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Dawn Handschuh has earned a living putting pen to paper for 25 years. She worked for 10 years in financial services, writing widely on retirement planning, personal finance and specific investment products such as annuities, mutual funds and 401(k) plans. Dawn is also a regular contributor at http://www.CreditFYI.com, a one-stop destination into the world of credit and personal finances and the CreditFYI Blog

Given the economic sinkhole we’re in, you might think that just about everyone’s succeeded in reining in spending and cutting back or delaying discretionary purchases. It’s the logical thing to do in times of economic uncertainty.  It’s true, many have, so much so that retailers are keeling over like toy soldiers, gas prices are still headed south and Detroit is offering 0% financing.

But for those with a serious shopping addiction, cutting spending Just. Feels. Wrong.

For many of us, our 20s are a decade filled with lots of firsts a “real” job, first home, a new marriage, or maybe even starting a family.

Although these are all happy life events, they can still act as emotional triggers that lead to over-spending as a cure-all for what ails you.

Life Events That Can Trigger Impulsive Spending

Take the following examples:

New job

  • A new job or promotion is cause for celebration; you “deserve” a reward.
  • Your new job is a handful, and some retail therapy would do wonders for your stress level.
  • You need a new outfit for that interview.

New marriage

  • After a fairytale wedding and romantic honeymoon, the realities of living with a perfectionist are starting to sink in.

Starting a family

  • Nothing is too good for your kid.
  • Your friends all dress their kids in designer clothes -< why shouldn’t you?
  • You vow that your kids will never experience the deprivation you felt growing up.

First home

  • The rooms are big; they need to be filled.
  • You can never have enough [fill in the blank.]
  • He wants a plasma screen TV, you want a sub-zero fridge, so, in the true spirit of marital compromise, you get both!

Buying stuff out of a sense of entitlement or to fend off bad feelings or boredom is never a good idea, and in this recession, dropping $764 on a Canon Digi Cam instead of diapers could get you in a lot of hot water.

According to April Benson, a psychologist and author of the book, To Buy or Not to Buy, Why We Overshop and How to Stop (Trumpeter Books, 2008), “Buying may distract you from some unpleasant realities in your life, whether they’re emotional, financial, relational, or spiritual, but it cannot change them. Instead, you trade destructive long-term consequences for short-term relief, which only winds up making things worse.”

How to Control Your Impulsive Spending

Here’s how to keep your spending demons at bay:

  • < Avoid “window shopping.” If you need something, fine, but go with a list, and leave promptly when you’ve gotten what you came for. “Browsing” online is also a bad idea.
  • Resist peer pressure. It’s fun to shop with friends, but don’t let them pressure you into buying something you don’t really need.
  • Don’t shop when you’re feeling down, lonely or upset. Shopping may temporarily perk you up, but it’s not a permanent solution to your problems.
  • Know your limits. Even if you don’t live by a budget, and even if you can afford it, don’t enter the store without deciding in advance the maximum you’ll pay.
  • Keep the plastic at home. Despite their convenience, credit cardsremove you from the immediacy of your transaction (no dollars change hands) and it won’t hit home how much you really spent until you get the big bill at month’s end. And having a debit card is like carrying your entire bank balance around with you.
  • The pause that refreshes. Before making any major purchase, stop a moment and ask yourself, “Do I really have to have this?” “Will I regret blowing this money later?”

Becoming more aware of the circumstances and situations that trigger a desire to spend can immunize you against self-destructive behavior patterns.

Photo Credit:  Tony the Misfit