Updated on 01.01.08

Dealing With A Bad Day Without Spending Money

Trent Hamm

In the “bad old days,” I used to respond to a bad day by spending money on something. The immediate perk of acquiring something new was usually enough to raise my spirits at least a little, and that little raise in spirit would be enough to help me finish off the day and rise for a new one.

What I came to find out is that this was just another sign of a spending addiction. I was not much different than an alcoholic, using spending to get through the bad days as well as the good.

The solution to this was simple. I started identifying little actions that improved my mood without spending money. Then, I simply would try one (or a small handful) of these actions at the end of a bad day and use those for my mood lifter, without the unnecessary need to spend.

Admittedly, these little actions vary a lot from person to person, but I found that the following worked well for me.

Going for a short jog I would do it just enough so that I would be sweating well and breathing heavy – no need to really push it. That amount of jogging gets my endorphins running, lifting my mood.

Playing with my children If I’ve had a bad day and I’m stressed out, few things improve the situation more than just setting things aside and devoting some uninterrupted time to my children. I’ll wrestle in the living room with my son, tossing him in the air and letting him leap on my back. I’ll hold my daughter and try to eke a smile or a giggle out of her. Or I’ll hold them both and read them a book, my daughter staring at the bright colors and my son trying to name everything on the page.

Looking at my “favorite pictures” I keep a folder of my favorite pictures on my laptop, mostly consisting of pictures of my children. If my children aren’t available to play with, I use this folder.

Eating something rich in soluble fiber, vitamin D, or folate My favorite of these is a small bowl of oatmeal, but canned salmon is very good, as are lentils. These are all natural mood lifters that exist in food – their effects are subtle, but they often amplify the other things I can be doing.

Meditating I like to go to the downstairs bedroom, before my wife or children have arrived home, and just sit on the bed and let everything fade away. I just sit there calmly, focus on my breathing, and try to avoid thinking about anything at all. Sometimes, I’ll slip into a state that’s something like sleep – whenever I do that, I almost always emerge in a better mood.

Talking to an old friend or a loved family member I have a small list of people who really elevate my mood almost every time I talk to them. Usually, when I’m down, I’ll carry on a conversation with one of them and everything begins to seem better.

One factor that elevates things over the long run is realizing I’m not spending the money. After several times of substituting spending money for one or two of these activities, there’s suddenly more money in my savings account and I suddenly feel a lot better about things.

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  1. Jason says:

    Exercise is one of the best mood-lifters around, and cheapest when you consider all you need is a good pair of shoes. I am a reformed emotional shopper myself, so these really hit home with me. When I was sad I went shopping, when I was stressed I bought something, when I was happy I bought something. At least I can admit that now!

  2. Colonel Cash says:

    I recently blogged about Compulsive Spending Disorder, and offered a couple of thoughts about where to go for some help and your post here should have been included. Some very good thoughts on curbing this habit and replacing it with positive alternatives. Thanks for the post!

  3. I think online gaming is one of the best ways to turn my mood around. Getting to shoot my brother repeatedly and hear him get frustrate seems to always make me feel better.

  4. Personally, I crave something greasy when I have a bad day. Given my expanding waistline, I need to start having better days or find another outlet. :)

    Best Wishes,

  5. sp says:

    I had read a tip a while back that suggested making a list of ten things that help you feel better and carrying the list around in your wallet or purse. Any time you feel stressed or are having a bad day, you can just pull out the list and do one thing to start feeling better.

    There is only one thing on my list that costs money: getting a haircut. All the other things — including walking in the woods, giving the pup a massage, etc. — require no money whatsoever!

  6. MVP says:

    Um, how about good, old-fashioned whoopee with your significant other to help you forget your troubles. If done correctly, it releases endorphins and raises your heart rate!

    Also, a good night’s sleep sometimes is what I need to get back on track.

  7. Todd says:

    I have a “savings can” that I add to when I have a bad day and have the urge to spend. Believe it or not, it took me a few years to get into this habit, but once I got into it it became second nature. I used to go buy music CDs or movies when I was having a bad day and so I began saving the receipts in a can. After a time I would open the can, get a calculator, add up the receipts and see how much I had spent.

    Now, instead of putting receipts in the can, I put money in it. When I’m having a bad day, I’ll add more to the can. At the same time I add to the can (during my bad day) I add the money in the can up, and write down on a piece of paper the date. Then I look at the paper, see if there are any “trends” of when I have added money (the bad days) and then I get a calculator and do the math. I add up the averages and multiply them by months, or years and see how much I would have in X time frame if I hang on to this money instead of spend it.

