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How to Stick to a Budget When You Have SAD

Lindsay Tigar  |  February 27, 2020

Don’t let the winter blues put your finances in the red. Try these coping strategies to improve your state of mind and bottom line.

When the temperature is freezing, the skies are cloudy and everything feels meh, it’s easy to get into a negative headspace. During the winter, it is estimated 10 million Americans are impacted with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — and of those, most are female. In fact, women are four times more likely to suffer from symptoms of SAD than men. Many turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as shopping to improve our mood. 

“It’s probably no surprise that our emotions can affect money habits,” explains executive career coach Elizabeth Pearson. “Sometimes we ‘treat’ ourselves when we’re happy or accomplished a goal, and sometimes we do a little ‘retail therapy’ to help us feel better when we’re depressed. When the often gray and frigid months of winter are upon us, there may be an attempt to lift our spirits with an above-average amount of shopping.”

A brand new scarf, a bag full of makeup goodies or even overpriced groceries can raise your spirits in the moment. But, unfortunately, that feeling wanes quickly — especially when the credit card bill arrives. 

To ward off these temptations and to develop better, more fulfilling rituals that don’t ravage your bank account, try these strategies experts recommend. 

Practice gratitude 

One of the most frustrating parts of feeling down-in-the-dumps is losing sight of the silver lining. People with symptoms of SAD often can’t see a purpose in their daily lives, and lack motivation to see people they love, or do things they enjoy. 

Pearson suggests keeping a gratitude journal to develop an ongoing ritual of appreciation. As she puts it, being thankful doesn’t just feel warm and fuzzy, but it can make us less susceptible to financial impatience. “When the discomfort of sadness is replaced with the joy of feeling thankful, we open our eyes to seeing the long-term upside of saving our money,” she says. “In other words, it helps us invasion our future abundance if we delay the gratification of a quick purchase.”

Every morning or each night before bed list five to 10 things you are grateful to have. “When you remind yourself of your existing abundance, you’ll be more likely to conclude that you already have more than enough,” she says.

Plan something exciting for the horizon 

When the weather forecast is cold, snow, rain, freeze and repeat for the foreseeable future, it can feel as if we are laying underneath a blanket of fatigue. Without the ability to really enjoy the great outdoors, it’s easy to hole up and surrender to the season. 

To combat the winter blahs Christine DiGangi, finance expert and editorial director of The Balance, recommends always having something fun on the horizon. Perhaps it’s scheduling dinner with close friends on the weekend or even a mini vacation next month. When you’re tempted to shell out dough on something due to sadness — another night of take-out, another gadget from Amazon — having something on the calendar serves as a reminder of a future, better reward. Sometimes that’s all it takes to motivate you to make a more economical choice in the moment. 

Practice self care

Taking care of your body is an important element in combating depressive episodes, says psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. “Sugar and carbohydrates should mostly be avoided since they can add to a person feeling lethargic, irritable, moody,” Dr. Thomas warns. So instead of loading up on sale Valentine’s Day candy, stick to healthy vegetables and nourishing meals. 

Beyond eating healthy and getting exercise, seek other activities to enrich your soul, such as seeing friends, snuggling with a partner or reigniting a former passion. Make this winter the year you finally pick up painting again, dust off the piano to see how much you remember, or even start that book you’ve been meaning to read. 

Turn your focus outward 

There’s a reason why acts of kindness often create a domino effect: helping others makes us feel good. In fact, research indicates that spending cash on other people makes us happier than spending it on ourselves. This holds true regardless of how little or large of a contribution we make. 

Pearson suggests finding avenues to give back to others when you’re battling SAD as a way to improve mood and create good will in your community. “If you are on a strict budget, you can get the joy from donating your time instead of cash. Explore opportunities to volunteer in your area and you may feel so fulfilled that the winter months zip by much faster than if you were parked in front of your computer filling up your virtual cart,” she says.

Institute a waiting period

During the summer it’s easy to ignore — or completely overlook — most of the promotional emails because we’re so busy running from one event to another. But when you’re stuck inside, refreshing our email, those 25%-off deals and BOGO sales are hard to ignore. 

DiGangi recommends hitting “pause” before purchasing anything during the winter: “Leaving an item in your shopping cart overnight does wonders for curbing impulsive spending. By the time you go back to it the next day, you’ll either feel more confident you want it or be over it.”

Consider the company you keep

The company we keep has a major impact on our mood. While some people supercharge our self-confidence and trigger laughter and comfort, others bring us down. That’s why Tiara Zolnierz, the co-founder of EnrichHER, which focuses on supporting women-led businesses, suggests culling fake friends, toxic family members and relationships that aren’t enriching. “Our body is built with a detection activation center. If you have bad vibes, listen to yourself. You are not crazy,” she says. “You should not feel stressed out or have anxiety about the people in your life.” 

The next time we are unhappy or feeling run down from the weather, Dr. Thomas recommends writing down the people you turn to the most and what you receive from them (e.g. support, advice, jokes, motivation, etc.). “Healthy self-care includes involving others for assistance,” she continues. “Talk to emotionally supportive family and friends to get more natural soothing or uplifting feelings rather than artificially seeking this effect by spending money.” 

More ways to combat the winter blahs:

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