It’s easy to slip into bad habits when you’re under stress, and unfortunately many of our anxiety fixes impact our pocketbooks, making matters worse, rather than better.
“Stress seems to create behaviors such as over-eating, substance abuse, or shopping, that result in immediate, short-term gratification,” says Dr. Leslie Torburn, author of Stop the Stress Habit. "When we’re stressed, the bigger financial picture just doesn’t come into the decision making process.”
An immediate-gratification mindset triggers our need to make ourselves feel better in the moment, despite the impact on our health or wallet.
“Stress leads people to seek comfort that is often obtained by spending money,” she says. “It’s important to step back and see how you spend your money. What are your financial goals and how are these bad habits sabotaging those goals?”
Here, Dr. Torburn’s cheap, but effective, fixes for the five most expensive stress habits:
1. Smoking. At around $9 per pack in some places, a pack-a-day cigarette habit can cost you $63 per week, or three grand a year. Just one extra pack per week (less than three cigarettes more a day) can up your expenses nearly $500 a year.
How to save yourself: Dr. Torburn suggests that getting your body moving can re-focus your attention off your craving and onto good health. Plus, filling your lungs with fresh air feels a lot better than smoke.
“If you’re at work and [usually] take a break to smoke, go walking instead, or walk for five minutes before you start smoking,” she says. “Take your breaks with non-smokers rather than fellow smokers. Sometimes all you need is a distraction to curb the temptation.”
2. Drinking. If the average cost of your favorite cocktail or glass of wine is around $10, two glasses a each week will add more than $1,000 a year (not including tax, tip and cab fare). And a six pack of beer at home (around $7) or a budget-friendly bottle of wine ($10) won’t save you much.
How to save yourself: Dr. Torburn suggests that if you’re looking to unwind, choose different activities, like walking, biking or hitting the gym. If you’re into the happy hour scene, start with water and intermix a less expensive seltzer with wine. “You’ll stay well hydrated and keep your bar tab down,” she says.
3. Shopping. Some estimates put leisure spending at about $113 per trip. Adding just one day of shopping to your weekly budget can rack up almost six grand in impulse purchases.
How to save yourself: Keeping busy and clear of stores can help. “If you do all your errands on the weekend, you may find yourself spending extra time shopping and buying things you don’t really need,” says Dr. Torburn. “Try getting your errands done during the week when you are on a tighter schedule with less time to browse. Then, on your days off, avoid shopping altogether. Do other fun things with your family, work in the garden, exercise, or take in a movie.”
4. Over-eating. Snacking or over-eating (say, suddenly adding dessert to your dining out tab), even just one little splurge a day, can quickly zap your budget. For instance, the average purchase at Pinkberry is $5.50, a small movie popcorn runs nearly $5 and a gourmet cupcake can run $3 and up.
How to save yourself: Dr. Torburn recommends bringing healthy snacks like fruit and vegetables, such as carrot and celery sticks, wherever you go. They’re not only cheaper but they’ll keep you full so you’re less likely to spring for dessert or eat too much at mealtime. Inexpensive healthy snacking (especially on foods that naturally fight stress) can be beneficial, she adds, in keeping you from overeating after a stressful day at work because you’re already full.
5. Caffeine addiction. Anxiety and lack of sleep can cause you to reach for a caffeine pick-me-up, but a medium latte runs you around $3.10. That’s nearly a hundred bucks a month sipped away.
How to save yourself: “Although it may be tough, opt for drip coffee,” recommends Dr. Torburn. “That will save you a few bucks. If you must, treat yourself to your favorite fancy coffee drink once a week. To save even more money, brew your own coffee at home and at work.” A pound bag (averaging about $7) will get you 20 to 30 cups of home-brewed joe.
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