by Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

Are American consumers so angry they are spending recklessly, disregarding their budget or agreement with their spouse? Last week, I mentioned a study which stated that almost 80% of women are inclined to spend themselves out of misery and would go on a spending spree to cheer up, concluding that some women use shopping as an emotional regulator. Ironically this means that worrying about money can lead to spending more, which doesn’t bode well for many people who have had to cut back due to the recession.

In regards to these patterns that are emerging out of our national – and personal! – financial crisis, I coined a new phrase: “Pent up Purchase!” This is similar to a phenomenon I’ve been studying in my practice for years – what I call a “POP shot,” or a “pissed off purchase.” These types of spending obviously aren’t healthy and when we participate in them, we’re playing off of part of the grieving process. Out of denial and anger, Americans have awakened to a new emotional response to the economic collapse. Our brain chemistry is negatively impacted when we suffer adversity. Our addiction to spending to get that “high” is a common response to spur dopamine production (feel good hormones). Because of this, the economic downturn we’re experiencing is a set-up for irresponsible spending, and an unhealthy replacement for emotional intimacy.

This leads to what I call the “money mistress” which can then give way to financial infidelity. This can be every bit as destructive and painful and a sexual affair (in fact, sometimes the two are intertwined!). A “pissed off purchase,” “money mistress” and “financial infidelity” all occur when you engage in reckless spending – whether that be spending over budget, spending behind your partner’s back, or spending as a way to avoid grief and as a type of self-medication.

I’m not trying to be alarmist and draw the conclusion that buying a pair of shoes to make yourself feel better is only one step away from financial infidelity. I’m merely suggesting that the two can lead to each other, and in a climate where everyone is over-stressed, over-worried and more on-edge than normal, these types of behaviors can heighten the likelihood that you will engage in more destructive patterns.

There’s no denying relationships are stressed right now, and just as we must be more financially vigilant and dedicated on a personal level, so we must be with our significant other. And it’s not just about money. Take some time to de-stress, relationally by spending time with each other in an attempt to take the pressure off of the worry that may be encroaching on your financial life.

It may seem like a vicious cycle: more stress=more tendency to spend=more stress. But doing things to remove stress from your life WITHOUT spending money will help break the cycle!


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