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Hungry, angry, lonely, tired spending

Allie Johnson

January 16, 2014

Have you heard of the acronym H.A.L.T., which stands for hungry, angry, lonely or tired? It’s used in everything from addiction recovery to overeating — and I’ve found it applies to spending, too.

The idea behind the acronym is to stop and think whenever you get the urge to do something that’s probably not the best (like scarf a doughnut, down another drink or pull out your credit card, again). Ask yourself if you are more prone to making a bad decision because of hunger, anger, loneliness or tiredness.

I thought about H.A.L.T. recently when I realized I’d been overspending because I was tired. My husband and I just went through an exhausting few months that included a major remodel, a health scare (with doctor appointments, tests and a CAT scan) and a bad back that required a trip to the ER. Cap that all off with the stress of the holidays, and we were both feeling really tired. My husband was plagued for weeks by a “weird fatigue” (he took up gnawing on ginseng), while I felt a chronic exhaustion that couldn’t be remedied by sleep.

On the monthly spreadsheet where we chart our budget and spending, there’s an uptick in spending that coincides almost exactly with those weary weeks at the end of our remodel. We found that being tired made us more likely to just throw money at a problem. One ridiculous example: During a hard rainstorm, we discovered a leak from an air return cover in our ceiling on the second floor. We weren’t sure if it was a hole in the roof or something to do with our HVAC system. We called an HVAC company and they said they’d send someone out to look, for $85. We told them to come out, even though one of the guys who did our remodel probably would have checked it out for free — or, heck, we could have tried peering up there ourselves. The HVAC guys climbed up on a ladder, told us we had a small hole in our roof and asked for a check. It took about 5 minutes.

I also did a little too much online shopping during this time, ordering things for our new kitchen and imagining the day when all the chaos would be over and we’d have a shiny, functional home.

So, how can you use H.A.L.T. to help with overspending? The most important thing is to recognize what’s going on. Then you can do something about the underlying problem.

Frugality blog Northern Cheapskate recommends that you simply never shop when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired.  Meanwhile, Andrea Whitmer, blogger behind So Over This, prescribes the following H.A.L.T. regimen:

For hunger: Recognize when you’re hungry, and definitely don’t go grocery shopping. Carry healthy, affordable food with you (granola bars, a homemade lunch) so you don’t make a beeline for the drive-through.

For anger: Talk it out with a friend, write in a journal, exercise, do anything that will help you work through your anger without spending.

For loneliness: Try to connect with others, but in a way that doesn’t cost a lot. For example, call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while or invite a neighbor for coffee.

For tiredness: Get enough sleep and try to postpone your decision-making until you’re more rested — until the weekend, for example. That’s exactly what I did. I had decided to paint our ceilings, walls and trim, partly to save money. But I was spending every free moment on a ladder with a brush in hand, and it was exhausting. When I realized tiredness was clouding my money decisions, I took a few weekends off from painting to rest, veg out and get my life (including my finances) back in order.

I even postponed some purchases I’d been planning to make — leaving the items in my online shopping cart but not clicking the “purchase” button. Once I was no longer so tired, I realized they could wait. Now that my exhaustion is gone, my overspending is, too.