For many people, that weird hole in their budget can be chalked up to one thing: an irresistible impulse to buy something, a need so strong, that nothing else matters.
Call it what you want. Idiosyncratic spending. Heart-and-soul spending. Secret obsession spending. It's about the desires of the heart. And no one is immune from it.
"The way people spend money unmasks them," said Aaron Kipnis, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. "As Warren Buffett said, 'When the tide goes out, you can see who's swimming naked.'"
Kipnis has devoted much of his professional life to figuring out why people spend money the way they do.
"Freud said people are driven by a love of shiny things," he said. "There are certain objects that are imbued with a luminosity, as we call it in psychology. Advertisers try to generate that kind of gleam in their products, objects that represent deep longing."
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Spending that comes from a deep sense of longing should not be confused with the phenomenon of "emotional spending," however. Emotional spending is buying a new pair of shoes after a bad day at work. It's springing for drinks at the bar after getting a raise, or driving home a shiny new sportscar the day the divorce papers are signed.
Conversely, idiosyncratic spending—"soul spending"—reflects a lifetime of longing, fear, hope, love and memory. People spend money for reasons that are deeply personal and continually evolving—reasons as complex as the experiences that inspired them.
Take Brandon Suggs, who has spent many thousands of dollars on thrill-seeking endeavors such as skydiving, bungee jumping, hang gliding, fly boarding and dangerous encounters with wild animals.
An intervention outreach representative at ClearPoint Credit Solutions in Atlanta, Suggs, 30, says he doesn't mind spending 30 percent of his income to do things like "sit on alligators and hold their mouths closed" because—however hard it is to explain to other people—it gives him deep satisfaction.
"When I'm doing these things, it's when I'm happiest and most relaxed," he said. "Paying for it is a hardship, but I don't mind."
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