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7 Emotional Purchases That Can Zap Your Savings

First you scrape, save and sell stuff to get your $1,000 emergency fund in place. Then you kick it into high gear and fight to pay off all your debt. Once that’s done, you get an extra job to build up your full emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. The key word there is “emergency.” You don’t want your emotions to trick you into thinking something is an emergency when it’s not.

Watch out for these seven types of emotional purchases that can zap your money and bust your budget.

Emotional Purchases to Think Twice About

1. Flash Sales

It’s on sale! It’s a great deal! So just how could you possibly let it slip away? Easy. You walk away. You delete the email. And you remind yourself if it’s not in the budget, you’re not buying it. It might sound harsh, but these “tiny” impulse purchases can add up over time. Before you know it, you’ve spent a big chunk of change that isn’t in your budget on random sale items.

Here’s what you need to do: give yourself (and your spouse) a budget line item for “fun money.” This is money you set aside to spend on fun things throughout the month. That could be a night out with your best friends, a new fishing pole or that awesome jacket you’ve been eyeing that’s finally on sale—and with free shipping!

And if you’re on a strict, no-spending freeze, then don’t tempt yourself by walking into stores that might cause you to slip up. While you’re at it, go ahead and unsubscribe from those flash sale emails that land in your inbox.

2. Celebrations and Vacations

Yes, your little princess only turns five once, but does she really need a kingdom of inflatables, a three-tier castle cake and a fairy dusting of Disney princess impersonators? No!

Don’t let the excitement of party planning run away with your emergency savings. You can scale down the food and decorations and still be awesome parents. Why? Because you’re showing your child you love them and want to spend time with them on their big day. They love attention from you. That gives them more joy than a bouncy castle ever could.

And before we blame it all on the kids, what about those vacations and anniversary getaways? By all means, go out, but don’t go all out until you can afford it. Save up and pay cash, then book your room with a view. It’ll feel better when it’s paid for with the cash you saved up anyway.

3. Big Household Items on Sale

An old dishwasher, television or mattress is tempting to replace. Seeing a new model on sale can tempt you to dip into your savings. It’s smart to pay less for a costly item most of the time. So, when is it okay to take money from your reserves?

Ask yourself if the house is livable without the item. A heater going out in January is an emergency, so put your savings to use. But you can wash dishes in the sink until you can pay cash for your next dishwasher. Don’t be pressured by a deal that’s about to run out. Oh, and about that mattress—flip it over or buy a mattress topper until you can afford it!

4. Out-of-Town or Destination Weddings

Even if you love your extended family and friends (and we hope you do!), don’t be guilted into overextending yourself in honor of your cousin’s big day.

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Let’s get real: She’s going to have a good time whether or not you’re there. So, unless you’re in the wedding party, don’t be afraid to send your regrets. A simple wedding gift should smooth over her disappointment—and that’s a whole lot cheaper than a trip you can’t afford.

5. Pet Surgeries

We all love our pets, so this one is a little tricky. But if 15-year-old Fluffy “needs” a lump removed, get a second opinion.

And if you decide to operate, don’t be afraid to shop around and ask for cash discounts. Then, try to work the cost into your monthly budget instead of making a hasty decision and breaking the piggy bank on your furry, four-legged family member.

6. Home Renovations

Thanks to HGTV, do-it-yourself remodels have never been more entertaining—until they’re yours. The formula starts with a simple bathroom retile, which reveals a nasty mold problem, that turns into a leaky-pipe replacement, which results in an, “I don’t care how much it costs! I just want it fixed now!”

Your emergency fund is not an “Oops! I broke it!” fund. If you need to make home repairs, set up a budget so you don’t dip into your savings. Plan a cushion for unexpected costs like treating the nasty mold, or even hiring a few pros to finish the job.

7. Family Loans

Emotions can run high when you combine family and money. You want to help them. But the key is to do it the right way.

We’re just going to say it: Don’t let family members borrow money from you. It only strains the relationship. And never give them money from your emergency fund either. If you end up giving them anything, give cash as a gift instead of a loan.

But what if your hyperactive brother-in-law is itching to start yet another new business?


If his bright idea is that good, he can work his tail off and raise the cash he needs without your help. Don’t ruin your financial situation—or your relationships—by loaning money to family.

How to Manage Emotional Purchases

Controlling your emotions is the key to saving up your emergency fund and creating healthy money habits. But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? We live in a culture that encourages us to buy on emotion.

Are you celebrating a new promotion? Buy a car! Make a purchase! You deserve it! Having a rough week? Go shopping to lift your spirits! A shopping cart full of stuff will help you feel better!

Sound familiar?

Pay attention to what triggers you to make emotional purchases. The more you know what to avoid and look out for, the more you can steer away from being tempted in the first place.

Is It Really an Emergency?

There’s a simple way to find out. Before you dip into your emergency fund to cover that purchase, ask yourself these three questions:

Is It Unexpected?

Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries and baby showers are all expected events that you can and should put in your budget. That pesky shard of glass that sliced your tire? Definitely unexpected.

Is It Necessary?

That tooth that fractured while you were flossing your teeth (oh, the irony!) is going to need some help. Pronto. That tiny dent in the bumper? It can wait.

Is It Urgent?

There might be some gray area on this one. After all, what’s urgent to you may not be as urgent to your spouse. An urgent emergency is something that truly can’t wait—like a one-bathroom condo with a commode out of commission. That’s considered urgent in everyone’s book.

You’ve worked hard to save up that emergency fund! Don’t deplete it for an emotional purchase that grabs ahold of you. Check your impulses at the door and avoid dipping into your safety net on a whim. Think through it and decide if it’s truly an emergency. Use that fund only as a last resort. And when you really need the money, you’ll be glad it’s there as a safety net waiting to catch you.

Okay, so you’ve realized you need help getting a handle on your money. You don’t want to keep falling for emotional purchases, but where do you start? Check out Financial Peace University (FPU). This nine-lesson course teaches you how to budget your money, save for emergencies, pay off debt, spend wisely, and invest in your future—with tons of encouragement and zero complicated financial blah blah blah.

You're the one who's in charge here. And FPU can help you live like it!

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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