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It's no secret that we as humans often turn to stress spending as a way to cope and feel more in control during these uncertain times.
While satisfying our immediate desires may provide some temporary relief during the pandemic, these purchases can come with long-term financial effects.
Instead of stress spending, we could be "stress saving," says Perry Wright, a senior behavioral researcher at Duke University's Common Cents Lab, a behavior science lab that focuses on the financial well-being of low income people.
"The act of deciding to save can provide the same therapy that the decision to spend provides," Wright says, referencing research that found participants had just as much or more relief from thinking about saving money compared to thinking about spending it.
Below, Wright expands on why you stress spend and how stress saving can help you avoid it.
When you're stressed, spending money on something (no matter what it is) provides some sort of relief. The act of purchasing something boosts your mood and gives you comfort. Hence the phrase "retail therapy."
But this relief is short-lived, Wright explains. "Often, it can decay before an online retailer even has time to print a shipping label," he says.
The mental reason to why you feel eased when you spend under stress, however, is because you reached some sort of resolution. "It is the act of making a decision — not the receipt of the purchase — that provides a measure of control and delivers that temporary relief," Wright says.
What if you could take the same decision-making mechanism that you use to spend and apply it in a different way? Instead of stress spending, start stress saving.
Whenever you feel an impulse to buy something that's a not a basic need (like groceries), add up what that thing, or things, would cost. Instead of moving forward with the purchase, move the exact cost of your item(s) over to your savings account.
This way, you are still satisfying that desire to make a decision, but you're doing it in a way that will help you financially in the long run.
"It is likely to give you an even bigger spark of relief from having asserted some control without taking any money out of your pocket," Wright says.
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