Spending outside your means

One of the biggest sources of stress in the UAE are financial pressures. Yes, cost of living may be higher than what you are used to, but for many people the financial stress is a result of them living outside of their means. Many people are admittedly ‘over-spenders’ and say that rather than taking a realistic evaluation of their financial status and spending what their budget allows them to spend, they let their desires for a glamorous lifestyle take the reins. 

Social media, and seeing other people live lives full of glitz and the next best thing does not help their mood or their financial situation. However, if your lifestyle is bigger than your budget, your spending habits can become a serious problem – one that has ended many relationships and ruined many lives. So here are some tips to manage overspending:

Take responsibility. There are many things out of our control, but how you spend your money is not one of them. Admitting that you are experiencing financial difficulties or instability will be the first step towards gaining financial security. 

Don’t lose track. You can’t control what you can’t measure. As long as you’re not tracking your expenses, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to be reckless with money. Once you start taking note of every dirham you spend, you shine a spotlight on your finances. If they’re in bad shape that means you are highlighting your weaknesses – and that’s just the jolt you may need to steer you in the right direction towards living within your means.

Hold yourself accountable. Hold yourself accountable for your spending by telling family and friends that you are trying to spend less, and make a rule with your accountability partner that you will not spend more than say Dhs 500 without a discussion.

Avoid malls when experiencing low mood. Spending can release dopamine, the pleasure neurochemical, so you might be tempted to venture into a mall for retail therapy especially when you are stressed, anxious, or experiencing low mood. It would be important to be aware of your mood before you walk into the mall and armed with your ‘coping card’ or a note on your phone with questions you can consider before purchasing. Some questions to consider before buying something include: Do I want this or do I need this? Is this within my budget? Why am I buying this? Is this absolutely necessary to buy? Can this wait for me to purchase at a later time? Can I first check my closet if I have something similar before buying?

Stick to a list and resist temptation. Before going shopping, list down everything you need – that’s needed, not wanted – and be disciplined enough to follow the rule. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it. If you’re only buying a couple of items, don’t take a trolley or you may feel inclined to fill it. And don’t make the mistake of “just trying” on that dress or those shoes if you had not intended on buying it. 

Apply a 72 hour rule. When you lack self-control you can fall victim to making unplanned purchases on a whim. After the instant gratification of impulsive spending, come debt, worry and ultimately more spending. To avoid this trap, stick to the 72-hour rule. This means, you should think for a few days before purchasing something. You will then realize the immediate temptation is the most difficult to resist, but by the time you get home, very few things will remain lingering in your mind as items to purchase. 

Make small deposits into your savings. We often think about saving half of our paycheck or big sums of money. Instead try saving a small amount every week. You can also consider having a jar where you drop in everything that is Dhs 10 or under at the end of the day. Before you know it you will see that you are quite capable of saving. 

Get professional help. Overspending can be as difficult to stop as any other compulsion or addiction, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re using spending as an emotional regulation coping tool – to feel better or to aggrandize yourself – admit that you have a problem. Spending can be a symptom of low self-esteem, anxiety, depression or loneliness. It can also be used to fill an emotional void. If you seek help to address these underlying issues and feelings, you can start to curb your spending. You may need to speak to a financial advisor and a mental health professional.

Money is something that can make or break everything from your mood and stress levels to your relationships and beyond. While not always easy to get quickly under control, setting clear goals and making promises to yourself on the above tactics is the best way to start regaining control of your finances and, thus, your wellbeing. 

Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and  Managing Director of The Lighthouse Arabia