Please note: The advice and observations contained in this article are general in nature, and should not be relied upon in place of advice from a qualified financial adviser to address your specific financial needs.
Hangovers are a curse — the nausea, headaches and grogginess that come with a big night of drinking can really make us regret the tequila shots the next morning. After a few hours of feeling sorry for ourselves (and shoving every certified hangover food down our gobs), the feeling of being hung slowly starts to leave our bodies. But what can remain is the shame and regret: the dreaded ‘hangxiety’ beast tends to cling on far longer.
The bad news is that hangovers aren’t only reserved for alcohol; they can also manifest after a wild spending spree.
“A financial hangover is when you wake up and you realise that you spent more than you wanted to. All these little expenses [have] stealthily snuck up on you, and it all compounds,” finance mentor and former accountant and financial advisor Julia Scott tells Refinery29 Australia.
It’s not dissimilar to the wave of recollection that comes with an alcohol hangover. “The next morning, you're just replaying all this stuff in your head and you're like, ‘Oh my God, why did I do that to myself?’,” Scott says.
Money is an emotional topic and it’s so often intertwined with feelings of guilt. Guilt that we don’t have enough, that we’re spending too much, or that we’re not doing more with what we have. When we experience a financial hangover, Scott says that our sense of guilt is heightened because of perfectionism.
“We feel guilty because we know we should have done better. I think it's a lot more prevalent in women than men because [broadly, money] represents safety for women and for men, it represents power,” she says.
Scott asks us to examine what lies beneath our financial hangovers. They’re often not a one-off event, and can point to something larger. “We have them over and over again because it's a habit, it’s a pattern and maybe even a money story,” she says. “Our brain is wired to stick to the familiar.”
If you find yourself in a toxic pattern of checking your bank statements and online shopping orders in fear, Scott (not unlike the Shopaholics Anonymous group in Confessions Of A Shopaholic) stresses that awareness of your behaviour is the key first step in making any changes to your finances.
“Once you have the awareness that you are in control of your life, and you take responsibility for your own financial situation...you can [start to] change a habit or a pattern,” she says.
So what do you do if you find yourself in the throes of a financial hangover?
Taking a good hard look at your money triggers can help identify any patterns in your shopping habits. Do you find that your big spending moments happen in relation to heightened moods? Is there a certain group of people or an environment that encourages reckless spending?
Consider speaking to a psychologist or a mental health professional about what may be underlying your propensity to self-sabotage. Reflecting on what is causing the feelings of guilt around spending can be illuminating — is it coming from the shame of spending money on yourself? Do you feel guilty about spending on things you've been told are frivolous?
Sometimes, our spontaneous purchases and hasty decisions can lead to unexpected flow-on effects. The tough love part of a financial hangover is recouping the funds you've burnt through. If you've spent more than you can afford, you might find yourself needing to return items, or looking for ways to pick up more cash, like selling unwanted items or taking up a part-time job. You might even need to reorganise and reallocate funds until your next payday.
From there, you can begin to budget for fun purchases without the guilt — also known as saving for ‘sunny days’. Shifting our mindset from ‘wasting’ money to saving for something that’s enjoyable can bring back a sense of autonomy and mindfulness to spending.
Scott also recommends automating your finances, divvying them up into separate groups, say your savings account, your spending account and your investing account.
“It's like that whole concept of paying yourself first. If you can automate all of it, when you come to times like this...you won't spend more than you have available, or more than what's on your financial dinner plate, so to speak.”
Above all, a dose of empathy and kindness towards your own money journey goes a long way. “It’s ok to make mistakes with money because nobody teaches us this stuff. Especially as women — we've been financially repressed for generations,” Scott says.
“Money is a very loaded topic for women, and it's very emotional. Whenever there's lots of emotions around something, those habits are even harder to change. So it's just a matter of taking it one step at a time, forgiving yourself for past mistakes and making that decision to change.”