My spending habits in the past three months have gone from reasonable – even thrifty – to downright reckless (at least by my standards). I’ve been buying clothes on Vinted impulsively, getting the Tube to work instead of cycling and buying lunch there, and ignoring the fact that my savings haven’t magically increased. It’s even bled into my hobbies. In one fit of 'fuck it', I spent £40 on yarn in the blink of an eye with no idea what I was going to knit out of it. Again, this is reckless by my standards. And now it just sits there, mocking me.
In fact, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), consumer spending has increased this summer, rising as much as 7.7% in July. As Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, put it to the BRC: "Despite consumer polls suggesting confidence is at an all-time low, this hasn’t translated to money not being spent at the tills, as consumers are determined to enjoy delayed holidays and an unrestricted summer."
Ellie Austin-Williams, founder of This Girl Talks Money, agrees. "The fact that there's constant news about the cost of living crisis, paired with the first full summer post-COVID, has meant that a lot of people are spending more money than they usually would in the circumstances," she tells R29. She adds that as a lot of the impact of the soaring cost of living hasn’t yet hit home, particularly the energy cap rise, there’s less incentive to curb behaviour. "People aren't yet feeling the pinch and although they know it might be sensible to save, it's tempting to spend while the disposable income is still there."
There are psychological reasons driving us, too. Dr William Shanahan, medical director at Priory Hospital Roehampton, adds: "The country has a sense that we’ve been deprived of things that make our lives worth living. It means that when it comes to luxury things like travel and socialising, we feel those urges to spend even more."
In particular, he continues, there is a sense that "given the ongoing hardships of economic decline and energy pressures, people want to reward themselves for living through these hardships, or to escape them altogether."
This is certainly true for Robin, 29, based in London, who tells me that "my spending this summer is probably very sensible by some people's standards but reckless by my standards! I'm spending nearly my whole paycheque every month, which I've never done before, and going to parties, on day trips, [buying] new clothes, [going] out for drinks and booking holidays for the first time in years."
Robin says that there’s a sense of letting out stress in the spending, and it can feel a bit manic. "There's so much to be stressed about – the climate crisis worsening, the UK government's march to the far right, the cost of living crisis, the attacks on women and LGBTQ rights across the world – that it feels like I need an outlet. For me, that outlet at the moment is going to a lot of parties and having as much fun as possible where I can. I'm very politically active and I need breaks!"
For others, the increase in impulsive spending is, in part, down to a change in circumstances. Valentina, 25, based in Austria, has just got a new job and says that "it pays better and it made me feel invincible, as if I was rich." This has led to spending "a crazy amount of money at bakeries. I grab a pastry almost every day without thinking and that adds up."
Even though she was actually anticipating increased expenses, Valentina hasn’t yet felt the impact of that. As Ellie noted, this has led to a sense that the money might as well be spent.
"I have a fixed contract with my landlady so my rent can't go up but I was so terrified of receiving my energy bill that I did not spend any money all spring. Once I got it and it was actually less than last year (I don't know how)," says Valentina, "I felt like I had so much extra money that needs to be spent, since I had already prepared for it mentally."
On top of that, there is a looming sense of scarcity – over the weekend, for instance, headlines rang out about an olive oil shortage. Destinee, 25, based in the US, says it feels like trying to get things before they become unavailable. "It feels like a shortage is coming around the corner and that it’s almost impossible to find what I need [compared to] last summer. The abundance factor feels like it's lessening."
So-called 'reckless' spending isn’t necessarily a problem as long as it is within your means. However, warns Dr Shanahan, it gets more complicated if you’re living with a mood disorder.
"Mood disorders play a major role in how people behave," he tells R29. "So if we’re suffering from anxiety or depression for example, one of the behaviours that affects us may be overspending. There are other examples where an impulse to spend is a part of a mental health disorder. Overspending is a major feature of bipolar affective disorder in its manic phase. Reckless spending is an early feature of hypomania."
On a smaller scale, emotional spending as a way to manage low mood or anxiety can easily spiral out of control. "If we’re feeling down or anxious, people will buy luxury items as a means for a short-term hit," continues Dr Shanahan. "This can lead to a vicious cycle for our mental health, bringing considerable hardship later, especially if [buying those] items leads to running up large amounts of debt."
Given the multitude of crises that are set to affect us, and are affecting us already, it’s no wonder that 'fuck it' spending is more tempting than managing your finances. If this is something that is negatively affecting your life and leading to financial hardship, there are ways to curb the habits. "People who are struggling with emotional spending should look to identify why and when they do feel the need to impulsively spend," advises Dr Shanahan. "Is it when you are feeling low or anxious? If so, dealing with our mood in healthy, sustainable ways can [help] us feel better and reduce our impulses." This can look like little things like practising mindfulness or working on your sleep, or seeking more robust support from support groups or therapy.
Ellie adds that although it isn’t always easy, "replacing your emotional spending with another behaviour can help take charge of it. Once you know the emotions that tend to trigger spending, you can spot them before you head to the checkout and instead redirect your focus. Alternatively, if you really struggle to go cold turkey on emotional shopping, try to minimise the amount you spend by setting yourself a limit so that you don't find your spending spiralling out of control."
That said, if it isn’t leading to debt or disaster, a little bit of reckless spending can help to ease the burden of an increasingly stressful world. As Robin puts it: "The cost of living crisis has put home ownership so far out of my reach that it doesn't feel worth saving for anymore – it's like Sisyphus constantly pushing his rock up the mountain. If I'm not saving for that and I have enough in my account to cover emergencies, why keep putting money away instead of enjoying myself?"