so you eat your kids lunch snacks… or find a reason to make cookies just so you can eat huge spoonfuls of dough. Unfortunately, you have already eaten all of the chocolate chips when you were stressed last week, so you have to settle for sugar cookies. You decide that sugar cookies just aren’t doing the job, you really need chocolate so after combing the house one more time to make sure that there is definitely nothing sweet hiding in your pantry, you head for the store at 8:00 in the evening to fix your craving. In all of this sugar madness, it is very easy to forget what started it in the first place… and this is actually what we are counting on.

Stress eating and stress spending are just temporary fixes to forget about the stress and try to help ourselves to “feel” better. Unfortunately they don’t ever deal with the actual problem. For many people, their stress relief comes from spending money. There is a certain endorphin rush that comes with shopping. You feel good. You haven’t been thinking about what has been stressing you. In that shopping moment you are happy and distracted, and when you bring it home you get to try it on, or program it, or whatever and that lasts for a little bit. The problem is that many times we spend money that we don’t have to try to find relief from a situation that can’t be solved with money or things.

The real issue in stress spending is not that you should be doing something else, it is that many times you don’t even know why you are spending, and you definitely don’t know how you are going to pay for it. Any thing that you turn to for relief from stress that is hurtful to you is not a legitimate way to meet that need. My Dad actually defines sin as meeting a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. No, I am not calling you a sinner 🙂 , but our need in the middle of a stressful situation is legitimate.

Many people would say that you just need to take your stress to the Lord and quit worrying, and although that is good advice, it also doesn’t recognize that we are human and we have needs. God didn’t design you to be completely impervious to the world around you. He designed you to need human touch, to need sunshine, and food, and water, and when you are feeling pressure and stress you have a legitimate need to relieve that stress. However, an illegitimate response to stress is anything that is going to harm you or your future. When you eat without regard for your health, and your body, you are trying to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. And when you spend without regard for the financial consequences, there is probably some need in your heart that you are trying to fill with shopping.

So the first step to stopping the devastating effects of stress spending is to recognize that what you are feeling is stress. Many times it is only after the reckless shopping spree that you realize that you might have been stressed and trying to get relief. If you can begin to identify triggers for yourself in what sets you off on a buying spree, then you can begin to try to manage your stress in a different way. For instance, if a loved one is dealing with a health crisis, you are under a brutal deadline at work, or you are in a financial crunch, and you find yourself wondering around the mall or Walmart just looking for things to buy, you are probably experiencing stress. If you have found yourself gaining weight, or buying on credit with no plan for how to pay for it, you may want to ask yourself if you are experiencing stress.

If the answer is yes then it is time to learn to manage your stress in a legitimate way that is not going to sabotage your finances, or your health. When I realize that I am stressed the first thing I do is go to the Lord and ask Him what is going on. Many times I get into stress mode because I have taken up the burden for things that aren’t mine to carry. I also get stressed when I doing more than what God has told me to do.

So much of my stress gets resolved when I determine what is causing it and repent and ask the Lord for His grace to remember that He has me and is holding me. Sometimes I only figure out that I am feeling stress as I talk out what is going on in my heart with my husband or a friend. But there are times when even after I have taken my stress to the Lord, and worked out a plan for dealing with the situation, I still have residual stress that I need to just let go of. So that is where, if you are a stress spender, having a budget for stress relief can help. Go ahead and laugh, but if you love to shop and it relaxes you, then it is better to figure out a way to do it constructively, then do it in rebellion and stress and cause havoc in your finances. You have to look at the heart issues first, but if shopping is your passion or your favorite hobby, then you had better get a plan for shopping and have it as part of your budget.

One solution for curbing the devastation of stress spending is to never allow yourself to impulse buy on credit card. Limit yourself to what you have in your wallet. This way the damage will be very minimal. If you make large purchases while stressed and put them on the credit card, then you will be paying for the price of that stress for a long time.

The writer of the blog “Get Rich Slowly” only had $12 dollars in his wallet when he felt the urge to stress spend and so he determined to spend only what was in his wallet. He was stressed about his mom’s health and so he went out and bought a comic book. Now, in his blog he was beating himself up for wasting that $12 but I thought it was brilliant. Spend the $12 instead of the $1200, and just relax. Have a moment with yourself and with the Lord. Enjoy your cup of coffee, or new book, or new earrings and just keep taking the burdens of your heart to the Lord. Especially, if this has been a long standing pattern for you, you may need a “weaning” from spending period. But the key is: don’t spend money that you don’t have. And if you don’t have any money left in your budget, then you may need to find a new way to relieve stress 🙂 Try running, or going for a walk, or cleaning out a closet, or giving something away, or check out a new book from the library, or play a video game. Do something fun for you, but try to think of something free.

In closing I just want to remind you of a verse. 1 Peter 5:8 says to “cast all of your care upon the Lord, for He cares for you.” It doesn’t say that you won’t have cares, it just tells you what to do with them when you do. Many times stress just means that you are carrying all of your cares yourself. And the truth is, no amount of shopping will lighten that load. Only your heavenly Father can.

So, just in case you are a stress spender and you don’t know it yet, I have prepared a sort of stress spender’s checklist for you. There is no condemnation if this is you, but you might want to re-assess your stress levels if it is.

1) You might be a stress spender if you have ever uttered the phrase, “I would like to order the “miracle blade” knife set.”
2)You might be a stress spender if you have over 1,000 transactions on ebay and they’ve all been purchases for you.
3)You might be a stress spender if you own more than five colors of the exact same shirt, and you’ve only worn one.
4)You might be a stress spender if you find excuses to buy things for other people just so that you can spend money… your aunt does not need more antique tea cups!
5)You might be a stress spender if your decisions to make really large purchases always begin with, “Oh well…” and end with “We’ll figure it out later.”

If this is you, there is help… but the first step is just admitting that you have a problem. More tomorrow and in the meantime, roll your cares onto the Lord, put your credit card away, and have a lovely day.