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Emotional money

Jay Parks

June 7, 2017

Sometimes, people think that money is just about the numbers. They think it’s something you can manage objectively—it’s cold, hard cash and that’s it. I don’t happen to think that, and a few recent experiences of mine only made me more firm in my belief that money is an emotional thing.

That’s a neutral concept, by the way. The simple fact that spending money has an emotional component to it doesn’t mean it’s positive, negative, productive, or wasteful. It’s just something to consider when you’re making a budget.

The emotional side of money

A friend of mine told me, “You know, I invest money. My wife spends it.” I couldn’t help laughing! When you spend money, you’re getting something out of it even if it isn’t a financial investment. You’re enjoying whatever you bought or solving a problem. But when your spouse spends money, you’re not getting any of that emotional satisfaction! You’re just aware that you have less money now.

I spoke with a group of men recently about money, and found a similar pattern. It was a men’s group in Buffalo, and when I talked about the emotional side of money, they pushed back and resisted that idea. Talk about an emotional reaction! Eventually, though, they admitted that they’d seen the emotional effect of money in their own lives.

Not too long ago, I went into the grocery store with a list from my wife. It was very specific: milk, bread, and eggs. Just those three things. Of course, I left with $82.00 worth of groceries—I bought some snacks for me, and I bought the kind my wife likes, too. Those were emotional purchases, and I knew that. The point is that everyone makes them!

Budgeting emotionally

It may sound like giving in to the idea of money as an emotional thing would wreck your budget. And it can, but it doesn’t need to. In fact, you can budget for emotional purchases. You’ll be more likely to stick to your budget if you do.

When you make a budget, leave some bandwidth for “mad money.” That’s money you can use to buy whatever you want, without explanation or cause. The amount of money you use for that can vary; choose whatever makes sense in your world. Even just $20 to spend as mad money can give you the breathing room you need in your budget.

Recognizing that money is an emotional thing doesn’t mean you need to make emotional purchases all over the place. But it does help you become aware of when you are making those emotional purchases. Once you know that, you can decide if what you’re buying is worth the emotional gratification, or if you’d rather use your mad money somewhere else.

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