I thought I was going to get through this winter without a significant sink into the winter blues. But alas …

In a recent post, Revanche from A Gai Shan Life wrote, “The truth is I’m hungover from last year.” I had a moment of recognition when I read those words – because I think I’m hungover from last year too – particularly November of last year. My mom’s passing November 20, her birthday, was a huge loss. The death of our dog Rocky, November 7 (strangely enough, my father’s birthday), was a sucker punch at a time that was difficult enough. The flea infestation he left behind him just added an element of the bizarre to our grief.

There was busy-ness leading up to the funeral, and then more leading up to Christmas. I don’t think I processed things fully then. So I’m hungover now.

Strong longings to spend…

… on a trip south

As the March Break approached this year, I really, really wanted to travel somewhere with sunshine and warmth. “We’ll just get in the car and drive south for two days,” I thought. It didn’t matter to me where we ended up,  so long as it was sunny. But DH had been having slow business, and even a frugal vacation would have cost us hundreds of dollars that we couldn’t justify spending. We didn’t travel south. And though I hate to admit it, I must confess that after the March Break I had a hard time seeing the happy, refreshed, tanned faces of colleagues who had enjoyed a get-away in the sun.

… on a gym membership

It was during the March Break that I got the chance to use a free day pass to a nearby gym – a pretty posh facility. I took part in a step class that left me properly exhausted, and then I did about 20 minutes of weights. After that, I swam laps – for the first time in years – and then just soaked in the hot tub. It was a great work-out, and I enjoyed the added bonus of running into a couple of people I knew.

Last September, when I gave up my gym membership to be more frugal, I found that I managed to do plenty of work-outs on my own. Bike rides, jogs, and two free visits per week as a Planet Fitness guest kept me as fit as I wanted to be. Once winter hit, snowshoeing replaced the cycling and jogging. But then a few weeks ago we had that awful combination of melt, rain, and freeze that left our part of the world a skating rink – not enough snow and too much ice for snowshoeing. And my Planet Fitness member friend? She’s in Florida for the month.

“Maybe a gym membership isn’t such a bad idea …” I found myself thinking after using that free day pass. But I know that warmer weather is just around the corner. The ice will melt; the roads and paths will be jogger- and cyclist-friendly again soon. I decided to wait. No gym membership for me.

… on an expensive restaurant meal

Last week was a crazy week at work. I wasn’t home until well after 7:00 from Monday to Thursday. As I drove home Tuesday evening, I started to fantasize about Pure Kitchen, a wonderful local restaurant we had discovered shortly after switching to a plant-based diet a couple of months ago. For us, the occasional $7-$10 veggie burger meal at fast-food places has been a recent form of treat. A couple of meals at Pure Kitchen would cost much more than that amount.

When I got home, I told DH I wanted to go out to eat. We never go out week nights, but I wasn’t pretending it was a rational suggestion. Much to my surprise, DH said, “Let’s go.” He added, “I think we have to work a little sanity-saving into our budget.” It’s only now that I recognize his recent search for a new-used car (which we didn’t buy) as possibly being his own winter-blues fix.

Is there a place for emotional spending?

Emotional spending can definitely be a problem. In our case, we could have gone south for the March Break in a new-to-us vehicle, and I could have signed up for a gym membership. The car, the trip, and the posh gym would have given me a relief from my “hungover” winter blues, but only a temporary one. The high from emotional spending only lasts so long. It’s a band-aid fix.

But sometimes a band-aid is a good thing.

DH and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal out together. We broke every rule in the frugality handbook – ordering appetizers, wine, coffee and dessert besides the delicious main course. It was a short-lived escape from the cold outside (and it was cold outside that night) – a mere band-aid. But I think it might have been just what we needed.

Do you sometimes indulge in emotional spending? Do you think there is some room for it? Your comments are welcome.

Image courtesy of Flickr

Join the Conversation


  1. Band-aids let you heal when the injury is bad. Giving you a tiny bit of breathing space, mentally and physically, to enjoy something, I’m told is really helpful. I don’t process it quite the same way, but I think the majority of people are right on this one. Picking one small thing to let loose with can be that safety valve that lets off some pressure. *hugs* You’ll come through this. Be kind to yourselves.

