Battle of the Budget: When Emotions Win Over Logic


I have a confession to make. Last week, I totally blew my budget. Not in a small, Oops, I’ll make up for that later kind of way. More like a, ohmygoodnessdidaliensinvademybrain?? kind of way. It happened after a long day at work, a less than ideal emotional state, and with the aid of much rationalization. And then, in a matter of ten minutes online, I blew my “extras” budget for the month.

I’m pretty embarrassed to admit this. I’m a personal finance writer, for goodness sake! And I work for a company that helps people pay off debt. And I still have my own student loan debt to pay off. So what was I thinking? Shouldn’t I have known better?

Well, yes, I did know better. But in that moment, I didn’t care. I blew my budget on items on my list that I’d already accounted for – but I bought more than I should have at one time. I was tired, cranky, and had no problem rationalizing my purchase. Then I told myself that it’s no big deal because I can just make up for it by not buying coffee for the next month.

Problem is, I love coffee and suffice it to say, there’s a good reason that I allot myself a coffee budget. I didn’t want to dip into one part of my budget just to even out my impulse spending. So why did I splurge? And how can I make sure it never happens again?

No One’s Perfect

The first lesson here is obvious: no one’s perfect. Yes, I write about finance every day. Yes, I work hard every day to pay off my own debt and help people pay off theirs too. And yes, I pride myself on making thoughtful and intelligent financial decisions.

I didn’t mess up because I didn’t know what I was doing. I messed up because I was feeling emotional and in that moment, that very brief moment, the purchase made me feel better. What’s worse, the purchase even roped in my logical side. I needed that purchase! I can borrow from my budget in other ways! Purchasing more of what I needed prevents me from having to buy it later!

See how quickly this can slide downhill? None of those facts were wrong. But they conveniently ignored other facts: I don’t need that purchase today. I don’t want to borrow from my budget in other ways – I created a budget that I was happy with in the first place. No matter how hard my emotions worked to convince my rational side that the purchase was okay, the fact is it was not okay. And my emotions immediately grew worse because I knew that to be true.

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How Working Long Hours or Extra Jobs Can Impair Your Finances

It’s funny how the emotional and logical sides of our brains can help and hurt each other. They always intersect and often in unintended ways. Take my example: I work long hours – made longer by the second job I took on to improve my budget and boost my debt payoff. On paper, I’m doing everything I should be doing to get my finances into a secure place.

But the problem with taking on more work to save money is that sometimes we exhaust ourselves and then our brains are so focused on getting through the workload that there’s no room left for rational decisions. And not only is there less room to be rational, but the emotional side is heightened directly with the stress level. What was the biggest problem when I was making that purchase? I deserved it because I’m working so hard.

And therein lies the issue. Of course I deserved it. We all deserve to treat ourselves from time to time. But did I really want it? Did I really take on an extra job just so I can spend my money more freely? Absolutely not! I did it because I want to pay off debt and build a stronger financial future. And there’s no room in that future for silly, excessive purchases. So while I took on more work to improve my finances, I effectively made them worse for that one brief moment.

Finding Reasonable Ways to Surpass Emotional Purchases

I wanted to share my experience because I think it’s a common one. We all have slip ups and when we do, we can beat ourselves up for them for days, weeks, even months! Aside from how terrible that feels, this self-shaming can also prevent us from actually getting back on track. That’s why it’s so important to learn from the situation and find tactics you can implement to prevent it from happening again.

In my case, I needed to create a gut check for moments when a quick purchase is just too easy. I’ve learned that my emotional side can and will trick my logical side with rationalizations. So what could I do to make sure I don’t manipulate myself to do something I’ll regret later?

The answer was an easy one for me. I added my husband on to my credit card as an authorized user. I did tell my husband what happened as soon as I got home. And for the same reasons I gave myself when making the purchase, he wasn’t upset at all. (Great to have a husband who thinks I deserve it too – but not great for stopping these situations!) However, I know that if he saw the purchase before I could explain it, he might have thought that I just went a little crazy. And that’s why I added him on to my credit card. Because if I know he might see random purchases as quickly as I make them, then I may not have time to explain why I stepped outside of the budget that I helped to create. And that would certainly stop me in the moment.

I didn’t waste any time. I went to the bank the next day and added him on. Because if I had let it go, time and distance from the issue would have allowed me to convince myself that I won’t make that mistake again. But I know I will because it was too easy to do the first time. And now I can at least have the knowledge that, although I made a mistake, I’m doing something about it. And that’s helping me get back on track.

We all make spontaneous decisions that we regret from time to time. Being spot on with a budget each and every month isn’t easy – especially when our lives get ever busier and ever more stressful! So brainstorm and identify what you can do in those moments to prevent a decision you may regret later. And if you’ve already been there, forgive yourself! That’s the only way you’ll be able to get back on track. And that’s what really matters.

Image Credit: huangjiahui

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  • Anna Simpson

    Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Shannon_ReadyForZero

      You’re very welcome!

  • lulu

    Thank you for writing about this common experience. But what did you buy?

    • Shannon_ReadyForZero

      I bought the skincare products I usually buy once every three months, but this time went accidentally overboard on quantity.

  • amandaabella

    Awesome post Shannon! I’m a recovering emotional spender lol

    • Shannon_ReadyForZero

      Lol yeah, I think the impulse always remains dormant. Always have to fight it. Thanks for reading!