NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Given the dizzying number of factors that govern consumer financial issues, it's no wonder many Americans rely too much on emotion when making critical money decisions. But emotion is one of the worst tools to bring to the personal-finance table.
That's a reminder from Take Charge America, a Phoenix, Ariz., nonprofit credit counseling provider.
"Many intelligent, capable people have found themselves buried in debt as a result of excessive spending and other poor financial habits," says Michael Sullivan, chief education officer at the agency. "The first step toward improving your finances is simply to recognize when your emotions are influencing your decisions."
Take Charge America says consumers should look for "warning signs" that emotions are playing too big a role in everyday financial decisions.
Here's a look at some emotional spending behavior to beware:
Trying to keep up with the Joneses. Spending to impress your friends and family is a sure way to dig yourself a debt ditch, especially if you go into debt to make a "look-at-me purchase." If you spend to make a lifestyle statement, that's not healthy.
Anxiety riles your financial life. If you worry too much about money, you wind up making hasty decisions -- and that's a common step in losing money. Sullivan points to the stock market, where "selling low and buying high" are common mistakes made by investors suffering from knee-buckling anxiety.
Love finds a way into your bank account. Americans love to shower gifts and favors on family, friends and romantic interests. But letting love, or worse, infatuation, rule money decisions is a huge mistake -- unless you channel that love in positive ways. Instead of expensive gadgets, for example, fund your child's college savings account on a regular basis.
Living in the now, forgetting about the future. Take Charge America says too many Americans ignore the long term when making money decisions. A few decades ago it was unthinkable in most households to go into debt to buy a car or take a vacation. Instead, you saved up for those purchases. Today, too many consumers pay no heed to their financial futures and wind up generating debt when they could be funding their retirements.
Engaging in "shopping therapy." When down in the dumps, many Americans unsheathe their credit card and head to the mall. That just leads to buying things you don't really need and accumulating more debt in the process.
Sullivan says that if Americans do a better job of understanding and controlling their emotions, they'll have more cash in their banking and investment accounts at the end of the month.
"Money is a natural and important part of everyday life," he says. "If we understand how we feel about money and how those feelings impact our behaviors, we'll make smarter, better-informed decisions."