I think many of us can relate to the sense of fun or enjoyment that comes from buying something nice. Something which we’ve wanted for a while, or even an impulse purchase. We feel pleased, we have treated ourselves. But being mindful of how to avoid spending money in times of stress is an important skill that feels particularly relevant right now as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Resisting that urge was an important part of adapting to my life in France. Stopping treating all of my time here like I was on holiday was an important element of integrating and teaching myself how to be in this country.
But in times of stress, times of panic and sadness, some of the old tools which we have perhaps used in the past to manage our feelings, can feel closer to the surface. This is the focus of this week’s blog post where I reflect on not spending money while transitioning to life in a new country, followed by how transferable that might be to surviving financially in the COVID-19 dominated landscape which we all now live.
If I don my psychotherapy hat for a moment – spending money can be a tool which people use to change their emotional state. Whether we are buying a house or a baguette, the transaction moves us from one place to another. House-less, to with-house. Bread-less to with-bread. I’m simplifying this but if you want to read more on the psychology of state change I’ll save that for my counselling blog…
So when bad things happen to us, or we feel stressed or anxious, it becomes very easy – alluring even – to believe that buying something is going to make us happier. It has maybe done so in the past and we are hoping that it will do so again. This may be all fine and good if we can afford to do so. But what if we can’t?
Stress as a risk to our finances
I found myself thinking about those who were just about scraping by before COVID-19 took hold a few weeks ago (is that all?). I wondered how with the restrictions on movement in place, our ability to shop or refill fuel at the most affordable businesses may have been taken away. For those on a reduced income – as so many of we immigrants – pensioners, those living frugally and self-employed here are – this change could put some families in a distinctly tricky place when it comes to balancing our bank accounts.
To my mind, knowing how to avoid spending money in times of stress has never been more important. Resisting the urge to change our emotional state using a tool which isn’t good for us can be really hard when we feel uncomfortable. I’m not suggesting that we close our purses completely, we do need to support businesses and independents in this time where we can do so safely – for example, I have just started online French lessons with a teacher in La Reunion. She is a micro-entrepreneur and so am I. I’m proud to support her business and improve my language skills at the same time. But I am not doing so to distract myself from feeling uneasy about COVID-19.
What can we do about it?
If we do spend money – let us simply interrogate why we are doing so. What does this purchase do for me? Am I buying something which will improve my life or happiness, or am I buying something because I need to distract myself from feeling fearful?
Perhaps coming back to Martin Lewis’ Money Mantra is appropriate here:
“Do I need it? Can I afford it? Will I use it? Is it worth it?“
If we can answer all of those questions in a way that satisfies us that the purchase is sound, then we should go ahead. But if we are buying things because we are responding to our emotions rather than our needs, then perhaps we should talk it through with someone else, or delay the purchase by a day to see if we still need the thing that feels so essential right now.
Just a few thoughts that occurred to me this week. I hope that you’re all keeping well. Stay safe, L