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Getting a Handle on Post Break Up Spending…

You just broke up. Perhaps your marriage ended or your other half moved out. And you find yourself suddenly having to spend less….

Thinking about your new life when you are hurting from relationship loss can be overwhelming. When you factor in the financial stress that intrudes on top of the grief and general chaos, it may feel like too much to bear. As a money coach, I’ve sat with many people in this situation. Often, both income and expenses have changed. Perhaps you’ve suddenly become a one income household. Or, you are the one moving out and your expenses are completely different.

It can feel like a cruel aftershock to find you can’t spend in the way you’ve become accustomed. It feels unfair – adding insult to injury. No wonder many people feel like a deer caught in the financial headlights once a relationship ends.

You may know you need to spend less at a transition period like this – at least temporarily while regaining a sense of balance. But your mind seems determined to encourage you to spend, spend, spend!

What the heck is that about?

We are emotional beings, and this comes out in our spending. To pretend that we should “suck it up” and “just get a handle on things” is to deny that we are human. Money is emotional. And nowhere does it get more emotional than right after a break up.

So how do you get a handle on your spending?

Emotional spending post-break up

The reality is that we all spend emotionally from time to time. We spend when we are happy and also to make us feel better. “Retail therapy” both entertains us and lifts our spirits – at least in the moment. We all know that feeling of regret when the credit card bill comes in or when we don’t have enough in our account to pay our other bills. Then we rush to beat ourselves up. Many even be already feeling stressed, anxious and regretful about the recent purchase.

But in the moment, spending distracts us and soothes us so we keep doing it.

And this is never truer, or more detrimental, than right after a big break up.

For some of us, it’s quite possible that we already knew we had a tendency to overspend. Possibly, spending too much when we were depressed, anxious or bored. Or perhaps we knew we overspent and it caused issues in our lives, like debt and relationships stress, but we were never sure what to do about it.

And now this overspending tendency may be on overdrive, right at a point when you desperately need to get a handle on it.

Even if you’ve never identified with being an overspender, it’s quite possible that you are feeling very raw and emotional about money currently, and spending money is “feeling” scary right now.

So how do we look squarely at this and take care of ourselves, emotionally AND financially? Understanding the root of the problem is a good start.

Break ups suck – give me more of that feel-good chemical

There is a lot that goes on in the moment of spending money on something we enjoy. An actual “feel-good” chemical (dopamine) gets released in our brain when we spend money on something fun and new for us. Feeling really good as we anticipate buying something, or feeling fabulous in the moment of purchase, literally releases this chemical in our brains. This is part of having a normal, healthy brain.

So feeling good (or almost “high”) as you spend money on things you enjoy is not your imagination. And when we are suffering from a recent break up, it’s natural that we would seek even more of this feel-good chemical to combat the blues of a break up.

If this sounds like you, know that you are normal! Most of us do spend emotionally from time to time, and if you’ve just gone through a break up, your brain and soul are literally aching to feel better.

And, it may be time to think about other ways to combat the blues.

Are you sleeping, eating healthy and walking and exercising? Are you seeing your friends enough? How can you get those feel-good chemicals to course through your brain?

One thing that lifts our spirits is having something to look forward to. We relish having something to think about and plan, almost as much as the actual event. So saving money for a weekend trip with a fun friend may ultimately be cheaper than online buying. (This assumes you don’t shop online for new things for your trip…)

The point is to realize that you are likely down. And using shopping as the antidote to the blues, while temporarily effective, can be particularly harmful in a post-break up situation. So acknowledge that you are down and think about other ways to combat it. You deserve support during this time. When I divorced, I spent countless hours in the bathtub, soaking and reading. I watched 20 episodes of some TV shows I missed….you know…all in one weekend. I spent a lot of time with my friends.

Connecting more with friends: the conundrum

You need your friends, but it can be financially disastrous if all of your connection time with friends is spent meeting up at a restaurant or a sports bar. We are already prone to overspend as we fight the blues, and alcohol exacerbates our urge to spend.

So, as you are healing, you need to find ways to connect with your friends that don’t involve spending money. Can you invite them to dinner? Can you meet for a walk, or an outdoor activity ?

Note: the goal is not to spend zero money. That is impractical and just not realistic. Rather, the goal is to feel in control of your spending as you assess your new reality and think through the new lifestyle you are creating as a happy newly single.