    1. Thank you, Revanche. I like that image of a safety valve that lets off some pressure. “I don’t process it quite the same way…” I suspect that a long-time habit of squeezing blood out of every penny makes such a safety valve out of the question for you – and likely you wouldn’t benefit from it. For people like me, it’s a vastly reduced form of what might be called “retail therapy” – to be used sparingly.

  2. Yes, I sometimes indulge in minor emotional spending, and yes, I think there’s a place for it. I think the trick is making sure it isn’t all the time, and it isn’t anything that’s going to completely smash your budget.

    Grief is a difficult thing, and when you add in some winter blues, it can sometimes feel like it’s all going to sink you. Hang in there, and don’t worry about the occasional Band-Aid.

    1. That dinner was not a budget smasher, but if it became an “all the time” kind of thing, it definitely would be. Thank you, Gary. I appreciate your kind words:)

  3. If there is any wiggle room at all in a budget, then I think yes. I think if perhaps one doesn’t let off just a little steam in small amounts over time, then there is a higher risk of a big blow up. Now it should be carefully curated unless you just have endless funds, but yes.

    1. No endless funds here, but I wouldn’t say that expense was carefully curated. I think the good thing about it is that it was a one-off. I can’t think of the last time we splurged like that without any forethought. It did, as you say “let off just a little steam”. Mission accomplished:)

  4. When we came back up here after my mom passed, we ate out every day for about 3 months at nice restaurants. We kept trying to stop, but I think it was a way of coping. I was such a bawling mess. You did amazingly well under your circumstances. I, for one, applaud your strength and will power.

    1. Everyone grieves differently, Kay. You didn’t have the same sibling support that I had, and you had the estate to deal with. And I understand why you went out for meals. Typically, food is brought to the home of a grieving family. When that’s not happening, there is still comfort in being served.

  5. Emotional spending is certainly real. We all handle situations differently, and I can see different triggers between my wife and me. Given all the things you have going on over the last several months, and all the spending options, a blow out dining experience sounds like a wise choice over the others. Sure a short-lived fix, but maybe just what you both needed to get to over the hurdle. 🙂

    1. Thanks Brian. “a blow out dining experience” – That’s a good way of putting it! It’s interesting that you notice different triggers for emotional spending for your wife and you. (Sounds like a good blog post topic:)

  6. Your dinner was way more frugal (and healthy) than either the trip or the car – no buyer’s remorse :). You have been on such a long road to debt freedom, and then add all the emotional upheaval of your mom’s death (and Rocky’s death) into the mix – I am surprised you didn’t blow the wad and fly off to Hawaii 🙂 Only a few more months and you will be debt free – you can see the finish line! Next year you will be able to go on a March break trip – and then in another couple of months after that – Freedom 55!!

    1. That’s funny you mention Hawaii, Nancy. One of my sisters did go to Hawaii this year, and she suggested that we all go together in a couple of years. So that “fly off to Hawaii” might just happen. It’s true that the finish line is so close. I can’t quite get my head around it. And my Freedom 55 will come just one year late. Freedom 56 sounds great to me:)

  7. You’ve gone through so much in the past 5 months Ruth. Seriously. It is understandable to be feeling the way you are and that the things you want to spend money on, are things that would provide a brief respite from what you are dealing with. Hugs to you, my friend…xo

  8. I think I’m just wired so that spending extra money makes me feel worse. So it’s not a real solace to me, though it can appeal in very small increments. I have other types of emotions that can trigger spending, though. I am experiencing some of that “nesting” instinct. For example, wanting to get my sons’ school clothes purchased now–at end of the season prices. Partly that might be wise, but it also soothes my soul on some irrational level that buying khaki pants probably should not be able to.

    1. Some of us really do seem to be – at least temporarily – comforted by spending of some sort when emotions hit. I’m happy for you that you’re not:) It’s wonderful that the nesting instinct is coming into play for you as your due date approaches. And it’s entirely wise to soothe your soul on that “irrational” level if that’s what your not-so-irrational nesting instinct demands. I hope your son likes his new khaki pants!

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