    This does two things, it puts saving money into my head instead of spending it, and it makes me realize what my potential savings can grow to if I leave it alone. This usually gets rid of my desire to spend.

  8. na0 says:

    i have a music playlist on my itunes of music that makes me feel happy.
    this sometimes helps get me through those rough days.

  9. Laura says:

    I personally go the exercise route. It’s either jogging or aerobics for me. After 30-1 hour, I feel better and can relax more at night.

  10. I’m the same. I find that when I hit the gym during a bad day my mood changes entirely. It allows me to blow off some steam or forget about what’s bothering me all together.

  11. Mrs. Micah says:

    I find that listening to sad music and singing along helps…because I can identify with the music, so I’m not forcing things. But singing gets my mind off the other stuff. Oh dear. I guess that means I “sing a sad song just to turn it around….”

    Also today I made a list of all the things that went excellently, because I was feeling depressed. Like the bus arrived at the stop exactly when I did or a baby that we thought wouldn’t pass finally passed his hearing test.

  12. guinness416 says:

    There is very little that exercise isn’t a good cure for – lethargy, feeling down, overwork, bad weather. I agree with the others, a good session in the gym without a doubt the standout on the list for me.

  13. ArtFrugal says:

    A nice long walk while talking to myself out loud does it for me. I end up talking myself out of whatever it is that’s sending me into a funk. (I stop talking out loud if I come across other walkers – don’t want them to cross the street because of me – or get a rep in the neighborhood – lots of people walk at night around here! : )

    Just wanted to say to you that yours was the first blog that I started reading about 6 months ago, and I really enjoy your writing, and your thoughts. Your blog has led me out of my ‘all work drains me’ funk and has sparked my creativity that has been dormant for a long time. I’ve learned to think about my finances and started saving and paying off debts. How I managed to not think about always having some sort of debt, I don’t know how I didn’t realize what I was doing… Anyway, thank you!

  14. Fable Fox says:

    I just listen to music.

    Quote “sing a sad song just to turn it around….”

    That’s “Bad Day” by Daniel, isn’t :-)


  15. Shareef says:

    No Wii Boxing :(

    As the above poster stated, online gaming is a definite, particularly first person shooters.

  16. f1owerprincess says:

    Make something. Be creative. I knit or crochet or bake. I baked raisin filled cookies the other day, making up the recipe as I went, as I can’t find a recipe for them. :) That cheered me up quite a bit and eating 2 or 3 helped, too.

  17. tightwadfan says:

    I still have trouble with this myself. Glad you have found non-spending alternatives.

  18. tightwadfan says:

    one thing that works for me is going to the library. I can satisfy my shopping cravings by taking out books, without spending any actual money. and having a new book to read is usually a mood-lifter. and I don’t get the “I just added more clutter to my house” post-shopping regrets, because the books have to go back.

  19. Katie says:

    @tighwadfan – I also like to browse my local bookstore, leaving my money at HOME so removing the temptation to buy. I’m a true bookworm and browsing a local bookstore always gives me the “warm and fuzzies” – even if it means a trip to the library at a later point to check out a book I spotted at the store!

    I’m also a fan of exercising, though I can’t currently use that outlet as I was in a car accident just over a month ago and am still recovering. I’m looking forward to getting back to the gym but I suppose it’s a blessing in disguise that I’m not able to see the “New Years Rush” from the hoardes of people wanting to lose 20+lbs – they’ll die out before I’m allowed to go back!

  20. I can say this is probably one reason I am in debt now. Feeling down, buy something. It seems to work like clock worth. This year I will stop myself from making these bad decisions.

  21. Beta says:

    I find making money can give me almost the same kick as spending it. So if I’ve had a rotter of a day, I often get on Ebay and list a few items I have lying around. Watching bids mount up is a kick that DOESN’T damage your net worth.

  22. barb says:

    I have this problem myself, but reading your column the past few months has really helped to clarify my spending habits. I am trying hard to change my emotional spending. What does help me is either going on an internet “freebie hunt”, or better yet, a good old fashioned thrift store shopping trip. I can bring just a few dollars, a five & a few ones is good, & hit the book section. I am a book lover, & love to own books. The thrift stores are great for books for cheap. Then I can trade some of them at the used book store for credit for books I couldn’t find at the thrift store. I realize this was suppossed to be ways to not spend at all, but if a person has trouble going “cold turkey”, a thrift store spree can help.

  23. Mary says:

    I cook an extravagent meal on bad days for me. It’s time-consuming and gets my mind off the things that bother me. I also clean or organize – a room, a floor, anything – has the same effect.

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