Australians are turning to ‘comfort’ spending

guilty looking woman holding shopping bags and credit card

Most of us at one time or another have been guilty of ‘comfort eating’. You might have had a bad day at work and feel the need to cheer yourself up before tackling post-work home duties. At the train station kiosk you spot your favourite chocolate bar or a savoury snack and think, “Yeah, it’s been a long day, I’m going to treat myself.”

It’s not the worst thing in the world, unless it becomes a habit and eventually has a negative impact on your health. But what about comforting eating’s potentially more dangerous cousin, comfort spending? Is that an activity that sucks you in occasionally?

According to a survey commissioned by Sydney-based analysis company Mojo, comfort spending among Australians is on the rise. The survey found that you are comfort spending to the tune of $39 billion annually, with negative emotions the most likely trigger.

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Again, such activity can be relatively harmless if it’s infrequent or involves only small purchases but, worryingly, the survey revealed that nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of people reported that it is putting their budget under pressure.

What drives comfort spending? It seems the three main factors are boredom, stress and unhappiness. To a lesser extent, loneliness and specific triggers such as a fight with a loved one or a bad day at work can also be contributors.

Once the trigger has been tripped, the comfort spender seeks solace in a purchase they hope will cheer them up. There was a time when that required leaving the house and visiting a shop, but times have changed and a comfort purchase is now just a click away for most.

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The numbers back up that notion. More than a third (36 per cent) of those who identified as comfort spenders attempted to satiate themselves through an online purchase.

What are comfort spenders buying? An array of items, but two of the biggest three were our old friend comfort food. As many as 47 per cent of those surveyed have bought takeaway food for comfort, while 46 per cent admitted to chocolate being a go-to purchase.

Clothing was the only item that scored higher, with just under half (49 per cent) of respondents buying clothes to boost their mood. Alcohol, gadgets and cosmetics also featured prominently in responses.

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The pandemic has done nothing to slow down comfort shoppers. Indeed, the latest survey indicates a 12 per cent increase in comfort spending compared to a similar survey conducted in 2021.

How shoppers are paying for comfort purchases makes for interesting reading. The survey showed that almost half (48 per cent) of shoppers put comfort spending on debit cards, while 34 per cent use credit cards and 30 per cent use a buy now, pay later format such as Afterpay.

Mozo has some recommendations for those who think they need to cut back on comfort spending. These include:

  • unsubscribing from marketing emails
  • setting up a specific account for comfort spending
  • incorporating comfort spending into your budget
  • seeking an alternative ‘comfort’ option such as walking or keeping a diary
  • downloading a money management app.

Some of those suggestions are easier said than done, but they may help you cut down on your short-term comfort spending and help you to be more comfortable in the long term.

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