And part of healing, is to spend serious time with our friends (not always being serious, of course). So think carefully about what you are doing when you are with your friends.

Reality check: Are you asking yourself right now, “We have always gotten together to go out, what if my friends don’t want to hang out with me now? I can’t lose them either!” Just know a true friend will understand your need to spend less money for a while, while you figure out what works in your new life. Simply saying, “I need to spend less for a while, so can we find less expensive restaurants, or skip the sports bar?” will be more than enough explanation for most people. Don’t believe me? Think of this in reverse. If you had a friend come to you and say, “I need you! Can I come over??” you would rush over . And if they said they also needed to spend less while they figured things out, you would totally understand. Of course you would. And so will they.

Reconsidering your shopping entertainment habit

Many of us have formed a habit of shopping as entertainment. This is related to both how good it can feel (hello dopamine!) and also how enjoyable it is to be with friends. But there is also a simple entertainment component to shopping.

You may shop alone. In fact, it can be about needing to be alone (take a break from your work). It can be about the thrill of hunting for a good deal. It can be around shopping for a particular hobby. Or to shore up self-esteem and buy the clothes that will make you feel better.

No wonder so many of us enjoy online shopping.

But why do we really shop? What is the underlying need we are trying to meet? Until you identify these needs you will have a hard time healing and moving on, so thinking through these real needs is key.

If you are striving to be alone, how can you meet this need? What else can you do that gets you out of the house? Can you take yourself to a movie? or work out? Shopping does fulfill different needs we have, it’s true. And it’s why sometimes it turns into a habit. If shopping is just “what you do” when you’ve got some time and you want to go enjoy yourself, it is possible that it has become a habit.

If this is true, it’s time to find some alternate entertainment. And this has to be a conscious decision. It won’t just happen by itself (I know, it’s a bummer). Because let’s face it, going online out of habit and then trying to not spend money, while you are feeling sad, is like that science experiment you did in 5th grade with the baking soda in the volcano – a disaster waiting to happen. Don’t do this to yourself. There is willpower and then there is putting yourself in a situation that simply isn’t smart. Be nice to yourself. Find different entertainment.

The good news is that making a conscious decision doesn’t have to be hard. What else can you do that is FUN?

Personal story time

When I divorced, I found myself spending a lot of money on the nights I did not have my son. I was adjusting to having a parenting plan and it was very strange, so I filled this new time...I was lonely and at loose ends. I found I could easily “entertain” myself online and that is what I did. For a time I surfed online on my “kid-free” nights, looking to make myself feel better with a random purchase.

Eventually, my bank account started to cry paying down debt. I knew I needed to feel better, and this shopping entertainment was starting to have some repercussions. And I was getting bored spending all that time by myself! So I called some my friends and set up some “no host” pot lucks and everyone brought something easy to make.

For two months we watched movies on those nights, and had a great time.

If you need a mood-lifter, can you throw a game party in your living room? If you need to be alone, gofor a walk,ride or run? That will likely be less expensive than skimming the web. And it may make you feel more attractive too (yes!). Host an evening in with your friends and watch your favorite program

What about you? What ideas do you have to make yourself feel better, see your friends more and not spend a lot of money?

Now is the time to assess how you entertain yourself. And if you had a spending habit in your old life, it’s the perfect time to find new forms of entertainment that suit your new life.

Living consciously

What is the first step to living consciously? Don’t panic. You will get through this, and it’s quite possible that you will be even happier on the other side once the dust settles. For now, you need to reduce your stress and possibly your spending. And, you need to take care of yourself at a deep level. This reduction in spending may only be temporary, but it may give you some financial breathing room while you assess what is next.

Simply saying, “I have to spend less so I’m going to stop spending” is likely not going to work without a thoughtful look at how and why you shop. You are in a vulnerable place. You are likely hurting and need to feel better. You really need your friends. You probably need some distraction or timeby yourself.

Heck, you want and need to go out and entertain yourself! So don’t pretend this is not true. It just won’t work. Trust me.

Breaking up is hard and painful. This is the time to increase your self-care. But spending, while it may be soothing in the moment, is usually not the answer.

Once you put a name to your triggers and think about how to really, truly take care of yourself, you can begin to find other ways to care for yourself that are both fun and nurturing.

Your new, conscious, life awaits.


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