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Emotional Spending 101


Unlike impulsive buying, emotional spending is frequently heightened by stress, grief, or moments of happiness or sadness. Regardless of these triggers, they can impact your finances negatively. For example, you shop to make yourself feel better after a bad day at work. As a result, compulsive shopping and spending stems from an impulse disorder habit that can be addictive for many. The relationship between money and happiness is now seen as complete. Aknin, Wiwad, and Hannibal (2018) support this claim that there is a positive association between a person's total income and well-being. Hence, the psychodynamic complex may seem relatively new for our community partners and Extension clientele. However, it has been around for some time and posits the emotional consequences of everyday spending choices and, ultimately, the art of choosing.

So, how do we help our community youths and families to understand and navigate emotional spending? As Extension Agents, we must emphasize value clarification within the implementation and delivery process of programs and services. According to Fritz and Guthrie (2017), clarifying our values can help us guide daily activities and decision-making. Additionally, value clarification can help individuals align their needs with what they buy. For example, if a person's number one value is education, then wouldn't they tend to spend their money on items that morally and intellectually edify themselves or others? This could include purchasing books, completing post-secondary education, shopping for educational gifts, etc.

So why address emotional spending in our Extension programming? Emotional spending can lead to significant credit card debt, as people are vulnerable to spending money in response to life triggers instead of their rational needs. Have you ever been up early in the morning and watched those workout or quick weight loss videos? Somehow, you feel compelled to try it when that feeling of isolation and desperation perhaps comes into play. A similar feeling also exists when you get invested in a post on social media. You keep going back to see if you got any likes and maybe from whom. We live in a society where many of our clientele, especially young adults, constantly spend money to feel validated. If they are not validated, they could risk being canceled. No one wants to get canceled in this culture. Therefore, Marketing Advertisers understand emotional spending more than the consumers themselves. When Marketing Advertisers add that soft interlude of "In the Arms of an Angel" as background music to their presentation, if you are not compelled at that time to take out your checkbook or credit card to donate, then you have passed one part of the emotional spending test. However, we have different values that help shape and further align our emotional spending.

From focus groups I have worked with in my current research, I have recognized that many participants struggle to identify their values and how they align with a specific financial need. Therefore, I spend much time helping my audience understand their values and how they profoundly affect their decision-making skills. Bonow and Follette (2009) postulated that when a person clarifies their values, it can create a principle or standard for making decisions or acting in a particular manner. As Extension Agents, we have to encourage our audiences to ensure that their values are directly tied to their goals so they can have a road map to get them where they need to be. In conclusion, if their values align with their goals and they spend or save money with these goals in mind, they will have greater life satisfaction.


Aknin, L. B., Wiwad, D., & Hanniball, K. B. (2018). Buying well‐being: Spending behavior and happiness. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 12(5), e12386.

Bonow, J. T., & Follette, W. C. (2009). Beyond values clarification: Addressing client values in clinical behavior analysis. The Behavior Analyst, 32, 69-84.

Fritz, M. R., & Guthrie, K. L. (2017). Values clarification: Essential for leadership learning. Journal of Leadership Education, 16(1), 47-63.

I anticipate this will help you plan for instructional time to empower our communities with a Financial Mind$et. Please feel free to reach out to the author if you have any questions.

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I find that people often state their values, but then recognize a great misalignment between their habits/ actions/ behaviors and the values they thought they prioritized. The Value Clarification worksheet you shared gives a great start to recognition of potential disconnect, and can help formulate discussions or internal reflections leading to a meaningful reassessment (of behaviors and/or values) to influence goal setting and progress. Thanks for sharing!

Chris, I created and used a worksheet that I found effective with a college class a few weeks ago. It requires the participants to list all their values. Then, identify short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals related to their top (3) values from their list and explain how finance aligns with their specific goal. We then have an open discussion about barriers that can keep us from reaching our goals, and because life sometimes throws us a curve ball, we also address how to overcome the barriers to meet our financial goals. Feel free to email me if you have any questions or need assistance walking through the attached sheet.


Last edited by Troy Anthony Anderson

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This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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